Timberwolves star Kevin Love and Memphis’ Mike Conley both limped out of Target Center on Friday night on turned ankles, injuries that each impacted the Grizzlies’ determined 94-90 victory.
Love rolled his ankle in the second quarter and then hobbled on it the rest of the game, persevering to deliver a torrid third quarter in which he shot the Wolves back into the game by making seven consecutive shots and scoring 18 of his 28 points after his team had trailed by 16.
Conley left the game for good with 6½ minutes left after he, too, stepped on somebody’s foot. Without him, the Grizzlies turned Courtney Lee into an improvised point guard to finish a game between two teams chasing the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.
It was a move that contributed to Wolves coach Rick Adelman’s decision to play backup J.J. Barea down the stretch again, while starter Ricky Rubio watched from the sideline.
“It’s not enough,” Barea said of a team that scored a season-low 37 points in the first half and then scored 30 in the third quarter alone. “We’re all disappointed. We know how big this one was tonight.”
Rubio had six assists but no points in that third quarter when the Wolves trailed 59-43 with 7:24 left and led by one point at quarter’s end after producing a 24-7 run during which Love scored 16 of those.
Barea made consecutive three-pointers and fed Love for a layup during a fourth-quarter stretch where the Wolves built an 83-80 lead with 5:13 left, before an 11-2 Grizzlies run fueled by Zach Randolph’s scoring — including six consecutive points for Memphis — won the game. It was the Grizzlies’ 10th victory in their past 11 games, the last nine with Marc Gasol back from injury.
“I think he saw me limping around out there, so they threw the ball to him and let him go,” Love said of Randolph. “He got on a roll. He has one of the best touches in the league: Left-handed, a little bit unorthodox his whole career.”
Randolph scored half of his 26 points in the fourth quarter on a night when the Grizzlies had both of their big men while Nikola Pekovic remains out for the Wolves.
“I looked at Pek after the game, patted him on the back and said this is a game where we need you,” Love said.
While Randolph took over, Barea played on at the point, Rubio watched and the Wolves missed eight shots in the final 4½ minutes.
“Obviously, I played him [Barea] in the fourth quarter,” said Adelman, who has done the same with his two point guards several times this season. “I thought he was the best option for us tonight. I asked people around me and they felt the same way. You look back on it and say we didn’t win, maybe you should have changed it, would have changed it. I have to look at it afterward, but that’s how I felt at the time.”
Lee’s presence at point guard for those final six-plus minutes rather than Conley’s scoring threat helped convince Adelman to keep Barea on the floor down the stretch when the Wolves couldn’t make a shot and Tayshaun Prince supplied the three-point shot from the corner that gave Memphis a 91-85 lead with a minute left.
Rubio said he expected to return to a game in which he had six points, eight assists, four turnovers and a steal in 28 minutes.
“It’s Coach’s decision. He always thinks what is best for the team,” Rubio said. “J.J. hit a couple of shots. Of course I wish I could play. I respect my teammates on the court. If they’re there, Coach thinks they deserve it. We almost got it.”