If the Timberwolves did such things as award game balls to commemorate victories, they probably should have done so at least in triplicate after Tuesday’s home-opening, 116-80 trouncing of Memphis at Target Center.
One for young star Zach LaVine and his 31 points scored in only three quarters before he sat down for the rest of the lopsided contest. One for rookie Kris Dunn and his first NBA start — a 10-point, five-steal, six-assist performance covering for injured Ricky Rubio — in which he mostly played with purpose and his team played with pace with his family in attendance.
One for new coach Tom Thibodeau and his first victory on the job after the Wolves lost two season-opening games on the road.
And, just maybe, there should be a fourth, too: for new Memphis coach David Fizdale and/or his team’s new medical staff.
Together, they rested aging, healing stars Marc Gasol and Mike Conley in the season’s fourth game, on the third night in a stretch of four games in five days after the Grizzlies played overtime Sunday and meet New Orleans at home Wednesday.
Before the game, Fizdale used the term “maintenance” to suggest his two best players wouldn’t play. An opening-night audience of 14,774 that saw the Wolves lead by as many as 40 points midway through the third quarter might have chosen a different word — forfeit — instead.
“That’s their problems, man,” LaVine said afterward.
The final 36-point margin was the largest home-opening victory in Wolves history and their fourth-largest victory. It came after they took a big lead and held it, unlike last week’s season-opening loss at Memphis when they led by 17 points or Saturday’s game at Sacramento when they led by 18.
The Wolves scored a combined 28 points in the third quarter those first two games. They scored 35 in Tuesday’s third quarter alone against a Grizzlies team without Gasol and Conley to lead them back as they had in the season opener six days earlier.
“We flipped that around,” LaVine said.
By doing so, the Wolves won their first game this season and delivered Thibodeau his first victory as the team’s coach. Neither coach nor players mentioned the milestone afterward.
“You know how Coach is,” Wolves forward Gorgui Dieng said. “He’s never satisfied. He just said it’s a good win and let’s keep building. So we’re going to keep building.”
Dieng made his first eight shots from the field before he missed his final one — a layup, no less — and scored 17 points one day after he signed a four-year, $64 million contract extension.
“I can separate that stuff,” Dieng said. “When I’m on the court, I’m just playing. I’m not thinking about anything else. I’m glad everything went well and we got the first win [Tuesday].”
Dunn’s family flew in from the East Coast for the game and watched him play the kind of game — particularly the five steals — of which they and Wolves fans will see much more.
“It was just good to play in front of them,” Dunn said. “To see me on this stage is a dream of mine. They got to see me play. That was the best thing.”
Afterward, Fizdale said Gasol and Conley were in every timeout huddle, coaching and leading. That probably didn’t mean much to fans who pay big money to see them play and the Grizzlies compete.
Fizdale said he and team management thought it best they rest Tuesday and try to win Wednesday at home.
“It’s tough,” Thibodeau said. “You have to do what you think is best for your team. The players’ health has to come first. You heard in preseason they were going to watch their minutes, it’s all part of it. Being around them, I know how fierce they are. If they could have played without risk, they would have.”