MEMPHIS, Tenn. – After the Timberwolves' 116-108 loss to the Grizzlies on Thursday, coach Chris Finch said he emphasized to the Wolves the need to shore up some of the finer details of their game if they want to beat teams like Memphis, which is near the top of the Western Conference standings.
Things like rebounding, transition defense (Memphis had 22 second-chance points), not swiping down in the paint as much and committing fouls, and making smart contests of shots instead of "phantom" contests.
To illustrate his point with where the Wolves are at compared to the rest of the West, Finch pulled out a golf analogy.
"When you first start to play golf it's pretty easy to shave points off your handicap in a hurry, Finch said. "But when you want to go from a 6 to a 7 or a 7 to a 6 rather, it's pretty hard to do and it's all about the attention to details. It's all about the small things. It's all about the winning plays and that's where it starts."
D'Angelo Russell, who had 29 points, likes to golf and said the comparison rang true.
"You want to get better numbers on your handicap, you just play better, play more," Russell said. "You want to take that extra step, you got to go to the range, you got to go hours before your tee time. It's little things that are going to get you over the hump. We're a young team and I think that's what keeps coming down to the wire for us."
Memphis has one of the youngest rosters in the NBA and schooled the Wolves in that on Thursday. The Wolves had a 106-105 lead with 2 minutes, 45 seconds remaining before the Grizzlies scored the next 11 points. Finch said the Wolves played slow offensively. Russell said the problems were more on the defensive end. It all added up to a disappointing close to the game.
Anthony Edwards scored 30 points for the Wolves but had just five in the second half. Down the stretch, he said the slower pace of the offense affected him.
"We just playing slow," Edwards said. "I don't think that benefits me either, playing slow. I'm trying to put pressure on the rim, so playing slow, they're able to load up and protect the rim. Coach had a great point about playing slow down the stretch. We need to play with pace."
Hot and cold
The Wolves' bench didn't show up from the field, scoring just 13 points on 19% shooting. After a good night in New Orleans, Malik Beasley continued the up-and-down nature of his season with a 1-of-8 performance. Edwards said he has been trying to encourage Beasley, who is shooting 35% from three-point range, down from 40 a season ago.
"I just try my best to get him going, just keep talking to him, tell him to keep shooting," Edwards said. "I tell him the next three he takes are going to go in. He has that confidence in himself, so I don't think it bothers him at all. He definitely puts in the work, so it's going to show, for sure. Everybody has ups and downs. He going to get back on track and it's going to be trouble."
On the flip side, Russell has found his shot. He was 6 of 11 from deep for 29 points and is 54% from three-point range over his past four games (19-for-35). He has made an important adjustment in how he prepares.
"What was killing me was overdoing it, if that makes sense," Russell said. "I was overworking, overthinking, trying to be overprepared, over-proactive with how can I approach the game. So my mind was just fried by trying to overdo things. I heard one of our vets say just simplify it and do less. It allows you to not think as much.
"I spend so much time pregame trying to see the ball go in and remember this and that and the game would start and it would become me thinking the whole game instead of simplifying my pregame."
Towns on kickouts
Karl-Anthony Towns was called for two offensive fouls in the final minutes, one of those when he appeared to kick out into a defender on a three-point attempt, something he has done from time to time and almost always gets called for. He wasn't convinced Thursday's was a foul.
"I've seen some of them, me drawing a foul, kicking a little too much. I didn't think tonight was anything like that," Towns said. "I thought it was just a good shot, usual shot I take. I have an athletic man jumping extremely high to try to contest a shot. I thought it was pretty simple, but that's my opinion."