MEMPHIS – The night before, his teammates riding on his back, Jimmy Butler won a game for the Timberwolves.
That was Sunday.
Monday, he tried to do it again. Another 30 points. Four steals. Five assists. But, in the end, it was just not enough in a 95-92 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum.
Butler scored nine of his 30 points in the fourth quarter. Five came in a 7-2 run that gave the Wolves a two-point lead midway through the quarter. But this time, it didn’t happen. Butler turned the ball over on the Wolves’ second-to-last possession with his team down one. With the Wolves down three with 12.7 seconds left, Butler missed an off-balance 27-footer at the buzzer that would have tied it.
“We let one slip through our hands,’’ Taj Gibson said. “Frustrating.”
That’s one word for it. The Wolves were playing on the back end of back-to-back games. But the Grizzlies were without two of their best three players, including point guard Mike Conley. They were on their second coach of the season and on the wrong side of an 11-game losing streak.
No more. In a game in which nether team led by more than one possession over the final 8 minutes and 41 seconds, the Grizzlies ended their longest losing streak since January 2009. Interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff got his first victory in Memphis; Grizzlies center Marc Gasol called it the best regular-season win he had ever been a part of.
After the game, Butler had his left hand wrapped. Before leaving the locker room for the flight to Los Angeles, he was holding the hand gingerly. His injury was diagnosed as a sprained left pinkie. When asked if he would be OK, Butler scoffed and said, “I’m from Tomball, Texas,” suggesting that he would be.
Meanwhile, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau bemoaned his team’s defense, especially in the first half. But it was the offense, late, that was the problem.
The ball appeared to stop moving, though Thibodeau said it moved enough. But the Wolves looked to be settling for a one-on-one attack for much of the night, especially in the fourth quarter.
The Wolves made seven of 20 fourth-quarter shots. Butler took 10 of those, missing seven. The Wolves were in the bonus with 8:24 remaining, but they shot only two free throws thereafter. Over the final 6-plus minutes Minnesota was only 2-for-10 from the floor, with one turnover. For the game, the Wolves had 17 assists on 35 made shots.
The Grizzlies, determined to contain Karl-Anthony Towns, doubled him much of the game, limiting him to six shots and seven points. Gibson scored 14 points, Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague 12 each. But in the fourth quarter, Wiggins and Butler were the only starters who scored.
Thibodeau was right about the defense, especially in the first half. The Grizzlies —who got 21 points from Gasol, 16 from Tyreke Evans and 14 from JaMychal Green — shot 52.5 percent in the first half. But Memphis was held below 40 percent and to 19 points in the fourth quarter. The Wolves just couldn’t score enough to make it matter.
“I thought we had ball movement,” Thibodeau said. “We were running plays that are designed to get the ball to go side to side. On most plays, when the ball is swung, it’s going to end up with your primary scorers having the ball. And they have to make the right plays. We’ll take a look at the film.”