Saturday started out with a jolt of bad, bad news for the Timberwolves. And the day never really got better.
The bad news was that Zach LaVine, one of the team’s young, Big Three, would be lost for the season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee suffered Friday at Detroit. The bad result was a 107-99 loss to a depleted Memphis Grizzlies team that pushed the Wolves around the Target Center floor for the final three quarters.
“This is one we should have got,” said Andrew Wiggins, who scored 23 points but needed 22 shots to do it. He was referring to the Grizzlies, who — playing on the back end of back-to-back nights — rested veterans Marc Gasol, Tony Allen and Chandler Parsons.
“We had to pull out a win tonight,” said center Karl-Anthony Towns, who scored 27 points with 16 rebounds despite being double-and triple-teamed all night.
The Wolves came out on fire, getting assists on 10 of the first 11 made shots while building a 16-point lead, one that grew to 18 early in the second quarter.
After that? The ball stopped moving; Memphis started playing its trademark gritty, physical style; and things started falling apart.
The Wolves managed only 12 more assists over the final 36 minutes. After building that 18-point lead, they were outscored 51-22 over the next 18-plus minutes, falling behind by 11 with 4 minutes, 33 seconds left in the third.
The Wolves had one more rally, pushing to within two entering the fourth, then taking a couple brief one-point leads early in the fourth. But Memphis pushed back, and the Wolves didn’t have an answer.
“We can’t allow that,” Ricky Rubio said. “We played well in the first quarter, then we thought it was going to be easy. In this league, no matter the team, no matter how many guys they’re missing, teams can play. We felt we had the game in the first quarter, and we relaxed.”
In the crucial final 12 minutes the Wolves (19-32) were outscored 38-32, watched the Grizzlies make 19 of 20 free throws, sending the home team to its third loss in a row.
Memphis (31-22) was led by the energetic JaMychal Green, who scored a career-high 29 points. Mike Conley had 20 points and eight rebounds.
“It was a tough day, but we still have to be ready to play,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We all felt the disappointment [of the LaVine news], but nobody will feel sorry for us. We have to be ready to roll.”
Still, it had to be a difficult bit of news to get past.
“I think we came out in the first quarter with a lot to prove, with Zach on our mind,” Towns said. “Maybe we got worn down by the emotion. I don’t know. We just didn’t execute. I think, for us, we used Zach as an inspiration, got the big lead, then we got to comfortable with a lead. We felt we were cruising to the victory line, and we stumbled along the way.”
For a team that had been playing better, this three-game losing streak is a reminder of how difficult it is to win. It marked the 13th time the Wolves have lost a game this season after building a lead of 10 or more. And it was a difficult way to start a season-long six-game homestand.
“It’s disappointing,” said Shabazz Muhammad, who scored 11 points off the bench. “It was a tough night for us.”