Without their All-Star forward Zach Randolph in the lineup, and despite international star Ricky Rubio orchestrating a late Minnesota rally, the Memphis Grizzles narrowly escaped the Timberwolves to earn a 90-86 victory at the Target Center.
On Wednesday, the Grizzles discovered that they will be without Randolph, their best player, emotional leader and double-double machine, for 6-8 weeks due to a torn MCL in his right knee. In his absence, Memphis head coach Lionel Hollins put most of the onus on his other two stars, combo-guard Rudy Gay and center Marc Gasol, to fill the void. Answering their coach’s call, the Grizzles won their second straight game without their leader, behind guard Tony Allen’s 8-for-8 shooting for 20 points, Gay’s 19 points and eight rebounds and Gasol’s 10 rebounds. By committee, Memphis hung tough against a surging Minnesota team that was riding high on two consecutive wins of their own. But it seemed with their two wins, the Timberwolves took one step backwards.
All the errors the Wolves managed to avoid in their victories over the NBA defending champs Dallas Mavericks and the San Antonio Spurs, they accomplished on Wednesday. They missed 11 free throws and trailed 20-5 in the first quarter, before turning things around to take a two point lead by the end of the third quarter, 59-57. Rubio energized his team with a 28-foot alley-oop pass to rookie forward Derrick Williams, before he connected on a jumper from just inside the 3-point line and later drew a charge on the other end as the Wolves took a 64-61 lead. Kevin Love’s bank shot with 8:24 left to play made it 68-63. After blowing an early 15-point lead, Memphis manufactured a 13-0 run over the next five minutes, that included seven points by O.J. Mayo, who scored 11 of his 14 points in the final period, and a flagrant foul by Wolves point guard Luke Ridnour that resulted in the Grizzles taking a 76-68 lead.
Down eight, Minnesota rallied to cut the deficit to two on a Love three-pointer, 78-76. Then Ridnour converted a 3-pointer of his own, before Rubio hit a 26-footer with 16.5 seconds to play to bring Memphis lead down to one, 84-83. Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, who made his first start since spraining his ankle three games ago, knocked down a pair of free throws to put them up by three, 86-83. Love cut it back to one with 3.8 seconds left, but Mayo and Allen made the final free throws to seal the win.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Grizzlies turned 17 Wolves turnovers into 23 points and scored 48 points in the paint, holding Minnesota to 40 percent shooting. Randolph would be proud. Conley finished with 12 points and eight assists for Memphis.
Love, who became the first player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975 to record 20 points and 12 rebounds in his team’s first six games, finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds. Michael Beasley added 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Rubio contributed 12 points, 10 assists and four rebounds but also had four turnovers. The Wolves couldn’t hit their free throws, missing 11 of 24 attempts for the game, making only four of 10 in the fourth quarter. Beasley and Rubio both missed a pair of crucial free throws that could have been the difference. Instead, Minnesota missed a chance at their first three-game winning streak since the 2010 season. The Timberwolves have one more home game this Friday against the Cleveland Cavaliers before embarking on a stretch of three games in three nights, with the first two on the road.
The Grizzles road trip continues on Friday when they head to Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Jazz, followed by a match against Kobe Bryant and the Lakes on Sunday.