MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The night looked auspicious for the Timberwolves before tipoff. The Grizzlies announced that center Marc Gasol wouldn’t play as trade rumors swirled around the veteran big man. He was one of eight Memphis players listed as out on the injury report prior to the game.
Sounds like Tuesday should’ve been a gimme victory for the Wolves, right?
But the Wolves lacked energy at the start and dug themselves a hole they never got out of in a 108-106 loss at FedEx Forum.
With the Wolves trailing 106-104 and 25.8 seconds remaining, Karl-Anthony Towns hit a pair of free throws to tie the score with 15.7 seconds left. Mike Conley missed a 3-pointer but Josh Okogie was called for a loose-ball foul on Justin Holiday, who went to the line to convert the penalty. He hit both free throws in an agonizing ending for the Wolves.
Dario Saric had his best game in a Wolves uniform with 22 points while Towns had 26 points and 18 rebounds. Conley led Memphis with 25 points and nine assists while Jaren Jackson Jr. had 23.
If Gasol’s absence sucked the energy out of the building, it had more of an effect on the Wolves than it did the home team, which raced out to an 8-0 edge, prompting a timeout from Ryan Saunders just 1:44 into the game. The timeout did nothing to spark the Wolves. Without Gasol, the Grizzlies took their ragtag lineup, which included two-way player Julian Washburn as a starter, and ran up and down the court. It wasn’t always pretty, but they made the Wolves work.
Offensively, Memphis sent every live body it had at Towns whenever he got the ball near the forcing him to give it up. The Memphis lead continued to climb. 14-2, then 19-4, then 25-6. It appeared this would be an early night, but Saric steadied them for a while and got them through that nightmare of a first quarter. He had nine points as the rest of the Wolves combined for 10 on 7 of 19 shooting.
The Wolves were behind 32-19 at the end of one as Saric prevented Memphis from running away with the game.
Saric and the bench kept chipping away at the Grizzlies’ lead in the second quarter. He poured in another seven points while Josh Okogie also became active on the offensive end, scoring 11 points. The Wolves used a 12-3 run over 2:35 to get the game within 43-42, as improbable as that seemed in the first quarter. But then Conley took the game over in the final moments of the half, converting three 3-pointers, including one the Wolves would like to have back after Conley stole a Wolves inbound pass with 5.2 seconds remaining.
The Wolves and Grizzlies traded runs to open the second half, but the Grizzlies kept a firm grasp on the lead throughout until late in the quarter. They were down 83-70 when Luol Deng provided quality minutes again off the bench. Deng hustled up and down the floor, and was able to get to the basket and score. He had 11 points in the quarter and the Wolves entered the fourth only down a pair, 85-83.
The Wolves could never make a big a push to get past Memphis, whose starters were able to protect the lead until late in the game.
The Wolves got it back to 106-102 with 2:30 to play after a Saric 3. A Towns dunk made it 106-104 with 1:19 to play. After Jackson missed a pair of free throws, Wiggins and Towns had their shots blocked, but the Wolves got a steal to set up the final possessions. But they wouldn’t go the Wolves’ way.
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