After the first two games of the season fans in Minnesota would have been forgiven for thinking to themselves ‘ah shit, here we go again’.
The young and supremely talented Wolves blew back to back 15 point leads against the Grizzlies and Kings to fall to 0-2 and spark fears in the Twin Cities that another season of promising mediocrity awaited. During the first two tilts Minnesota often flashed their tantalising offensive potential in coming out the gates fast and building commanding leads. However, the same defensive lapses that plagued them last year, the lapses new coach Tom Thibodeau was brought into correct, reared their heads again as the Wolves’ opponents came storming back.
Last night was a different story. Back in Minnesota to face the same Grizzlies who had beaten them in the season opener the Timberwolves stepped on the gas early and refused to relent in a 116-80 blowout. Zach Lavine was the star of the show with 31 points including 5 treys to lead the young wolves on the night. Lavine was superbly supported by Wiggins, Towns and rookie Kris Dunn, who was making his first start in the NBA. It was this that was so impressive about Minnesota last night, they are a squad with scoring power all over the court and it was simply too much for the shorthanded Grizzlies to handle.
Whilst Coach Thibodeau will be pleased with his team’s offensive prowess as well as their slick ball movement, 29 of the Wolves’ 43 baskets last night were assisted (67%), this is something Minnesota have seen before. What will delight Thibs was the stifling defence his team played for most of night, holding the Grizzlies to a woeful 36.5% from the field and keeping them scoreless for a full 5 minutes in the second quarter. The rookie Kris Dunn was electric in grabbing 5 steals and proving a constant nuisance on the perimeter and Lavine finally looks to have turned his supreme athleticism into some decent defence. Inside the twin towers of Karl Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng guarded the paint ferociously and denied Memphis easy buckets.
In Towns and Dieng the Wolves have found a very rare thing in the NBA. A pair legitimate bigs who are both strong enough to battle under the rim and athletic enough to switch on to smaller players on the perimeter. In addition both have reliable, and in Town’s case excellent, jump shots which mean both can be on the floor without causing spacing issues. It is a rare thing to see two big guys playing at the same time in the modern NBA and in KAT and Dieng the Wolves may have one of the best duos around.
Before we get too carried away with one impressive victory from the Timberwolves, it must be said that the Grizzlies were missing their two best players in Mike Conley and Marc Gasol and that in reality the Griz probably aren’t going to be all that great this year anyway. However, these are the games Minnesota have to win if they are going to hang about in the playoff picture. Too often last season the Wolves capitulated to teams they should have beaten whilst producing rousing performances against the better teams in the league. If the Wolves can keep on beating the teams around and below them they have the talent, the depth and most importantly the coach to be a playoff team in the West.
Ball is 4 Lyf is still very much on the Timberwolves bandwagon.