The Minnesota Timberwolves’ first victory came against a team they have already faced once in the preseason as well as for their season opener on the road — the Memphis Grizzlies. It came in spectacular fashion, a 116-80 beatdown that left no question that the Grizzlies, who were without star players Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, were ever going to come back. There was no third quarter slump, and no sign of the team slowing down at any point in the game.
“Well, I thought the ball movement was great right from the beginning,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I thought Kris [Dunn] got us playing with a good pace, and then when Tyus [Jones] came in, the pace was established. And also the sharing of the ball was really good, particularly in the first half.”
Dunn made the start in lieu of the injured Ricky Rubio, but the headliner was Zach LaVine. The electric shooting guard led Minnesota with 31 points, shooting 11 of 18 from the floor and 5 of 9 from three.
“I thought he got off to a great start. He’s taking good shots, good balanced shots, getting out into the open floor,” said Thibodeau. “I think that’s where we’re at our best. If we have good spacing and the ball moves, and we get pressure on the rim, we’re gonna get some good looks. Once he got into rhythm, I thought he was terrific.”
On the defensive end, Minnesota held Memphis to 36.5 percent shooting and 16.7 percent from three. Gasol and Conley’s presence was missed, certainly, and Thibodeau didn’t hesitate to offer his stance on benching players four games into the season.
“It’s tough,” he said. “You have to do what you think is best for your team, and Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are two great competitors. It’s early in the season, and they’re coming off surgery, so you understand that part of it. And I believe they have a back-to-back, so I think the player’s health has to come first.”
In the end, though, the Wolves didn’t beat themselves. Asked what he thought the difference was in the third quarter tonight, which had been the team’s Achilles heel in its first two games, Thibodeau pointed to the team’s aggressive play.
“I thought getting reestablished inside-out, and keeping the defense tight,” he said. “You have to make sure that you’re ready. In this league, if you start feeling good about yourself, and you let up just a little bit, that’s enough. Ten points in a minute is nothing, particularly with 3-point shooting teams. So you think you might have a little bit of cushion, and you let up on the play, and the next thing it becomes two, and the next thing you know a 20-point team is now 10, and now you’re fighting for your life.”
The players were naturally elated after the win. Karl-Anthony Towns was giving Gorgui Dieng, who just signed a $64 million extension, so much of a hard time about his all-white outfit that he joked he would have to leave.
The Towns and Dieng interviews were conducted at the same time. Below is a sampling of both.
Dieng’s outfit isn’t completely captured in the video, but he was wearing white jeans in addition to what looked like an undershirt.
Dunn was pretty level-headed after a strong performance on both ends of the court.
And LaVine was his usual goofy self.