The Memphis Grizzlies are grinding through a tough final month of the season, trying to put themselves in position for another playoff run.
An ugly win in a physical April game sure feels a lot better when it’s meaningful. Just ask the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Rudy Gay had 28 points and nine rebounds to help the Grizzlies withstand a weak start to the fourth quarter and hand the Timberwolves their 11th straight loss, 91-84 on Tuesday night.
“We’ve been through the bottom, being in Minnesota’s position, knowing you’re not going to be in the playoffs,” Gay said. “We don’t expect anything to happen. We don’t expect to shoot our way out of it just because we’re missing. We don’t expect to lose. We’re fighters.”
The Grizzlies, who have eight straight wins over the Wolves, were 1 for 15 from the field in the final quarter until Gay’s short jumper gave them the lead back at 82-81. That was 13 seconds after a questioned charging foul was called on Anthony Tolliver that wiped out a layup and a potential three-point play. Tolliver and the Timberwolves were livid.
“That one play changed everything, and you guys know what play I’m talking about,” said J.J. Barea, who scored a season-high 28 points on 5-for-9 shooting from 3-point range to go with eight assists and five rebounds.
The Wolves have lost 27 straight April games, dating to 2009. They have three more tries this season to stop that streak.
“I’m disappointed for the guys. They played their tails off,” said coach Rick Adelman, whose praise has been rare lately.
Zach Randolph added 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Grizzlies, who moved within two games of the Los Angeles Clippers for fourth place in the Western Conference and crept closer toward clinching a playoff spot. Mike Conleyadded 16 points, eight assists and five rebounds.
“They’re competitors. They’re trying to get somewhere,” coach Lionel Hollins said.
Gay added a putback and a dagger of a 3-pointer to make it 87-82, and out of a timeout Barea hoisted an off-target, off-balance 3-pointer that missed the rim. Wayne Ellington‘s reverse layup brought the Wolves back within three with 1:19 left, but that was as close as they came.
“We needed this win. We knew these teams that we’re playing against have nothing to lose,” Conley said. “They’re giving everything they’ve got, and we’ve got to make sure we match their energy every night.”
Marc Gasol played after suffering a bone bruise in his left knee the last game but had only four points on 2-for-8 shooting for the Grizzlies, who have won 11 of their last 15 games.
“It’s going to be a long playoffs and for us to clinch early would be a lot better for us,” Gay said. “We can start sitting guys, maybe, depending on what Coach wants to do, but it would be good to have the option.”
The Wolves have no choice.
Barea, the Puerto Rican point guard whose first season in Minnesota has been marred by a slew of injuries after helping the Dallas Mavericks win the NBA championship last summer, is about their only true scorer left on court withKevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour all out. Including the fateful game against the Los Angeles Lakers on March 9 when Rubio’s left knee buckled in the closing seconds, the Wolves are 4-19 in their last 23 games.
Barea flipped a Rubio-like running bank shot high off the glass to close the first half and put the Wolves up 56-55. He has started the last eight games and is averaging 17.2 points and 9.8 assists in his last 10 games. He’s 24 for 50 from 3-point range in that span.
“I’m used to playing 20 or 25 minutes max, but I’m enjoying it,” Barea said.
The Grizzlies came within two points of their season high for the first quarter, taking a 32-22 lead on O.J. Mayo‘s off-balance 3-pointer from the corner. This, though, was progress for the Wolves, who fell behind 32-7 at Indiana on Monday during a 111-88 defeat by the Pacers.
Nikola Pekovic had 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Wolves, who went 25 for 30 from the foul line to stay in it. But the Grizzlies played their usual suffocating defense, getting 11 steals and turning 18 Wolves turnovers into 24 points.
“We just gutted it out. That’s the best thing you can say,” Hollins said.
Marreese Speights had 10 of his 12 points in the first quarter for the Grizzlies, who are 33-17 since acquiring him. … The Wolves are 1-26 in their last 27 April home games, dating to 2006…. Pekovic continues to be bothered by bone spurs in his right ankle, and the team has considered shutting him down for the final week of the season. “He kept telling me he was fine. Hopefully he can hold up in the last three,” Adelman said after the game.
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