D'Angelo Russell had no trouble taking over in a playoff-worthy performance by the rising Timberwolves.
Russell had 23 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter, including a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 1:23 left, to lead the Timberwolves past the Memphis Grizzlies 119-114 on Thursday.
“They can’t stop all of us. I think that’s the hardest thing for any team, to stop all three of us,” Russell said. “If something’s not working, we see the next plan working.”
Towns added 22 points and 11 rebounds and Malik Beasley had 17 points on 5-for-7 shooting from 3-point range for the Timberwolves, who grinded and hustled their way to a season split of four games against the Grizzlies. They could meet again, of course, in the playoffs.
“We feel like we play this team really well. We feel like we match up,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “We feel like we should be at least 3-1 against them this season. They’ve found ways to beat us in the end.”
Not this time, when Ja Morant‘s 3-pointer from the top of the key with 5 seconds remaining fell well short. He was well-guarded by Edwards, who celebrated the defensive success afterward like it was a 40-point game.
“I always tell people I’d rather get a game-saving block than a game-winning shot. I take pride in that,” Edwards said. “I feel like anybody can hit a game-winning shot. But I don’t think anybody can go get a game-winning block … or a game-winning stop.”
The Grizzlies were ahead by as many as 15 points in the first quarter but lost their lead for good on Russell’s layup with 7:11 to go. Russell also broke ties with a 3-pointer with 6:23 left and a pair of free throws at the 2-minute mark.
“He got whatever he wanted out of pick and roll,” Finch said.
The Grizzlies, one of the most well-rounded teams in the league who brought the NBA’s third-best record out of the All-Star break, were ultimately done in by mental breakdowns on defense.
“We gave them too many open looks, layups, free throws,” coach Taylor Jenkins said. “If we’re going to be good and take the next step as a team, we’re always going to have the physical edge but we’ve got to have that mental edge. We didn’t have it tonight.”
Ziaire Williams and Jaren Jackson Jr. each scored 21 points for Memphis, which averaged more than 126 points over a 6-1 stretch leading into the All-Star break. This was far from the finest or sharpest performance for the Grizzlies, but their 59-42 rebounding edge helped keep them in it.
Brandon Clarke‘s tip-in with 1:40 remaining gave the Grizzlies a 114-all tie, but Russell – who urged Minnesota’s fans earlier this month to crank up the noise – sent the crowd into a frenzy at the other end with another swish.
Morant was not at full strength after getting hurt in the third quarter, an injury that Jenkins described as cramping. Morant gutted his way to 20 points despite shooting 7 for 25, never shying from knifing through traffic and taking the ball to the basket – oftentimes hitting the floor hard after letting it go.
Morant, who became the first guard and the youngest player in Grizzlies history to make the All-Star Game last week, gave them a scare when he hobbled to the locker room while clutching at his left hip. But he was back for the fourth quarter to set up the taut finish.
“He basically just needed to get stretched out, and he was better. He’s obviously going to be sore,” Jenkins said.