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Timberwolves’ win streak comes to a halt with loss to gritty Grizzlies

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) dribbles in the second quarter against Memphis Grizzlies forward JaMychal Green (0) at Target Center on Sunday, Nov. 18 Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports1 / 2
Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. (13) and Minnesota Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng (5) jump on a loose ball in the third quarter at Target Center on Sunday, Nov. 18. Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports2 / 2

MINNEAPOLIS — The Timberwolves were playing fast and free, sharing the ball and having fun in their first three games sans Jimmy Butler. But if there’s any team that knows how to suck the life out of an opponent, it’s the Memphis Grizzlies.  

In an ugly affair in which both teams made less than 43 percent of their shots, Memphis was more physical and less sloppy than the Wolves en route to a 100-87 victory at Target Center on Sunday, Nov. 18, that stopped Minnesota’s three-game winning streak dead on its tracks.

“It was a weird game all around,” Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns said. “You’ve just got to go out there and get the job done. We didn’t get the job done, obviously.”

Towns noted Sunday was the end of a “long week” for the Wolves, who played four games in seven days and practiced every day in between. Minnesota’s first off day in eight days will come Monday. Ending such a run with a game against the gritty Grizzlies spelled trouble.

Still, Sunday’s matinee played out like many Minnesota-Memphis games have in recent memory. The Grizzlies appeared to bully Minnesota at times. Their physicality and molasses-like pace left the game in a slog. Even offensive possessions felt like a chore for Minnesota, which shot just 39 percent from the field. More possessions than not ended with the Wolves clamoring for a foul call that wasn’t coming.

“A lot of guys were frustrated with the refs a little bit,” Robert Covington said, “so that kind of played into it a little bit.”

But it wasn’t as if the whistles were one sided. Each team was called for 20 fouls. Officials were simply letting players play — a stark contrast from the tight whistles most games have been controlled by early this season. Such a game favors a rough-and-tumble Memphis side.

“There’s a physicality to it and you have to adjust to the way the game is being called,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “There was probably more contact in that game than there’s been in most. But if that’s the way it’s going, that’s the way it’s going. … It was physical.”

And physicality tends to give Minnesota problems. Memphis is 26-8 against the Wolves over the past decade. The Wolves are 2-6 against the Grizzlies in their past eight meetings, but Memphis stars Mike Conley and Marc Gasol didn’t play in either of those Minnesota victories.

They did play Sunday. The results: Gasol finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds, while Conley tallied 18 points and nine assists.

When the Grizzlies are at full strength, the Wolves have no answer for them.

“We have to match their intensity,” Andrew Wiggins said. “Match how hard they play.”  

Or at least not let them dictate the game’s terms. Covington said the Wolves have to get out in transition and make their athleticism a factor against a team like Memphis. But it’s hard to do that when you can’t get out of your own way. Minnesota’s 20 turnovers led to 20 Grizzlies points.

“That definitely makes the game a lot harder,” Covington said. “That’s 20 times that we didn’t get a shot up or something bad happened. We’ve just got to be better and fight through that.”

Towns said the Wolves simply didn’t play with their usual energy. He then re-iterated a sentiment he shared plenty of times Sunday: “We had a long week.”

“It’s not an excuse,” Towns said. “Just got to understand what the facts are.”   

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