The Minnesota Timberwolves lost their 11th-straight game in the 2011-12 NBA season and their 27th-consecutive game in the month of April on Tuesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies. Invoking those dubious streaks may seem like a fancy way to say the T'Wolves have been a really bad team for a really long time, but in this case it is meant to provide a backdrop for the urgency and effort that Minnesota brought to their home floor in the 91-84 loss to the Grizz. They came so close to reducing those streaks to dust, but simply couldn't finish off a Memphis team playing for something more meaningful.
In the first two quarters of play, they traded leads eight times and ended up one point apart from each other. The Grizzlies grabbed an early 10-point lead with 60.9 percent shooting and nine assists on 14 made field goals in the first period. Marreese Speights anchored himself within five feet of the rim and hit his first five shots -- although he went 1-4 the rest of the way and finished with just 12 points and three rebounds -- while Mike Conley (16 points, eight assists, five rebounds) and Rudy Gay (28 points, nine rebounds, four assists) both supplemented that strong start with solid play.
Meanwhile, J.J. Barea scored 19 of his 28 points and dished three of his eight assists in the first half for Minnesota, and Nikolai Pekovic got more than half way to his 16-point, 11-rebound double-double, as each player kept the T'Wolves in contact with the Grizz.
Convulsions by both teams in the second half manufactured an odd brand of drama that paid service to the old "basketball is a game of runs" trope. First, Memphis turned to Conley, Randolph and Gay for a 10-2 run in the final 3:19 of the third quarter. They opened up an eight-point lead thanks to turnovers and poor shot selection from Minnesota, along with some hot outside shooting by Gay and Conley.
Then the T'Wolves suddenly mounted a furious comeback. A 1-15 shooting slump from Memphis over the first 8:24 of the final period featured particular low-lights from O.J. Mayo (4 missed FGs, 2 TOs), but plenty of teammates chipped in as well. As Mayo noted after the game, "[w]e don't have any trouble finding shots. We just have some problems making them sometimes." Hamed Haddaddi scored the only three Grizz points during that stretch, and after five quick points from both J.J. Barea and Anthony Tolliver, Minnesota seized an 81-80 advantage with 3:50 remaining in the game. Things looked up for an otherwise beaten down T'Wolves team.
However, Memphis snapped back to reality after a timeout and delivered their counter-punch to Minnesota's furious comeback bid. Rudy Gay ripped of the team's next seven points to fuel a decisive 9-3 spurt that snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Here's how head coach Lionel Hollins rallied the troops, via Phil Miller of NBA.com:
With 3:50 remaining and his team trailing by a point after a horrid 1-of-15 shooting spell, Memphis coach Hollins calmed his team with a surprising message: Don't change anything. The Grizzlies were taking good shots, he said, and they would eventually fall. They did; after the timeout, Rudy Gay hit a six-foot jumper, a put-back at the rim, and a wide open 3-pointer, opening a five-point lead that Memphis didn't surrender again.
Minnesota continued to run offense through Barea and Tolliver in the final minutes, but both players committed costly turnovers and settled for long shots as 10 prime possessions shriveled into three points. Now it's all just another disappointing loss in the disturbing tapestry of failure the Wolves have weaved for weeks and for years. Blue chip rookie Derrick Williams also only played seven minutes and scored just two points on 0-3 shooting. Go figure.
Tony Allen (1-6 FGs, two points) and Marc Gasol (2-8 FGs, four points, three rebounds) both looked awful in the win, but Memphis did the job and cemented their hold on the fifth seed in the Western Conference playoff bracket -- the LA Clippers are two games up for No. 4 and the Denver Nuggets are two games back at No. 6 overall.
For all of Tuesday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.