MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — For most of this season, the Memphis Grizzlies have been one of the very best teams at the end of tight games while the Minnesota Timberwolves have seemingly perfected the art of blowing the big lead by faltering down the stretch.
The roles were reversed on Saturday night, with the young Wolves showing their resolve late while the experienced Grizzlies just couldn’t come up with the big shots and stops when they needed them.
Shabazz Muhammad scored 25 points and the Timberwolves snapped the Grizzlies’ four-game winning streak with a 106-101 victory on Saturday night.
Ricky Rubio had 15 points, 12 assists and six rebounds and Andrew Wiggins scored 19 points for the Timberwolves, who beat a team with a winning record for the first time since Nov. 25. Minnesota improved to just 7-17 at home this season and has now won twice at home this week after an ugly nine-game losing skid.
“We played good tonight, but not just good, we played smart,” Rubio said. “That means we’ve been learning. After that stretch that we had, I think the last four games we’ve been playing better.”
Mario Chalmers scored 19 points for the banged-up Grizzlies. Marc Gasol played through pain and finished with 17 points in 32 minutes. The Grizzlies had the ball down one with 35 seconds to play but were whistled for a 5-second call on the inbound.
“It was very tough,” Grizzlies guard Mike Conley said. “We worked very hard to get to that spot and the game ended the way it ended. We gave ourselves a chance to win, but we shouldn’t have put ourselves in that position to begin with.”
The Wolves led by 16 in the second quarter but were in danger of losing their 12th game this season when leading by at least 10 points when Matt Barnes’ 3-pointer tied the game at 99 with 2 minutes to play.
They went the final 2:28 without a field goal, but Rubio and Wiggins hit key free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
Gasol and Conley played through injuries and Tony Allen missed the game, leaving coach Dave Joerger without his best perimeter defender to throw at Wiggins and Muhammad.
The Timberwolves have struggled mightily to get out in transition all season long because they have had to devote so much attention to the defensive glass. But they looked like a different team right from the jump on Saturday night, with Rubio quarterbacking the kind of high-octane attack that the Wolves hoped to employ with the athletic youngsters on their roster.
Minnesota’s high for transition points this season had been 24 points. They had 21 in the first half alone and blitzed the Grizzlies with a 24-3 run in the second quarter that put them in command.
“The first thing that coach said at halftime was we’ve been through this before,” Muhammad said. “We’re not going to celebrate. You guys need to come out in the second half and handle business. That’s what we did.”
The Timberwolves went 33 for 36 on free throws, compared to 18 for 22 for Memphis. Joerger and Chalmers each picked up technical fouls for arguing with the officials.
“I didn’t have any problem with (the 5-second) call. I had no problem with that call right there,” Joerger said. “Don’t ask me about any other.”
Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine, the reigning Slam Dunk champion who won with an electric performance last year, has played it coy when asked about whether he plans to defend his title. He did so again on Saturday, hinting that there are big plans in the works.
“It’s a little bit of a surprise still,” LaVine said. “I don’t know. I’m going with maybe.”
LaVine said he has not been practicing any new dunks yet, but if he does dunk in Toronto next month, he has plenty of tricks in his bag.
“I will probably start practices soon, if it does happen,” he said. “I think I have enough dunks saved to where I know I can go out there and put on a good show.”
Grizzlies: Randolph surpassed 9,000 rebounds for his career with two boards in the first quarter. … Barnes had 13 points and five assists.
Timberwolves: Kevin Garnett did not play in the second half because of a sore right knee. He finished with two points in 9 minutes and was a plus-12 for the night. … Karl-Anthony Towns had 14 points and nine rebounds and Kevin Martin scored 11 points.
Grizzlies: Visit Orlando on Monday night.
Timberwolves: Visit Cleveland on Monday night.
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