MEMPHIS — For the entire fourth quarter, the starters sat, Minnesota Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman dug deep into his bench and a group of reserves turned a blowout into a loss that, on the surface, looked at least a bit easier to take.
A three-game Wolves winning streak came to a grinding halt Wednesday at FedExForum. It ran right into a wall in an 85-80 loss to a Memphis team that had lost three in a row and seven of nine entering the game.
It was a loss in which the Wolves set season lows for points in the second quarter (13), first half (34) and for a game (80). Playing the past two games without the suspended Kevin Love, the Wolves turned in two of their three lowest-scoring games of the season.
Adelman complained about things that would have sounded pretty familiar a year ago. Things like a lack of aggression, a lack of energy. A team that didn’t run plays, didn’t move the ball, instead shooting it too quickly. No wonder Adelman went outside the box with a lineup of Michael Beasley, J.J. Barea, Anthony Tolliver, Anthony Randolph and Wayne Ellington for the final 12 minutes.
“I was just trying to find something,” Adelman said. “Something to give us a lift, give those guys a chance to cut into 1/8the Memphis lead]. … Our effort has to be higher than that.”
In a very quiet locker room after the game, one player after another shook his head when asked what happened.
“I couldn’t find a rhythm,” said Ricky Rubio, who didn’t play in the fourth quarter for the first time this season.
Maybe that’s because he scored just four points on 1-for-6 shooting with a season-low one assist and four turnovers.
“It’s my fault,’’ Rubio said. ‘‘I did a lot of things bad. I have to learn from that.”
Derrick Williams, playing in front of his grandfather for the first time, was the exception to the rule. He came out quick and finished with 13 points and a career-high nine rebounds. But he was part of a starting unit that struggled badly with transition defense and on the boards; Memphis scored 22 points off Wolves turnovers, scored 20 on the fast break and outrebounded the Love-less Wolves 59-47.
“I don’t have an answer to that,” Williams said. “Maybe just fatigue. With a team like Memphis, they’re going to get out in transition and score every time if you don’t get back, if you don’t take care of the ball. I don’t know the answer.”
Both teams struggled to hit shots. It’s just that Memphis made up for it with transition points and second-chance opportunities. The Wolves just struggled, period. The starting backcourt of Rubio and Luke Ridnour scored six points on 2-for-14 shooting. Indeed, the Memphis backcourt — both starters and reserves — seemed a step quicker much of the night.
Down 44-34 at halftime, the Grizzlies came out in the third and built the lead to 16 with 7 minutes left in the quarter. Finally the Wolves produced a run. With Nikola Pekovic and Wes Johnson scoring four points each, the Wolves scored 10 in a row to pull within six points on Johnson’s slam off an alley-oop pass from Rubio with 4 minutes left in the quarter.
The momentum didn’t last. The Grizzlies were back up 12 by the end of the quarter.
And that’s why Adelman turned to the bench.
It worked, to a point. Barea —who scored a season-high 17 points with six assists — led the group to within seven points three times late in the game, but the Wolves couldn’t get stops.