MEMPHIS, Tenn. — On Saturday night in Cleveland, the Memphis Grizzlies had rallied in the fourth quarter to give themselves a chance to upset the Cavaliers. Though they lost that game and their losing streak stretched to 11 games, some of the momentum they created carried over to Monday night’s game at FedExForum.
“I kinda felt it (a win) coming after that Cleveland game,” said Grizzlies guard Tyreke Evans, who finished with 16 points, nine assists, five rebounds and three blocks as Memphis ended its skid with a 95-92 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. “We talked about it after the game. That team was in the finals and if we can do that against them ...”
Then a victory would finally come. But having not won since Nov. 7 at Portland, it would not come easily. Minnesota shooting guard Jimmy Butler, who had a game-high 30 points, launched an off-balance 3-point attempt at the buzzer that would have tied the game, but the shot was off target.
Memphis starting point guard Mike Conley (sore Achilles) was on the bench in street clothes, but was an animated cheerleader. Postgame he summed up his feelings with a two-word tweet: “Thank God.”
On the last play, Memphis center Marc Gasol (21 points, seven rebounds and five assists) switched with guard Andrew Harrison as the Timberwolves ran a pick-and-roll. Harrison briefly had to guard center Karl-Anthony Towns (game-high 11 rebounds and seven points) but then had Butler when the ball came back to him.
“Kinda made him take a tough shot,” said Harrison, who finished with eight points. “I’m happy he missed.”
Gasol was downright giddy, hugging a local sideline TV reporter and saying, “We won” and letting loose an expletive.
Butler, who also had five assists and four steals, was asked if he got a good look: “I think every shot I take is a good look.”
Butler was 11 of 21 from the floor but Towns, who averages right at 20 points a game, only attempted six shots and made two. He did have three assists.
“The plan going in was to try to not let him play,” said Grizzlies interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff. “We wanted to limit his touches as much as we possibly could.”
Memphis (8-15) prevailed for the first time under Bickerstaff. The previous head coach, David Fizdale, was fired last week when the losing streak was at eight games.
The streak has been difficult and forward JaMychal Green, who gave the Grizzlies 14 points and nine rebounds, said the team stayed together better Monday night than it has during some other games.
“We be down some days,” he said of team morale. “But we did a great tonight of not fading away from one another.”
The Grizzlies carried a one-point lead into the fourth quarter and neither team led by more than one possession in the final 8:41 of game time. Evans hit two free throws with 12.7 seconds left to give the Grizzlies a three-point cushion before Butler missed his shot on the game’s last possession.
“Our defense in the first half hurt us badly,” said Minnesota coach Thom Thibodeau. “It was a little better in the second half.”
Said Butler: “I don’t think we got to loose balls. They’re a hard-playing team.”
Minnesota (14-11) got 14 points from forward Taj Gibson and 12 each from forward Andrew Wiggins and guard Jeff Teague.
The Timberwolves shot 44.3 percent from the floor and went 4 of 17 (23.5 percent) from 3-point range. Memphis shot 47.2 percent from the field while going 6 of 21 (28.6 percent) from long distance.
The Grizzlies had a 24-8 edge on fast-break points and owned a 41-34 rebounding edge.
NOTES: Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau only used eight players Sunday in a 112-106 home victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in the first night of a back-to-back set. Every starter played at least 35 minutes. Coming into the Monday game F Andrew Wiggins was tied for third in the NBA in minutes per game at 37.0, and SG Jimmy Butler was seventh at 36.5. He used only eight plays at Memphis, too. Butler played 40 minutes against the Grizzlies. Asked if fatigue was a factor, he said: “Does it matter?” ... Since J.B. Bickerstaff took over as head coach of the Grizzlies, guard Andrew Harrison has made 13 of 22 shots from the field (59.1 percent) and 5 of 6 from 3-point range (83.3 percent) in four games. ... The Memphis victory snapped an eight-game home losing streak.