MEMPHIS — The Memphis Grizzlies opened the new season with a 105-101 win against the Minnesota Timberwolves. It was the first time the team won a regular-season opener since coming to Memphis from Vancouver in 2001. The last win came on Oct. 31, 2000 against Seattle.
Center Marc Gasol had a career-high 32 points as the Grizzles overcame only 10 points from the bench and being out-rebounded 47-33.
No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins drew a heavy load of Canadian media and his first career start with Kevin Martin benched with an ankle injury. He scored six points and had three fouls at the half, while being guarded by Grizzlies’ defensive hound Tony Allen.
"He’s arguably the best defender in the NBA," Wiggins said.
Memphis plays two on the road, at Indiana on Friday and at Charlotte on Saturday before hosting Southwest division opponent New Orleans on Monday.
Zach Randolph could not miss in the first quarter. Z-Bo, who at one point in the preseason had hit 10-of-26 shots, started the game with five straight makes and scored 12 of his 25 points in the quarter. But it was Gasol who wound up with a career-high 32 points.
To what did the center attribute his performance?
"I think it’s pretty amazing what a haircut will do," Gasol said, "because everybody keeps talking about it."
Gasol (14.6 points per game last season) looked rejuvenated in the preseason and vowed to be more offensively aggressive this season. He delivered on the promise in the opener. He had three points in the first quarter but 16 by the break with added nine rebounds.
Minnesota doesn’t have the size to deal with both bigs and both took advantage. Randolph, who was tied for fourth in the NBA last season with 47 double-doubles, picked up 13 rebounds.
It was across the board for Gasol, who is in a contract season. He played a game-high 36 minutes, 55 seconds, made 12-of-17 shots, eight of his 10 free throws and added three assists, two steals and two blocked shots.
"After last year with the injury (Grade 2 MCL), I felt as if I needed to take a step forward," Gasol said. "Losing in the seventh game (of the first round of the playoffs at OKC) gave me motivation to work all summer and try to be healthier and be stronger so I can be more active for longer times. That’s pretty much it. And the haircut."
Memphis outscored Minnesota 58-34 in the paint and shot 52.4 percent from the field. Gasol’s previous high was 30.
The Grizzlies take pride in rebounding and despite a season-opening win, there is plenty of room to improve. Minnesota out-rebounded the Grizzlies 47-33, a wide margin glaring even brighter on the offensive end where the Timberwolves had 19 to Memphis’ 10.
Starting guard Courtney Lee said the guards have to do a better job aiding the effort. He won’t get an argument from Randolph.
"We’ve just got to get the guards in there to get rebounds," Randolph said. "It’s the first game. We’ve got a lot to work on."
There is some excuse found against a heavy jump-shooting team, but take away Jon Leuer’s three boards and the Grizzlies’ bench only grabbed three rebounds. Lee, Allen and point guard Mike Conley combined for five rebounds.
"Well, we’ve got to do better," Gasol said. "They usually take a lot of jumpers and they keep a guy right underneath the basket on the weak side. You help up on the shot and when the shot happens, he already has position, and it’s so hard to push them out of there. And there are crazy bounces. We have to do better."
The biggest of Randolph’s 13 boards came as the clock ticked under 2 minutes in the fourth quarter. Tied at 96 after Memphis native Thaddeus Young hit two of his team-high 26 points, Randolph grabbed Conley’s missed 3-pointer and tipped it in for a two-point lead the Grizzlies never lost.
Conley and Allen each picked up two first-quarter fouls, sending both to the bench. Despite an early entrance, the Grizzlies’ bench scored only 10 points. Minnesota got 46 from its subs, 18 from Mo Williams and 13 from Shabazz Muhammad.
"I wouldn’t say they struggled," Allen said. "I thought guys came in and made key plays … I like our bench. I trust our bench. They’ve been working hard all summer, so shout out to them."
Quincy Pondexter and Vince Carter scored four each and Beno Udrih had the other two. Carter made a pair of huge free throws in his Grizzlies debut. Up 103-101 with 7.3 seconds to play, Carter was fouled on his patented fade and made both.
Four starters scored in double figures and Allen had eight, but when that’s not the case, the bench needs more than 10.
"Those guys will find their rhythm and identities," Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. "I think it’s difficult for Jon and Q. They’re used to playing with Nick Calathes (serving left-over suspension) and Nick plays a certain way. Beno plays a different way and we’re still learning each other and where guys are … it’ll continue to get better."