Minnesota squanders valiant effort by Love

Following a lackluster first two quarters for him and his comrades, Kevin Love singlehandedly outscored Memphis in the third quarter, 18-16.

Brace Hemmelgarn/Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

MINNEAPOLIS — Like a magician executing the turn of a trick, Kevin Love had his defender befuddled.

Having already hit a pair of seemingly game-turning 3-pointers from the left wing — the three-time All-Star’s favorite spot behind the arc — his deft pump fake from the same spot created a comfortable walk-in space of breathing room around the left elbow. Love stepped into it, pulled up and hit a 15-foot jumper that gave the Timberwolves their first lead in a rough-and-tumble affair against Memphis on Friday.

It wouldn’t last.

The Western Conference All-Star starter had the second-most productive third frame of his career, helping Minnesota erase a 16-point deficit. It delighted a Target Center crowd of 17,429 that made as much noise as it had all season.

But like so many valiant individual Timberwolves efforts this season, Love’s NBA-leading 39th double-double and second-half outburst wasn’t enough in a 94-90 defeat.

Zach Randolph speared a decisive 11-2 run from the fourth quarter’s 5:13 mark until less than a minute remained. Tayshaun Prince capped it with a dagger 3-pointer from the right corner, holding one finger in the air for a not-so-brief moment.

Victorious in five of its previous six contests, Minnesota (23-23) fell back to .500 and slipped further behind Memphis in the West standings.

"We had our chances in the end," Love said. "We just didn’t convert."

Grizzlies 94, Timberwolves 90

Despite Love’s game-high 28 points — 18 in the third quarter — and 16 rebounds, Minnesota fell to 1-19 in games it’s trailed by 10 or more points and now sits 2 1/2 games back of Memphis and three behind Dallas, which currently holds the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot. A last-second J.J. Barea layup means the Timberwolves are now 1-12 in games decided by four points or less.

Following a lackluster first two quarters for him and his comrades, Love singlehandedly outscored Memphis in the third quarter, 18-16. His only miss came at the buzzer, and even that heave that traveled 3/4 the length of the court looked like it may have had a chance.

"Kevin, he got going in the second half, basically I think because we had better movement," Adelman said. "We weren’t forcing the issue; we kept going against the grain all the whole first half."

The league’s No. 4 scorer and No. 2 rebounder worked over the Grizzlies’ staunch frontcourt and stretched the floor with a trio of 3s. With point guard Ricky Rubio — six assists in the frame — instigating the offense, the Timberwolves closed the third in a 24-7 run after trailing 59-43 at the 7:24 mark.

"The second half was better," Adelman said. "It just wasn’t good enough."

Love did it all with a bulging left ankle he rolled with about 2 minutes left in the second quarter. Sweeping his way across the paint for a hook attempt, he landed awkwardly on Memphis guard Nick Calathes’ foot and spent the rest of the game favoring his right leg.

When he wasn’t pivoting his way to open jump shots and tearing down rebounds, that is.

"When I was moving, it felt fine, and I continued to keep it moving," said Love, who limped heavily out of the locker room before catching his team’s overnight flight to Atlanta, where they’ll close up a back-to-back Saturday evening. "But right now, it doesn’t feel so good."

The Timberwolves were already without starting center Nikola Pekovic, who’s out indefinitely with bursitis in his right ankle. Without an imposing physical presence to counteract his post dominance, Randolph scored half of his 26 points in the fourth quarter and made three consecutive jumpers inside the final 4 minutes to help Memphis secure a 12th win in its past 14 outings.

The lead had changed hands nine times in the fourth before Randolph took over.

"I looked at Pek after the game, patted him on the back and said ‘This is a game where we need you,’" Love said.

After his playmaking sparked the Timberwolves’ third-quarter rally, Rubio didn’t come off the bench in the fourth. As he’s done several times this season, Adelman went with Barea and his more reliable scoring potential.

He and fellow reserve Dante Cunningham both scored 12 points. Eight of Barea’s came in the final period.

"I thought we were getting into things with (Barea)," Adelman said. "He was a threat. You look back on it, maybe we would’ve changed it, should’ve changed it. We’ll have to look at it afterwards, but that’s how I felt at the time."

The starting point man on the other side, Mike Conley, scored 12 points but went 4 of 14 from the field and left with 6:37 to go after landing on Barea and tweaking his right ankle. Courtney Lee scored 16 points, and Prince finished with 11 for Dave Joerger, a Staples, Minn. native coaching his first game at the Target Center since being named head coach in June.

Memphis (25-20) enjoyed far more trips to the foul stripe, too, shooting 22 free throws to Minnesota’s 7. That had both Adelman and Love puzzled afterward.

"I’ve got to go look at this tape," said Adelman, whose team came in ranked third in the NBA in free throws attempted (26.9 per game). "I’ve got to figure out what are we doing not to get to the line, because we got to the line all year long."

Playing his ninth game since returning from a knee injury, Grizzlies center Marc Gasol established control early, manhandling Ronny Turiaf on the way to nine first-quarter points. Memphis led 30-22 entering the second quarter and 50-37 at halftime.

But that’s all Gasol would get, as the Timberwolves’ defense tightened for a third straight game. After making 14 of 22 field-goal tries in the opening stanza, the Grizzlies shot just 34.1 percent during the middle two quarters and finished the game at 47.5 percent.

But much like Love’s outburst, a second-half wakeup call wound up being all for naught.

"It’s not enough," Barea said. "We knew how big this game was tonight, and we’re really disappointed."

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