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Conley, Randolph Lead Grizzlies to Opening Night Win Over T-Wolves, 102-98

Zach Randolph thrived in his new role and Mike Conley lead the Grizzlies’ shiny, new perimeter shooting attack to grind out a close win over the young Timberwolves.

NBA: Preseason-Memphis Grizzlies at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies are back and playing meaningful basketball again. And they started off their year with a win.

Things got off to a very rocky start for the Grizz, as they fell behind 20-3 in the first quarter. But the team showed their veteran prowess and slowly chipped away at the Timberwolves lead.

One of the things that helped the Grizzlies roar back, and eventually win the game, was a display of perimeter shooting that was foreign to the Grizz in past seasons.

The Grizzlies shot 11-24 from three as a team, which comes out to 46%. Those 11 makes from downtown came from six different players, which is a good sign for new coach David Fizdale, who is seeking to modernize the offense of the old-school Grizz.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Bright Spots

Mike Conley lead the way with 24 points and 4 assists, and shot 4-5 from beyond the arc. Conley had his ups and downs in this game, but made plays when the Grizzlies needed them the most. Conley committed 5 fouls and even had a negative plus-minus at -2, but showed himself to be the leader and floor general that he was paid to be. Conley nailed a mid-range jumper from the left side with 24 seconds left to put the Grizzlies up by five, putting the game out of reach for the Wolves.

Starting forwards JaMaychal Green and James Ennis both served as very good offensive options, and were both key in the success in the area of outside shooting. Green registered 12 points, 7 boards, and drained both of his 3-point attempts. Ennis tallied 15 points and 6 boards, also sinking two 3-pointers. Ennis will not be a regular starter, but proved that he could be a nice floor spacing option until Chandler Parsons returns from injury. Green showed the energy, athleticism, and shooting ability that has fans excited about his fit as the new starting power forward.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Gasol and Randolph vs. Karl-Anthony Towns

Green’s place in the starting lineup comes because of his great potential fit complementing Marc Gasol, who returned to live action tonight. Gasol’s return to meaningful action was a very solid one. He looked like himself offensively, scoring 18 points and hurting the Wolves from the inside and out. Gasol also added 4 blocks on the defensive end and had a very entertaining battle with rising superstar, Karl-Anthony Towns down low.

Towns had a nice debut in his highly anticipated sophomore season, scoring 21 points, grabbing 4 rebounds, and dishing out 5 assists in the loss. But for the most part, Gasol and the Grizzlies were able to corral him as his 21 points came on 20 shot attempts. Towns himself had his moments but did have trouble defending the savvy veteran big men of Memphis.

Zach Randolph caused Towns, and the entire Wolves team, a lot of problems. This was Z-Bo’s regular season debut in his new role as the team’s sixth man, and he lived up to the high expectations that fans had for him in that role. Randolph was terrific in tallying 19 points and 11 rebounds in 25 minutes of play. Randolph looked fresh and healthy in this role, thus kick-starting his Sixth Man of the Year campaign.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Shooting Guard Controversy

With Tony Allen still out with an injury, the Grizzlies now have some controversy regarding who should start in his place next to Conley in the backcourt. Former Kentucky standout Andrew Harrison got the start at the 2-guard spot and lead the team with 38 minutes played.

But in those 38 minutes, Harrison shot 1-7 from the floor and 0-4 from deep, registering only 4 points, 4 assists, and 3 turnovers. Fans are calling for 2016 first round pick, Wade Baldwin IV to step into the starting lineup for the time being. Baldwin played 25 minutes and did a little bit of everything for Memphis. He showed great two-way potential in registering 7 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, and 3 blocks. Baldwin is the first player in NBA history to record at least 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks, and 3 steals in their first NBA game.

Baldwin was clearly more comfortable on the floor and showed that he is the much more talented of the two players. Harrison has the ability to be a solid bench player, but should be replaced by Baldwin in the starting rotation until Allen returns.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Overall Takeaway

This was a very solid opening night performance for the Grizzlies.

Especially given that the team was missing multiple significant contributors in Allen, Parsons, and Brandan Wright, tonight should be encouraging for fans.

The Timberwolves did have their moments tonight, though. Their young players stepped up and delivered good performances. Andrew Wiggins scored 25 points, while Zach Lavine added 19, and Gorgui Dieng had a double-double with 12 points and 14 rebounds. But the Grizzlies’ defense was solid, holding them to 42% from the floor and 6-18 from 3-point range.

Offensively the Grizzlies looked strong, as Fizdale’s philosophy showed in a slightly faster pace and better perimeter attack. Fans can expect the offense to get better with time and with the pending insertion of Parsons into the lineup.

From a rebounding standpoint, the Grizzlies had many contributors. Randolph (11), Green (7), Ennis (6), Vince Carter (7), and Baldwin (5) all were very good on the glass. The team would, ideally, like to get more boards from Gasol, who only had 3.

The Grizz did defeat a team that won only 29 games last season. But they also defeated a team with a lot of young talent and a very good coach in Tom Thibodeau.

This is also only the second opening night win that the Grizzlies have earned since arriving in Memphis. Their record is 2-14 on opening night, with both wins coming over the T-Wolves.

It was not the perfect performance, but there were some very promising signs shown by the Grizzlies. With more time and better health, which is always a question for the Grizz, this team should continue to win games.

Here’s to more good perimeter shooting and a successful year for the Grizzlies.

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