Pay attention, Timberwolves; this is exactly what you want to be.
The Dallas Mavericks put the Wolves through a basketball clinic Friday night and showed the young Pups exactly where they need to end up as a team. Dallas isn’t a perfect team by any means and they certainly didn’t play a perfect basketball game. However, they did respond to moments in a basketball game the exact way you’d love to see the Wolves respond, night in and night out.
The Mavs set the tone early, capitalizing on a huge matchup problem that the Wolves didn’t know how to defend. The problem when you play two point guards in the backcourt is that the opposing team can get away from what they typically and just post one of those point guards up constantly. Most teams don’t out of stubbornness or a lack of creativity. They like to run their sets and get their game established. Rick Carlisle on the other hand decided to punish the Wolves early and often with Vince Carter trying to be checked by Luke Ridnour.
The Mavs seemed to go exclusively to Vince to start the game and dared the Wolves to make a personnel move throughout this game. It was a brilliantly obvious call by Carlisle over and over, and the Wolves couldn’t do anything to stop it. It’s not that Vince himself necessarily destroyed the Wolves; he had five points in the first and 12 for the game. But every time the Mavs went to him on the block against Luke, the Wolves had to double and rotate. And the rotations were not good last night. Mavs shooters were left open constantly throughout the game and it allowed them to get into a rhythm from beyond the arc.
The Mavs just capitalized on the Wolves mistakes all night. Missed rotation or left a shooter too much space on the perimeter? 3-pointer made. Turn the ball over carelessly? Transition bucket was coming back at you. Allow Dirk Nowitzki to catch the ball anywhere inside of halfcourt? He buried jumpers in your helpless eyes.
The Mavericks were opportunistic in this game, which was a good thing for them because the Wolves decided to give them plenty of opportunities. Wolves set a league-high record of 28 turnovers in last night’s game. 28! Seven players committed at least three turnovers for the Wolves. And the biggest difference in this game between the two teams was how each team dealt with turnovers by the other team.
Dallas wasn’t perfect executing on offense by any means. Jason Kidd threw the ball all over the place with eight of the Mavs’ 18 team turnovers. But the Wolves scored just 10 points off of those 18 turnovers. Conversely, Dallas scored 30 points off of the Wolves’ 28 turnovers, and you can’t win a basketball game with that kind of disparity.
I keep trying to figure out how to analytically break this game down in a way that will have some meaning, but there just isn’t much to it. The Wolves didn’t handle the zone defense well. It was the fourth quarter against Atlanta all over again. The Wolves didn’t guard the 3-point line well either. Minnesota outrebounded their opponent, got to the free throw line eight more times, MADE 27 of their 31 free throw attempts and forced turnovers.
But this game never felt like they were in control at any point. Even when they’d make a run, Dallas would respond instantly with a run of their own. Dallas had a cold and calculated answer to everything the Wolves wanted to do. Force turnovers and make your 3s; it can make you a dangerous team.
One more thing before I end this:
I don’t know who told the Minnesota Timberwolves that they were a 3-point shooting team but whomever it was, he lied to our beloved Wolves.
I know the Wolves were a top-5 team in 3-point percentage last season. This season, the Pups are currently 20th in the NBA in 3-point percentage. Last night, Michael Beasley got hot from 3-point range, making four of his five attempts. That saved the Wolves’ percentage and boosted it up to 26.1% on the night. All Wolves’ players not named Michael Beasley were 2/18 (11%). It’s hard to miss that many 3s if you’re trying to miss them.
You would think by accident more 3s would be going in for the Wolves last night and this season in general. Or maybe they used up all of their accidental 3-point makes last season. Whatever the reason is for their missed outside shooting, I’d love for them to make a concerted effort to drive on defenders who closeout hard and only shoot the open ones.