Timberwolves 105, Sixers 88: the clouds break

Benjamin Polk —  December 4, 2012 — 8 Comments

The Wolves, as we had sensed all season long and as Zach meticulously charted earlier today, have been a monumentally poor three-point shooting team this season. Poor enough to be mentioned along the worst three point shooting teams of the post-Rockets era; poor enough to evoke the memory of Nikoloz Tskitishvili. But though the phenomenon was all too real, you had to have the feeling that it couldn’t last. Chase Budinger would return; Kevin Love would find his stroke; the market would self-correct (as it always does, right?). It just seemed statistically improbable that the insane specter of competent NBA players bricking open jumper after open jumper could sustain itself over the course of an entire season.

Likewise, though, we should not delude ourselves into believing that Wolves’ transcendent shooting display in Philly will become their new standard. 13-25 from behind the stripe is simply not something you’re going to see every day. Instead, as Rick Adelman has been reminding us all season, in both cases–hot or hopelessly cold–we should be examining the kinds of shots the Wolves are taking and the precision and creativity with which they create those shots.

This blowout win against the Sixers was mostly encouraging on both counts. The first half was probably their most impressive stretch of offensive basketball this year. The Wolves’ starters showed great execution and patience in in the half court, cycling through their options on each possession, reversing the ball, forcing the Sixers into overcommitting on helps and rotations and taking the open shots when they materialized. Josh Howard looked like an energetic, sweet-shooting young man. Malcolm Lee never missed. It was great.

But it wasn’t until the reserves showed up that the Wolves really dropped the hammer. I wrote over the weekend about the J.J Barea paradox. When he’s at his worst, Barea plays both too fast and too slow; his movements are frantic and hurried but he also holds the ball too long, over-dribbling and stagnating the offense. At his best, as he was tonight, he is both more decisive–quicker to make decisions, more purposeful in his attack–and more patient. He pushed the pace, as he always does, scoring points in transition and pressuring the defense in the early half court. But he did so with a composure that was lacking from the second half of Friday night’s game against Milwaukee.

Two second quarter assists to Derrick Williams illustrate this nicely. On the first, Barea pushed tempo off of a Jason Richardson three-point miss. The Sixers had four players back but had yet to match up in their half court defense. Barea exploited their momentary confusion by driving the baseline and drawing three defenders before firing a pass from under the basket to a wide-open Williams on the wing. Two minutes later, Barea broke down Jrue Holliday on the perimeter and penetrated the paint, causing the Sixers’ defense to collapse. Williams’ defender left him to help on the drive; Williams rotated into the space vacated by Barea behind the three-point line; Barea calmly spun and delivered a perfect pass; Williams nailed the three. (For the record, Williams again made good use of his brief time on the floor. He competed for rebounds and looked poised in hitting three out of his five field goals.)

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One of the Wolves’ great concerns coming into this game was whether they would be able to contain the Sixers’ dribble penetration. There just didn’t seem to be a combination of Wolves’ perimeter defenders who could guard Jrue Holliday and Jason Richardson. Both Sixers had solid games (J-Rich was 6-10 from the field, Holliday had nine assists) but they didn’t shred the Wolves’ guards the way we feared they might. Rick Adelman chose to start Malcolm Lee and Luke Ridnour, sticking Lee on the quicker Holliday and putting Ridnour in the familiar position of defending a much bigger two-guard.

Now, Sixers coach Doug Collins must know that Ridnour has been struggling to move laterally, to contain the ball and negotiate screens. But rather than exploiting this weakness by putting Richardson into the pick-and-roll, Collins, mesmerized by the siren song of the size mismatch, asked Richardson to post-up. This is an understandable urge, but Ridnour competed manfully in the post. He denied J-Rich the ball and generally frustrated the bigger fella with his energy and quick hands. Richardson scored some points in transition and off of offensive rebounds, but it was the Wolves’ guards who hit threes, dropped dimes, did damage in the paint. The four of them (J.J., Ridnour, Lee and Alexey Shved) combined to hit  18 of their 30 shots and dish out 19 assists. Certainly not how I would have predicted it all to turn out.

Now then. The Wolves have defended better than anybody could have expected. It looks like they just might be returning to jump-shooting normalcy. They are .500. Anyone else excited to see what happens when Kevin Love finds his legs, when Andrei Kirilenko returns, when Ricky Rubio finally steps on the floor?

 

Benjamin Polk

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8 responses to Timberwolves 105, Sixers 88: the clouds break

  1. This game, if anything, showed off the strength of our depth. Even with Love and Pek only scoring a combined 12pts (!?), we won, because we have a lot of talented dudes. Today they all played well at the same time.

    If our wings, backcourt, and bench can even play 2/3 this well somewhat consistently this year, we’ll be great.

    Also, it’s great to see Williams start to get some confidence and consistency. He is quickly losing whipping boy status with me.

  2. Hahahaha….sigh*…I think I’ve been a Minnesota sports fan for far too long. Not to be a downer or anything but I’m going to roll Zach’s “sometimes a game is just a game” logic and Aldeman’s tempered comments into one thought here. How many times in the past couple of years did role players like Beasely and Darko tease us with 30 pt games?

    Because that’s kind of what this game was Love and Pek with a bunch of role players teasing. Don’t get me wrong I’m happy for them and I get as fanatic as the next guy talking about the potential when everybody is back but the reality is we barely got a taste of the Rubio/Love/Pek/Aldeman pie with the lock out and the injury. Love/AK have barely been on the floor together. let alone the actual T’Wolves team of Rubio/AK/Love/Pek.
    Like i said I’m happy for them but i reserve true unfettered joy until at least the Fantastic Four are back and gelled

    Ps. Here’s some optimism for you. If everything comes up roses from here on out. I think it goes with out saying when Ricky comes back and gets his legs under him Luke is gonna get his chance to hit the spa and heal. Meaning that if we’re done getting hurt the time line is almost perfect. The starters come back gel and put us in good position for the playoffs with just enough time to rest at the same time Roy, Chase and a healthy Luke come back with a month or two to get their legs under them and gel setting the team up for the playoffs with fresh veterans and little tape for the other teams to prepare with. Just saying this all could work out almost like it was planned…or we can continue playing the “missed connection” game

  3. I’m excited! And I think maybe Jim Peterson is reading this;)
    KGvs.KLove. I say both of them get t’d up and neither are the biggest factors in the outcome if the game.
    Jim if I’m right how bout a shout out?

  4. Hey good read. Great game. I said at the beginning of the year that this was some Billy Beane “Money Ball”. They got the right character guys with the right basketball knowledge and the right skills that compliment each other and the willingness to do so. Finally fun to watch. I can’t tell you how many years I have been pulling out my hair watching this team mostly for the lack of basketball intelligence. Also guys coming in this year know what they can or can’t do. They have a whole group of guys that all bring something to the table or court. BOSTON YOUR NEXT.

  5. “But rather than exploiting this weakness by putting Richardson into the pick-and-roll, Collins, mesmerized by the siren song of the size mismatch, asked Richardson to post-up.”

    Brilliant

  6. Daniel- to answer your question, Darko never had a 30-point game. And I don’t remember getting excited about one of Beasley’s. I do get excited when move the ball well and get seven different guys in double figures. Confusing comment, tearing down everyone else’s optimism and then just trying to build back up the same sense of hope…

    Great article, Ben. Good breakdown of the guard comparison. Crafty Luke looked comfortable defending the post and almost relieved that J-Rich took him there. I’m worried about three things tonight-
    1) Rondo coming back from suspension and wanting to send a message (to the NBA) – is Lee going to see more minutes to follow him around?
    2) Pek looked uncomfortable at times in the post last night. Tonight’s matchups present the perfect opportunity for him to snap out of this mini-funk. I’m a little worried if he doesn’t take advantage.
    3) Free throw woes. Zach needs to write an article about it asap to snap us out of it.

    Keep it up, AWAW! Killin’ it this year.

  7. It was a fun game to watch but there is one thing no one is mentioning…there was over 3 minutes in the 3rd that the wolves couldn’t score. The only good part was that Philly couldn’t score in that time frame either. The Wolves tossed the ball away, took bad shots, and stopped passing the ball. It seems to happen every game. This is where the Wolves have lost games. They allow a team to get back in it or worse build a lead. I’m hoping when Rubio comes back he can keep these lawls from happening. But if the trend continues it’s going to be hard to beat elite teams and win close games.

  8. I love the idea of Adelman putting Luke on Richardson, *knowing* that Collins will respond to the stimuli by posting up and thus failing to exploit the matchup to its full advantage.

    Who knows if Adelman plays psychological games with opposing coaches, but it is fun to think about.

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