Timberwolves 111, Suns 107: Getting big
The makeup of what this team is good at and what they struggle to do still confounds me a bit.
Going into this season, I don’t think there were many people who assumed the Wolves would struggle offensively (22nd) and be a defensive juggernaut of sorts (6th). A big part of the reason is the outside shooting of the Timberwolves. This team is still under 30% on the season and no team in the history of the NBA has taken more 3-pointers per game while making under 30% of them. The Wolves just can’t shoot the 3-ball right now and probably won’t shoot it well until Kevin Love gets back into rhythm and Chase Budinger gets back onto the court.
Until that happens, the Wolves have to go inside and they have to be clever about the way they go inside. Just straight pounding the ball into the post with Love and Pek is too basic to be consistently effective against opposing defenses. The Wolves have an advantage in the frontcourt that most teams don’t seem to have around the league. Between Andrei Kirilenko, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love, there are few SF/PF/C hydras as crafty at scoring the basketball as the Wolves’ trio.
These three guys are so good at getting the ball in the post, cutting to the basket, and facing up with the ball. And the Wolves have to recognize that. We saw a lot of that with Pek and AK early on. These two guys were utilizing the spacing of having threats like Alexey Shved and Love next to them. Kirilenko cut to the basket with the greatest of ease and chicanery. As soon as his defender would turn his head, Kirilenko was tiptoeing along the baseline like a cat burglar on a rooftop. Pek steamrolled down the lane to clear space and score at the rim.
This is the way the Wolves have to continue to score and that’s what Rick Adelman’s offense affords them the opportunity to do. With Rubio out due to back spasms and Luke Ridnour just not having much of an impact passing the ball last night, the Wolves turned to the continued emergence of Shved’s passing game. It will take a long time for Shved to acquire the necessary consistency with his shot selection and passing decisions to really thrive at a higher level than what we’ve seen so far, but you can clearly see the potential is there and being realized little by little.
When Shved is delivering the ball with clairvoyance, it can be a pretty special moment.
That is an absurd pass. It’s the kind of pass that makes you daydream about the combination of a healthy Rubio, Shved, Kirilenko, Love, a healthy Chase, Cunningham spotting up, Pek rolling to the basket, etc. When/if this team gets healthy, the experience gained by the injury-riddled days could be huge for the continuity of this offense, which has been absent most nights so far this season. Even Shved can’t help but slyly grin at the thought:
As impressive as the Wolves’ frontcourt was in this game (AK, Pek and Love combined for 71 points and 34 rebounds), everything came down to late game execution, which the Wolves have struggled mightily with this season. First off, the Wolves did a fantastic job of taking care of the ball in this game. They had a turnover rate of just 10.1% and didn’t commit a single turnover in the final 19:50 of this game. Secondly, the Wolves executed incredibly well after getting down 102-99 with 3:47 left in the game.
From that point on, the Wolves scored 12 points on the last eight possessions of the game. Only one of those eight possessions didn’t result in at least one point. That’s an incredible stretch of execution by Minnesota. Granted, that was against a bad Phoenix Suns team, that is the fifth worst defensive team in the NBA. But the Wolves still had to execute and they figured out how. They went heavily to the mismatch of Pekovic vs. the Suns’ interior. They had zero answers for him all night and he destroyed a slow rotating Gortat or Morris or Scola or whoever was unfortunate enough to have to try to stop him inside.
This wasn’t an impressive win by the Wolves but it was much needed show of execution when things started to look like the victory was going to be given away. They seemingly had problems with the Suns just making tough shots all night. It didn’t matter who defended Luis Scola; he just made shots against solid defense most of the night. The Wolves tried Love, Pek, Cunningham, and Stiemsma against Scola and he still managed to make well-defended shots. A lot of times that can discourage a team into wilting on both sides of the ball. In fact over the previous six years you would have expected the Wolves to wilt in a game like this.
Instead, they trusted the system and found a way to win against a lesser opponent. It isn’t earth shattering by any means. But it’s necessary for good teams to do.
One final thought: I couldn’t help but feel bad for Michael Beasley. I was never a fan of having him on the court for this team. While I’ve always enjoyed his personality, I have never liked the way he chooses to use his talents. The only shot he made in this game was goaltended. He put up eight shots in just 10 minutes of action, showing every bit of frustrating decisions he would make during his two years with the Wolves. And while most of the time I would revel in the fact that he was missing so badly, there was a point in the game that he looked lost and unhappy on the court.
At a certain point, it becomes sad to me and it doesn’t seem that funny any more. I’ll probably get over it at some point soon and continue joking about his “quest” to have more shots than points on the season (305 points on 319 shots). But there was a point last night when Jim Petersen was talking about having Beasley flashbacks. I had those same flashbacks like many of you did. And it just made me feel bad for him. It doesn’t look like he’ll ever get it.