Timberwolves 99, Warriors 100: Minus the Wolves

Benjamin Polk —  February 24, 2013 — 7 Comments

There are lots of reasons why the Timberwolves are a poor fourth quarter team, why they’ve lost ten times (worst in the NBA) after carrying a lead into the final frame. Those oft-mentioned ‘intangibles’ are part of the problem: maintaining composure and focus when things get wild; summoning the energy and determination to make the essential plays. An example of the former might be Ricky Rubio spinning wildly through the lane before lobbing the ball over Nikola Pekovic’s head and out of bounds with 3:18 remaining and the score tied at 93. Or Derrick Williams turning down a wide-open midrange jumper in order to mow down the perfectly positioned Carl Landry. An example of the latter might be, for instance, failing to defensive rebound a missed free throw down by two with 38 seconds left.

These things are all true, and they certainly proved decisive in this afternoon’s one-point loss to the Warriors. As Jim Petersen observed, the Wolves, like many bad teams, have a maddening tendency to go spacey and blank in key moments of the game, to suddenly forget to box-out or, after an entire half of fevered defensive play, to simply stand and watch as an opponent calmly rebounds his own miss and lays in an easy floater.

But rather than attributing the Wolves’ late loss to some moral failing as if losing close games revealed a lack of an inner, guiding virtue (as TV announcers and talking heads everywhere tend to do), lets turn to some tangibles. Yes, conceding a last-minute offensive rebound in a one-point loss is a very bad thing. But how about: on the game, missing seven free throws to the Warriors four? Or hitting just 1-11 threes, as compared to the Golden State’s 7-17? This is not a new story. Nor is it as alluring as opining on a team’s spiritual center. But it helps explain how a team might lose a game despite going to the line seven more times than their opponent, shooting an almost identical field goal percentage, and creating 22 turnovers.

Here’s another thing. It’s not every game that plus/minus stats tell a convincing story. But tonight, the Wolves’ starters were all in the black, averaging a +6 while the bench averaged a -10. The starters hit 33 of their 67 shots while the bench scored just 11 points on 4-18 shooting and were torn apart by the Warriors’ bench tandem of Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack. (To be fair, Landry and Jack played starters’ minutes and feasted on the Wolves’ starters and bench players in equal measure. Pekovic had a particularly tough time keeping Landry off the offensive glass.)

Here’s another way to look at it. When Ricky Rubio was on the floor, the Wolves’ offense actually had some shape and coherence. There were passing lanes and floor spacing. Players got open looks and went to the free-throw line. Defensively, the Wolves were about as ferocious and disruptive as they’ve been all season and, for once, parlayed that pressure into easy fast-break baskets. Rubio short-circuited nearly every action the Warriors ran him through and he forced Stephen Curry into some truly bad shots and awkward possessions. It wasn’t a perfect performance by any means–those six turnovers can attest to that–but when Rubio was in the game the Wolves felt like a living, breathing basketball team.

Without him, the air went out of the balloon. J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved, as they tend to do, pounded the ball on the strong side of the court, failing to move the defense by reversing the ball, failing to create anything more than contested midrange jumpers. Defensively, too, the Wolves seemed less energetic and grounded without Rubio. There was less pressure on the ball and Golden State ran its sets more easily, both of which made the frontline rotations less timely and crisp.

Over the past five games, Rubio has averaged 14.2 points, 9.2 assists, 6.2 boards and 4.6 steals per game. The Wolves have been +17 in Rubio’s 174 minutes of floor time and -23 in the 66 minutes that he’s sat. As his conditioning has improved, he has begun to show incredible energy and desire throughout the long minutes he has been asked to play. His faults are many–he’s also averaged four turnovers during that span and while that shooting has improved some, its still nothing to write home about–but he is clearly becoming the spiritual leader of the team. Right now, its hard not to be frustrated with what this great disparity in production reveals about the rest of the team. But it also allows us a little bit of hope about what’s coming next.

*     *     *

I would be remiss if I didn’t make a comment on Derrick Williams’ fantastic play. All night Williams attacked the basket with more balance, body control and athleticism than we’ve consistently seen before. His reverse dunk in traffic and his towering bank shot over Harrison Barnes were both ridiculous displays of strength and explosiveness, not to mention no small amount of skill. The kind of plays, in other words, that we’re all hoping he can make consistently. He ran the floor; he got to the free-throw line; he competently defended David Lee in the post; he rebounded the basketball like a total maniac.

Benjamin Polk

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7 responses to Timberwolves 99, Warriors 100: Minus the Wolves

  1. Glad you commented on D-Will. I’m not ready to cash in my stock of “Wait-N-See on Derrick Williams” for a well-earned “told you so”, but it sure is good to see him playing some high-caliber ball.

    Ben, how close are the Wolves to being a historically bad 4th quarter team? It is crazy that Wolves simultaneously are the best 1st quarter team and the worst 2nd half team by point-differential this year. (and like you’ve mentioned they’ve lost 10 games while leading to start the 4th)

  2. You want the TRUTH? You can’t handle the TRUTH!!
    The Wolves aren’t sure what to do. If they do what they are trained to do, they turn the ball over because the referees forget that getting hacked on the arm by the defense is a FOUL!! By the time they remember that, the Wolves are playing Defense. Now you know their frustration. You know what I want to see? I want to see Pek get so mad at a referee that he gets into the face of that referee. I want to see him get tossed, but then the rest of the referees would know that MINNESOTA NICE only goes so far!! I believe in a fair system. What you watch is fair MOST of the time. When its crunch time, the only way for the wolves to win is to shoot bombs from past the three point line!! If you don’t watch the Wolves, you wouldn’t understand…

  3. It frustrates me that this team lacks such an offensive identity. Obviously, personnel is an issue, but with that said, the only difference between this group and the one who started the season is Rubio in place of Roy, and Rubio knows the sets better than anyone.

    I understand that restraint is the better part of valor, but part of me wants to see Pek bull somebody through the hoop on offense and give a hard foul on defense. I don’t question whether the Wolves are tough, but it bugs me to see an opponent puffing out their chests with no repercussions, and Pek seems scared of picking up a charge instead of improving his position when backing down his guy in the post.

  4. Consistent. gotta be just that. The Wolves are a great team, and our record would look so different if we just stayed…consistent. Honestly though, I think part of the issue that we flub out in the second half, is that we don’t have Kevin Love in there. I feel like season we got cheated out of a great year when Rubio got hurt, and this season with Love being hurt. Love rebounds the heck outta the ball and man can drive and shoot wonderful threes. Not to say that one man makes the team, but one man can make or break the team. It’d be a different story for the Timberwolves if Love was healthy. (Also, if Budinger and Roy weren’t out, I think our 3 pt percentage would look a hell of a lot better)

  5. It’s so easy to point a finger at the refs and say they favor the other team, we never get the foul calls. It all evens out in the long run though. Refs are people and they can’t see everything that happens on the court. Have you never made a mistake Joel Cave? We did n’t lose this game because the refs didn’t give us foul calls. We lost because we have a hard time scoring in the 4th Q. We lost because we were 77% on the FTs. We lost because we cannot defend the 3 point attempt.

  6. Rubio tony parker-light without leadership skills. immature stereotype

    pek back up center. career soon forgotten. 80% guy

    love jinx. opposite of love is dirty stereotype slows everything

    shrved love to watch run. unique muscle tone

    AK freak body. pitty the guy he’s guarding. So mature. if russia is non-religious country, it very much in him. without AK like the worst team in league.

    Williams braces gets tired not bad, just maxed out

    Luke quintessential basketball player hips farmer

    Hobbit guys guy. must be hurt to not play well.

    Steisma don’t take it personal. You are the biggest guy to start something with to change the tenor of a game. Get ready and hit back sooner.

    Budinger hurry up

  7. Do you think will pay 14M/year for Pek?
    Their big three will be Rubio, Pek and Love.

    But 2 years from now it’s Rubio time to be payed.

    They will have a big problem. Basically because 2 years from now love might leave too.

    It will be interesting to see.

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