Pacers 98, Timberwolves 84: Wolves stuck in neutral (it's a car pun)
I feel like every time I write about this matchup between the Wolves and Pacers, I end up with the same recap.
This is a terrible matchup for the Wolves. I don’t think they have too many bad match-ups at this point in the roster construction process. Put them against most any team in the league and I like their chances of remaining competitive. Throw the Thunder, Spurs, Clippers, and even the Heat at the Wolves and I think we’ll get a great showdown. This Wolves team can get out and create space for itself. They can play physical basketball that gets them to the free throw line and gets in the head of the other team, causing them to get even more space as to not get into foul trouble. I really do believe the Wolves can play with just about anybody.
They just can’t stick with this Indiana team for an entire 48 minutes, especially not now that the Pacers have a bench that can score and a wing that can take over.
It’s weird thinking this Wolves team can’t play physical with a team like the Pacers because that’s what the Wolves’ frontcourt does. Hell, that’s even what Kevin Martin does. He throws his body into defenders, draws fouls (many of them questionable), and throws a defender completely off kilter. Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic throw their shoulders and elbows into defenders to draw fouls and create space. They can pretty much do whatever they want on the boards to control the glass for key stretches and keep possessions alive. And they’re pretty solid at finding ways to get second change points for themselves.
However, there is playing physical basketball and there is playing bully ball like the Pacers do. And I don’t mean that pejoratively. David West and Roy Hibbert just beat the crap out of you in the most legal of ways. They’re not afraid to make contact after they’ve been whistled for a foul on the previous play. You want to bang with David West in the post? It’s like trying to move a tank. Nikola Pekovic has to alter his shots even when Roy Hibbert is swatting at it because the threat of such a great rim protector is always in your mind. Even when perimeter players got to the basket last night, you saw them rushing shots at the rim because Hibbert’s reputation is that of an eraser now.
The brute force of the Wolves isn’t that of the brute force of the Pacers, which means they have to adjust and find a different way to create space. That’s hard to do against the Pacers because every single player in that rotation seems to have Go Go Gadget arms. The wingspans of this team are just damn impressive. They shrink the court and don’t need to run a lot of help at scorers because they have the length to make up for any missteps.
This makes the open shooting for the Wolves in a game like this all the more important. They have to find a way to knock down open shots and we didn’t see that from them. Maybe the style Indiana hits you with just takes you out of your rhythm most nights, making it tough to knock down even open jumpers. Regardless of what the reason was for the misses, the Wolves eventually broke after bending for almost three quarters. Some helpful officiating and getting to the free throw line helped them stay in the game for as long as they did. The Pacers were also pretty sloppy with the basketball and that allowed them to struggle after a 20-point, six-minute start to the game.
Eventually, the better team on their home court won out and it’s hard to be all that salty about the loss for the Wolves. Fifth game in seven nights didn’t help but they probably lose this game in Indiana even with a couple days of rest. The Pacers did what they do. They took away the 3-point line, they took away the paint, and they took away the transition game for the Wolves. What are you left with? Contested shots and no rhythm for the game. The Wolves fought and tried to do what they could to give themselves a chance to steal this game but you can only fight so long against Indiana before the bullies come out and take your lunch money.
The Wolves are 8-8 and people are starting to believe it’s time to panic. I’m looking at the schedule and I’m actually not worried. The Wolves are going to be a few games below .500 in a couple games. They’ll climb back over .500 by the end of December. They’ll be 10 games over .500 by the end of January ad the panic of right now will look silly. That’s assuming health, of course, but I firmly believe this team is going to be fine. Just be glad they don’t have to play the Pacers more than twice a year.