Timberwolves 92, Cavaliers 93: Things Got Weird in Cleveland

William Bohl —  November 5, 2013 — 7 Comments

Timberwolves Cavaliers

Last night, Ricky Rubio, regarded as an offensive wizard and a defensive nuisance, came out of the game at the end of the third quarter and was a healthy scratch for the entirety of the fourth. His replacement, J.J. Barea, played pretty good defense (on the much bigger) Kyrie Irving in his stead. Derrick Williams, who sat out more than a third of last season’s fourth quarters, played all 12 minutes of this fourth quarter, contributing big buckets (9 points on 4-of-6 shooting) and adequately handling his defensive assignments. The Timberwolves closed a 23-point lead to 9 points, then watched the Cavaliers push it back to 16, only to find themselves with the ball, needing one basket to win the game. And on the game’s final possession, Kevin Love got a good look from his usual sweet spot, the left wing three, and failed to connect, sealing the Wolves’ loss.

In short, some really weird stuff happened in Cleveland last night.

While the game’s ultimate period provides plenty of fodder (which will be addressed later), there were signs in the first three quarters that pointed to a losing effort by the Timberwolves, no matter what kind of late rally they mustered. Minnesota again struggled with wing defensive rotations early in the game, and perimeter defense in general, allowing easy drives by C.J. Miles (19 points in 18 minutes) and Alonzo Gee (9 points) from the arc to the rim. Kevin Love followed up his tough three-point shooting night in New York (2-for-8) with an 0-for-7 clunker, despite getting decent looks for much of the game. Nikola Pekovic, again, had trouble finishing putbacks near the rim.

The offense, shepherded by Rubio for 25:36 of the game’s first 36 minutes, was oftentimes stagnant. Part of it had to do with the Cavs’ efforts on Minnesota’s guards, trapping them along the wings and forcing cross-court (or otherwise difficult) passes, interrupting the flow of the Wolves’ attack. At other times, Love, Martin and Rubio spent time swinging the ball back and forth, each unable or unwilling to pull the trigger on a shot until the 24-second clock told them they had to. An example, from around the 5:30 mark of the 3rd quarter:

Stagnant 1 start

With 17 seconds left on the shot clock, Ricky holds the ball on the left wing. Martin clears out to the top of the three-point arc, opening up Love in the post to take Tristan Thompson one-on-one.

Stagnant 2 start

Love catches the entry pass, but lacks deep position, and ultimately decides to swing the ball out to Rubio…

Stagnant 3 start

… Rubio fires a pass over to Martin, but after juking a few times, he gives up as well, and sends the ball back to Ricky.

Stagnant 4 start

With just four seconds left on the shot clock, Rubio sends it into Love. Alonzo Gee, #33 in white, knows time’s running out, so he leaves his man to add some pressure.

Stagnant 5 start

The result? A low-percentage fadeaway – a shot that Love can hit, but not an ideal look. Notice the lack of movement among the five players over the course of the play.

While a single play doesn’t tell the whole story, the one above was indicative of how Minnesota fared in halfcourt sets for much of the game, even when the starters were on the floor. Kevin Martin kept the Wolves afloat by starting out 4-of-5 from three and getting to the line repeatedly, schooling Dion Waiters and C.J. Miles and tricking them into ticky-tack fouls. Watching the veteran shooting guard manipulate young, inexperienced defenders is a real treat. Occasionally, Martin’s offensive philosophy results in ugly possessions — especially when he commits to an awkward shot, counting on a whistle that never comes — but it’s nice to know that he’s capable of carrying the offense during stretches when the overall scheme isn’t functioning right.

The second unit, afforded more minutes than usual because this was the second night of a back-to-back, did not make the most of the opportunity. Gorgui Dieng, expected to play a bigger role in the absence of Ronny Turiaf, committed three fouls in 2:38 and was taken to school by Andrew Bynum, who is clearly working himself back into game shape. Alexey Shved failed to make a field goal in three attempts, turned the ball over once and drew the ire of Rick Adelman by leaking out prematurely, resulting in an easy Cleveland three. The bench allowed the Cavaliers to extend their lead from 4 to 16 points, which proved too big a hole to crawl out of.

But damn it if the Wolves weren’t going to try. Instead of sending in the kids (Bazz, Dieng, and Hummel) to play out the string, Adelman kept his foot on the gas pedal. It paid off, as Minnesota nearly found a way to steal the victory despite their first half woes. It was tough to tell, even on a second viewing, if the Wolves’ defense was particularly praiseworthy for their efforts in the final five minutes, or whether the hotness of the Cavaliers’ offensive mess was the real story. (It was probably some combination of both.)

Here are the Cleveland’s’ offensive possessions after the 5:00 mark of the 4th quarter, at which time they led 91-75:

Time Result Who?
4:52 Turnover C.J. Miles
4:40 Missed Shot C.J. Miles
4:10 Missed Shots C.J. Miles, Tristan Thompson
3:53 Turnover Alonzo Gee
3:23 Turnover Kyrie Irving
3:10 Turnover Kyrie Irving
2:45 Made Shot Kyrie Irving
2:17 Missed Shot Tristan Thompson
1:56 Turnover (Offensive Foul) Kyrie Irving
1:25 Missed Shot Jarrett Jack
0:56 Missed Shots Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson
0:18 Missed Hero Ball Shot Kyrie Irving

The results of all those turnovers and missed shots were leak-out opportunities by Corey Brewer, who scored six points off of transition chances, including a huge layup with 1:16 left that made it a one possession game (93-90). Brewer’s ability to run the floor, catching outlet passes from Kevin Love in particular, is becoming a staple of the Minnesota attack. But ultimately, it wasn’t enough.

From the get-go, it looked like a loss was in the cards for the Timberwolves, who started flat, sleepwalked through the first half, and only began to play inspired basketball near the end of the third quarter. That they showed the resolve to fight back, and nearly snatched the victory on the road on the second night of a back-to-back, speaks to the talent on the roster and the motivational acumen of Rick Adelman. They won’t have much time to regain their bearings, however – the juggernaut known as the Golden State Warriors pay a visit on Wednesday night, and it’s hard to imagine they’ll afford Minnesota as many easy opportunities as the Cavaliers did.

William Bohl

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7 responses to Timberwolves 92, Cavaliers 93: Things Got Weird in Cleveland

  1. Great entry…..will be reading you daily during this season of HOPE. Going to my first (of five games) game Wednesday and I so want to see a “W”. Tickets were a birthday gift to an ol’ broad from the family who knows what she loves…..GO WOLVES!

  2. Tbh, they looked exhausted. A noticeable majority of their missed shots (particularly in the first half) were off the front iron, or just short. Their body language was visibly “negative” by the end of the first quarter. And they couldn’t buy a made jump shot for blood or money!
    And yet there they were at the end of the game controlling their own destiny…

  3. Pooh Richardson November 5, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    I’m going to chalk this one up to a one-off aberration, rather than a foreboding sign of losses to come. I think their late game comeback was a good sign, and certainly nothing you’d see in past teams who’d let a 20 point four quarter deficit become a 20 point loss, and Brewer and Martin continue to dazzle with, respectively, their old timey hustle and deep range shooting. I’d like to respectfully request that Kevin Love further his illustrious work inside the three point line on offense before looking to move his game outward. If he could at least respond appropriately when his long range shooting is clearly off that’d be nice too. Other than that, they beat two of three likely playoff teams in four days. Not bad.

  4. I thought this game was very interesting for the Wolves as it showed the Wolves can play another style. The Wolves went with more of a fast breaking athletic team in the 4th quarter. Barea, Williams, and Brewer were at the center of it. It paid off for them handsomely as the Twolves dominated the last quarter and a half. It will be interesting to see if we see more of this lineup against the Warriors. What it means is this team can adapt to various playstyles even better then we hoped.

    Brewer and Kevin Martin are looking like great signings. They have been even better then what was projected and both add a lot to the T-wolves. This might be the best team the Wolves have ever had. Even better then the Cassel/K-G/Sprewell Western Conference team. Real fun..

  5. I only started watching from halftime but imagine the first half was much like most of the 3rd. I am a little more concerned at what I saw. It looked like to me that the wolves will have a hard time with more athletic teams. It is early so we’ll see.

  6. Does watching Big Pek run up the floor remind anyone else of Christian Ponder once he sees his first option is covered?

    Head down and arms swinging

  7. I’m sorry but I’m not ready to say this team is anywhere near the Cassel/KG/Sprewell Western Conference Finals team after they’ve gone 3-1. An overtime W against Orlando, a W against Westbrookless OKC and a Stoudamireless NY is a great signal of change at best. But to say they’re the best T-wolves team ever?? Wow. I know its been a long time, but that Western Conference Finals team of yore was really good and stocked with veterans with a ton of playoff experience. You didn’t have to hold your breath going into each game like we’re still doing with this team. Don’t get me wrong, I am pumped about this team. But let’s give it a bit more time to develop…I feel like there are plenty of growing pains still to come, but I DO think the worst is behind us.

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