2013-14 Season

Timberwolves 104, Clippers 114: Lesson Learned

Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors

“They’re all getting paid. They all have a job to do. Not only our organization – the whole league is going to judge them by how they finish out this season. And that’s what they have to understand. They’re a select group of people that get to play in the NBA.” – Rick Adelman

Ever since the final nail was hammered into the coffin containing the Wolves’ playoff dreams (back on March 5th), much of the discussion about the Timberwolves concerns expectations for the rest of the dearly departed campaign. Would Minnesota devolve into zombies, morbidly sleepwalking until the final buzzer sounds on April 16th? Would the starters exude professional pride, or fall into bad habits, knowing their futures are secure with guaranteed deals in place for next season? Will the team begin tanking? Would the bench, full of (mostly disappointing) parts, show signs of fight and life, hoping to leave a lasting impression on the front office, working earnestly for their next contracts? Has Rick Adelman checked out, or is he at least invested until the season’s done?

The answers are never black or white, never the same from night to night. The Clippers’ 114-104 defeat of the Wolves at Target Center on Monday had a little bit of everything – some good, some bad, some new developments, some familiar flaws, and comments from the coach about professional pride, effort, and finishing what you’ve started.

Some of the good included the Wolves’ bench scoring 60 points on 24-of-44 shooting (55%). Gorgui Dieng scored 14 points, grabbed 4 rebounds, dished out 3 assists and was perfect from the field (4-for-4) and the line (6-for-6). Shabazz Muhammad scored 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting in just 12 minutes. Robbie Hummel hit 3-of-4 three pointers en route to 11 points of his own. J.J. Barea shot poorly, but distributed nicely (8 assists) and made the second unit look like competent bunch, even against the Clippers’ starters in the 4th quarter.

Conversely, the Wolves’ starters scored 44 points on 17-of-52 shooting (33%). Kevin Love had more shots (21) than points (20), and so did Kevin Martin (14 and 12, respectively). Ricky Rubio continued his struggles against the Clippers, going 1-for-6 from the floor with 5 turnovers. Rubio’s now made 21% of his field goals in 10 career games against the team from Lob City. Nikola Pekovic’s ankle issues flared up again, and he exited 6:53 into the game, never to return.

The game’s big swing happened early in the third quarter, with Minnesota’s starters still on the floor. Kevin Martin missed a three, and the Clippers hurried it down the floor, hustling into their set, where Darren Collison utilized a pick for a quick midrange jumper to give the Clippers a 61-59 lead, which they wouldn’t relinquish. Following a Corey Brewer miss on the next possession, Collison again attacked the Wolves in transition, exploiting an uncharacteristically slow-footed Rubio for an easy layup. Paul, Collison, Jordan and company smelled blood in the water.

There are many ways to break down the ensuing Clippers’ run, but I choose to look at it like this: From the following play through the end of the 3rd quarter, the Clippers held a 23-to-4 advantage. What you’re about to see is not Kevin Martin’s finest moment (h/t Andrew Lynch for the gif):

Kevin Martin defense

Minnesota’s perimeter defense is usually subpar – this isn’t news. During the 23-to-4 run, the Wolves were failed to getback in transition and were lax at close-outs, even in basic half-court sets. “Every time we missed,” Rick Adelman said at the postgame podium, “people on the opposite side of where the ball went up from didn’t run back. That’s a cardinal rule in transition.” With Blake Griffin missing the game due to back spasms, the Clippers seemed content to get up and down the floor quickly, driving and kicking to open shooters, and boy, were they open. They were open all game. They were open A LOT. I have pictures:

2 Barnes10 Green Miss16 Barnes Miss18 Paul Miss22 Paul Miss27 Bullock Miss


Fun fact: the Clippers actually missed all six of those wide-open looks. In light of this, the Wolves were lucky to be in the game at all; by my estimation, 13 of Los Angeles’ 30 three-point attempts were taken with a comfortable amount of space; they only made 12, total, throughout the night. You may also have noticed that there were at least three starters on the floor for each of the first five attempts pictured above.

Minnesota’s perimeter defense tightened up in the fourth quarter, holding lineups featuring primarily Los Angeles’ starters to 1-of-6 shooting from outside and 36.8% shooting overall. Rick Adelman stuck with the reserves, even when the Wolves trimmed the lead to 12 points with 4:51 remaining, and 8 with 1:32 left to play. It was a good message to send to the guys whose gritty play had brought the team back into it, as Britt Robson pointed out. Barea, Budinger, Hummel and Shabazz each played the entire final frame, with the center position split between Dante Cunningham and Gorgui Dieng. That group, so often futile, racked up 38 points, and made the final score much closer than the game actually was.

Rick Adelman theorized at the postgame podium that the Wolves’ 4th quarter effort was a teachable moment. After 23 years as an NBA head coach, it’s reasonable to assume the 67-year-old Adelman has been sustained, at least in part, by a love of teaching. “Last night, I put the (bench) group in with 3 or 4 minutes to play and they acted like we were doing them a disservice. They just kind of let it go. Tonight, they came in with aggression and got something done. and maybe that’s a lesson learned.”

“We’ve got 9 games to go, Adelman continued. “We’ve got to come out every game, every quarter and bust it. They owe themselves that, they owe their teammates that, the organization, the fans.”

For all the criticism of Adelman over the course of the year, he certainly seems invested, jumping up to protest every call, working the officials, lamenting mistakes, and touting improvements, especially of Muhammad and Dieng. If anything sticks from these last nine games, played with the portents of offseason coaching staff changes and roster upheaval, hopefully it’s that it’s important to play hard every possession. When you play under the bright lights, someone, somewhere, is always evaluating you – an important lesson not every NBA player seems to learn.



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7 thoughts on “Timberwolves 104, Clippers 114: Lesson Learned

  1. Dude, I generally enjoy your write-ups and this is no exception. But there is one nit I have to pick… Barea was TERRIBLE in that game. He literally went 5 possessions in a row in the 2nd quarter without passing once. I saw him go 10 minutes (real time, not game time) and I only counted 2 passes. He is sneakily the worst player on the team because when he starts going into hero mode, everyone else locks up and says “screw it, why hustle when I’m just going to watch Super Mario try to defeat 5 King Koopas every possession?”

    Barea is absolutely the worst, I have no idea why Adelman keeps playing him. FREE A.J. PRICE.

  2. I’d love to see the results of the commenter/Twitter faves if they actually played 30 minutes together (Price, Shved, Muhammad, Dieng, and throw in D-Will to make it 5). That bench would’ve been torched most nights more badly than who they’ve played. Also, why would Price play at all the rest of the season? If they replace Barea, that player is not on the current roster, and if they can’t move Barea, they’ll be replacing Price in order to give Barea some legitimate competition.

    Of the entire roster, they most need to figure out what Hummel has. He’s a restricted free agent this summer. He’s now at 35% from 3 and is the 4th-best defensive rebounder on the team (behind Love, Dieng, and Turiaf). Maybe he’s Dante’s replacement or gets a cheap-but-seemingly-too-rich offer (3 years/$3 million) from an analytically-savvy team. For all of this team’s shooting problems, they can’t give up on cheap 3-point threats who can play the 3 or stretch 4, rebound, play solid defense, and fit in with the offense.

  3. I would pay a small amount of money to see Barea donning blue suspenders, a red shirt and a big black mustache to go with a red hat displaying an “M” on the front. Then throw mushrooms at him (if you can’t tell I’m sick of him and his “hero” act which was correctly worded by Wolfenstein up there)

  4. I realize my comment will probably go unanswered, but I’ll try it anyway.

    I didn’t have the time until just now, but I finally watched the game and can you guys pls tell me what you are watching and what you are seeing? Barea didn’t have a good season, but what’s up with the irrational dislike/hate towards Barea? What Wolfenstein posted is just a flatout lie. Why would you bother to come on here and just diss a player with overly exaggerated claims? What’s the point?

    Barea had 5 possessions total in the 2nd quarter, where he didn’t pass the ball. He got to the rim 3 times and made 2 layups, he took a three in transition and what was an elbow jumper, I think. I didn’t like the three, but it wasn’t a horrible shot and the other 2 misses weren’t relevant, because the Wolves got the ball back and scored on the same possession. Barea never went 5 straight possessions without passing and he had 3 assists (DC dunk, Hummel three, inbound for a Martin score at the baseline) and 2 what stats geek like to call hockey-assists.

    I don’t mean to defend Barea, as I said I don’t think he had a good season (who on the Wolves had besides Love??). However I often read criticism about Barea in the form Wolfenstein wrote and when I go back and look at it, it’s just not true. I don’t get it…

  5. dattebayo: Barea’s been a lightning rod all season, fair or unfair. He’s been asked to do a job he probably isn’t meant for – being a primary backup ball handler – and he hasn’t handled the change in responsibilities very well. So he bears the brunt of the blame. It’s probably a little overblown, you’re right, but he has been disappointing.

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