Timberwolves 98, Nets 91: Stopping By Barclays on an Autumn Evening

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Brooklyn Nets

The Timberwolves jumped out to a hot start in last night’s game, which is not actually new. Last season, Minnesota boasted an offensive rating of 111.1 and a defensive rating of 101.1, good for a Bo Derek-approved net rating of 10.0. The problem, of course, was in the fourth quarter, where they only mustered a 98.1 offensive rating against a defensive rating of 107.8 — good for a net rating of -9.7, a swing of nearly twenty points. But we’ll get to the ending in short order.

At the outset, it was fairly simple: the Wolves were making jumpshots and the Nets were missing them. With 6:22 left in the first, Ricky Rubio hit a 3-pointer — his first of the season — and pushed the lead to 17-2. Up to that point, Minnesota was 6-10; Brooklyn, 1-11. Andrew Wiggins looked particularly good in that first quarter, going 3-5 for 7 points (roughly what he’s been averaging per game) and hitting the kind of difficult layups that Minnesota fans are used to the Wolves missing.

By the end of the first, the Nets had closed the gap to 24-21 and the game began in earnest, a back and forth affair as you can see from ESPN’s Game Flow chart.

MINBKNGameFlow

A couple observations from along the way:

  • Much was often made of what good partners Rubio and Kevin Love could be when Rubio first came to the NBA but frankly, we didn’t see it. Love was always more comfortable popping than rolling, and a lot of their most effective action was unconventional, with Rubio dropping the ball off to Love as a trailer for a 3-pointer. And then, once Adelman’s system was more thoroughly installed, you saw Rubio dumping the ball to Love in the high post to initiate the action. It was often very effective, but it also meant we didn’t get to see as much of Nikola Pekovic working with Rubio. That’s already changing this season, with a healthy dose of two-man game between them. Check out these two beautiful possessions. They followed each other closely in the game and you can see how Pek’s excellent post work in the first made Jarrett Jack feel like he needed to leave Rubio, opening Rubio up for the pass and finish.

  • Shabazz Muhammad only saw 5:45 of floor time, but he did go 2-3 during that time for 4 points with 3 rebounds. Two of those rebounds were offensive boards on the same possession, and one of his made baskets was a left handed push-shot from the left block. In essence, these were the most Shabazz minutes possible, and that’s a good thing. He doesn’t have a broad enough skillset right now to start, but he’s got a weird enough skillset when Saunders plays him as a shooting guard (post-game, tenacious rebounding) that he’s going to mess up other teams’ second units. It’s basically cake for him to bully a bench guy like Alan Anderson and outwork him for rebounds. This is a good role for him right now.
  • Mo Williams is great, and it’s easy to see him run the second unit and fawn over it just because it’s not J.J. Barea, but let’s not ignore the fact that Williams has some very Barea-esque tendencies. As Jim Peterson observed on the broadcast, the penetration that Rubio generates as the primary ballhandler just doesn’t happen when Williams is out there. There’s a lot of Williams sizing up the defense from the perimeter, almost like he’s a driver on a highway with upcoming lane closures. He cranes his neck around trying to figure out which lane is shut down, and then he merges left, then merges right, then sits in traffic. The end result is usually either a shot or swinging the ball to other players like Corey Brewer or Kevin Martin who likewise aren’t going to drive and kick. To wit, here is Williams’ shot chart.
    WilliamsShotChart
    We’d be killing Barea for that graphic. Just something to keep in mind.
  • Thad Young can’t set screens, especially on the pick-and-roll. This is maybe one of the biggest problems with smallball power forwards and it takes away a nice stable element of any team’s game. He’s not bad setting downscreens in the paint, but I noticed last night that every time he goes into the pick-and-roll on the perimeter, his screen is almost always a slip-screen, and that’s maybe being generous. So far the Wolves haven’t run into trouble with it, but it does put the onus on Pekovic to lay the pine on every PNR and removes a possible alternate focal point for the PNR.

But let’s get into the last three minutes of the game or so, because that’s where the Wolves did something we’re not accustomed to seeing: execute. 

After a strong 25-18 third quarter that saw the Wolves pulling ahead, they watched their lead gradually slip away. But with 2:51 remaining and down 88-84, they didn’t disintegrate or wilt but instead just kept doing what they needed to do, even if it was stuff we didn’t expect. Rubio hit a midrange jumper on the left wing falling to his left. Young — subpar rebounder for his position — grabbed a big rebound off a Deron Williams miss. Martin drilled a corner three — the only corner three the Wolves made in the game — to get the lead.

The Nets went back to Joe Johnson and got a couple free throws plus a runner in the lane out of the deal. But then a Rubio isolation on the wing led to a drive and finish through contact at the rim. Read that sentence again: In the last two minutes of the game, Rubio drove to the hoop and made a layup. And then after a Young steal, Pekovic — who struggled mightily last season to finish around the basket down the stretch — got a nice up-and-under to go and drew the foul on Brook Lopez. When Young — who was 4-12 at the time — got a little floater in the lane to go, it basically sealed the win.

The real highlight, though, came after the game. We’ve heard the Wolves say they have to forget the losses and move on a hundred times before, so even Rubio was a little surprised when Pekovic said they had to forget this win.

But Pek is right. Every game is a new game, and the team is just at the start of a fairly stupendous roadtrip. The next two weeks are lovely, dark and deep, and the Timberwolves have miles to go before they sleep.

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14 Responsesso far.

  1. Jacob says:

    The 17-2 run to start the game was fun to watch Wiggins looked good. Aggressive and attacking at times. The baseline drive and finish over Lopez was fantastic. He still shot that step back a little to much for my liking but he’s hitting it and it is a thing of beauty when it goes in. And I love that he was in the game during cruch time again. He didn’t do a lot in the fourth. But after the butler fiasco I’m glad flip left him in. Rubio’s shot looks loads better and he looks confident. Pek looked like last years pek again. Great win. Exciting game. Torn on whether I want wins or a high draft pick though.

  2. Pooh Richardson says:

    Jacob: You want wins. This team has the pieces, they just need time to develop. A long season of 20 point blowouts risks the development of a losing culture (or really reinforces the status quo, I guess) and isn’t worth the gamble of a chance at a top three pick.
    Steve: Great analysis, particularly the stats on Mo’s shooting which I did not realize.
    Two questions for the rest of class:
    Anyone else pissed a hard foul robbed us of our first true Wiggins super slam of the season?
    The second DNP of the season for Budinger. Should we read anything into that?

  3. Will says:

    Yes, fun win last night. Great seeing Wiggins, Rubio, and Pek all having some real nice stretches (and I loved hearing Jim Petersen draw attention to how well Pek was defending Brook Lopez, which seemed even more noticeable when Gorgui came in and was just not able to muscle him around the same way).

    But I’m really glad that you brought up the Mo Williams/Barea comparison. I know it’s only a few games, but I’m already having major flashbacks to last year’s Barea with Mo. He’s a better outside shooter, but thus far it seems like he dribbles the air out of the ball just as much as Barea did, misses the same passing opportunities, and is the same sort of hit-or-miss bench scoring option we just cut.

    Overall, though, some definite positives on the young season.

  4. Rev Killjoy says:

    Thanks for the excellent recap. I was pretty excited by the title and concluding quotation, as well. One of only a handful of poems I consistently recite to myself for “fun.”

    And I could watch that two-man game video for hours. Not sure if the kind of win that kindles hope in my heart is actually a good thing for a Wolves fan, but I’ll enjoy it for now.

  5. gjk says:

    Yes to wins. Good players slip out of the top 3 every season; the key is being able to find them. I don’t want them going with a vet when a young guy is playing better, but I’ve had enough noncompetitive seasons. I don’t want to talk myself into guys like Darko, or Nathan Jawai, or almost everyone Kurt Rambis ever coached with the Wolves.

    As for Budinger, it’s pretty obvious he’s simply the odd man out. What that leads to is unclear, but other people do the things he does.

  6. Steve McPherson says:

    The thing about Budinger is that it highlights how the bench is not all going to get used all the time, but are there when needed. I mean, look at the Oklahoma City Thunder. As soon as guys start going down, that increases the strain across the board for everyone. Having guys there to step in is good, even if they’re not needed on a regular basis. Should Martin or Brewer or Shabazz go down with an injury, I think Budinger can step in and get going pretty quickly.

  7. farnorth says:

    Jacob, the answer is wins… Ten years no playoffs lots of losses and draft picks. What did we learn? Losing promotes losing.

    Awesome game last night. Pek dominated, Rubio surprised, Wiggins grew up a little bit, Martin earned his money (again) and Young is so much fun to watch and root for.

    The second unit needs to work better together. I love Mo, I am so glad we have him but last night I was flashing back to JJ and that ain’t good. More ball movement less 1 on 1 for those guys please.

  8. Andrew says:

    Re: the photo at the top of the story.

    Joe Johnson, body of a man.
    Andrew Wiggins, body of a boy.

    What’s the difference? Jarrett Jack could never pluck Johnson out of the sky the way he did Wiggins. It’s going to be scary when this kid’s body develops.

  9. Tim says:

    Hopefully all the people who were freaking out about Pek after only three games will simmer down now. Awesome win last night. Too bad the starters had to play so many minutes. Hopefully that can change as the season goes on.

  10. Luke says:

    Wiggins has been starting at SF but would he better off at SG? Moving forward, what spot is he more likely to play? Looking towards the draft next year/ possible trade pieces, we need to be seeking a defensive minded PF, right? I’m really not sure where to start trying to get this roster together. Ideas?

  11. JD says:

    That was my kind of moral victory.

  12. dud says:

    I thought you were going to make it through an entire post without a forced pop culture reference, and then you pulled out Robert freaking Frost. Somewhere ages and ages hence, you’ll realize resisting that urge could have made all the difference. #yolo

  13. gjk says:

    Um, why is anyone worried about how this roster gets put together? That’s a concern for “official elimination from playoff contention” time, when focusing on the offseason really begins. 4 games in and people already not even focusing on the games…

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