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Timberwolves 105, Bulls 106: Morality Don't Enter Into It

(Note: I really wanted to put up a video for “The Future” by Restorations, but couldn’t find one. It’s on Spotify if you want to hear it.)

Here are two things that aggravate me: moral victories and people who complain about them. Lucky for us, then, that tonight’s close loss to the Chicago Bulls was not a moral victory. It was a loss. But when I said it was a good loss, several people got at me to say they were tired of moral victories as Timberwolves fans. So here’s what we need to do: stop talking about moral victories and also stop being sick of them.

The Bulls were without Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson, but they also went to the playoffs as a #3 seed without Rose last year and in the offseason they added Pau Gasol, a former All-Star and NBA champion who was nevertheless in the Lakers’ doghouse the last couple years. Furthermore, the Wolves lost Thad Young — who’s arguably been the Wolves’ best overall player in the first two games of the year — in the third quarter to a neck strain after he collided with Jimmy Butler’s elbow going for a loose ball. It could also very well be a concussion, given how he fell limply to the floor.

But before that, the Wolves played the Bulls pretty evenly in the first quarter, then fell way behind in the second. Saunders pointed out that they had eight assists in that first quarter and three in the second when both players and the ball stopped moving on offense for the Wolves.

But in the third, with Young out, Anthony Bennett went off, which was great to see. In 7:45 of floor time, he was 3-3 for six points to go along with two rebounds and a steal, on his way to 12 points, five rebounds, two steals, an assist and a block in just about twenty minutes on the floor. For a guy who was written off more than once last year, that’s pretty damn good.

His fellow Canadian Andrew Wiggins had a rough shooting night (3-10 for eight points) but he did manage to contribute six rebounds, two steals and two blocks. But of course, what’s going to be remembered about Wiggins in this game was how he bit on a pump fake by Jimmy Butler and fouled him, sending Butler to the line with a chance to win the game with .2 seconds left. Butler hit his shots and the game ended 106-105. (For what it’s worth, Butler pretty clearly traveled on the play, but the game overall wasn’t particularly well-officiated. You have to play the game you’re given, not the one you want.)

Real quick, here’s all the stuff about that: It was a mistake, and he made it in the 73rd minute of his NBA career. Butler has played 5,084 minutes — and that’s just this season (cue rimshot). But seriously: if you think it was a coincidence that the Bulls sent Butler against the most junior player on the show hoping for exactly the result he got, you’re not paying attention. It’s natural for a young player who prides himself on defense as much as Wiggins seems to could get baited into overplaying his man in the closing moments of a tight game and the Bulls used that against him. It might not be the last time Wiggins commits a bad foul, but he undoubtedly learned a good lesson. As Corey Brewer told him in the locker room after the game, he has 79 more chances this season. He’ll be all right.

It’d be easy to look at this close loss and think it somehow had something to do with the Wolves’ close losses last year, but that’s completely asinine. The Wolves tonight went down swinging and swinging hard. In some cases literally, as when Kevin Martin hit a huge 3-pointer to put the Wolves up 105-104 after a raucous Wolves possession that featured three offensive rebounds and proceeded to do the Sam Cassell-trademark big balls dance. You know the one. Both Bennett and Wiggins made big shots down the stretch to keep the Wolves in the game.

A win would have been good because, as Saunders said in the press conference, “you’d like to see positive reinforcement in how we played.” But Bennett got a great taste of success, and it seemed to suit him. Wiggins was shaky to begin, found his groove, then made a rookie mistake at the end. Rubio got to play late in the fourth (until he fouled out) and had 17 assists, matching his career high. When the team got deep into the bench after Young went down, Robbie Hummel provided quality minutes as a stretch four. The darkest spot was probably Chase Budinger, who was pressed into service after not seeing the court against the Pistons and looked rusty and unready.

So back to the “moral victory” thing. I don’t like it because it seems to almost imply that the it’s losing in a way that’s morally superior, which is kind of stupid in basketball because is there really morality at play here? There’s no point in claiming a moral victory when we’re talking about basketball and no one should do it.

But to be unable to differentiate between a game that got thrown away and one that was an opportunity for growth? That just shows you’re not paying attention. If all you want are wins and you’re a Wolves fan, I’m sorry: you’re following the wrong team. The Wolves are not only a young squad, but a new squad with a mix of new and old veterans and a new coach. Kevin Martin looks more engaged, Mo Williams (in spite of some Barea-esque “hero ball” moments down the stretch) looks like a vet who very much wants to work with the young players, and everyone is talking to each other almost all the time, with Pekovic giving little tips to Wiggins during timeouts and Williams talking animatedly to the lineup on the floor during a timeout at the start of the third.

This team is going to lose more games than it wins this season — that’s all but certain. You should enjoy the wins when they come, but if you can ONLY enjoy the wins and not see the learning opportunities and growth that comes from losses, you might want to just check back in some time next season.

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14 thoughts on “Timberwolves 105, Bulls 106: Morality Don't Enter Into It

  1. So damn close so damn frustrating regardless of the fact we know it’s a young team that is still melding. It really felt like there were a few key no calls and bad calls that moved the needle towards the Bulls.

    I guess we wait for Brooklyn and see how much growth there is after this loss.

    Also Chase needs to get his head into the game. Two real bad misses by him the airball was bad but that miss right at the bucket was a dagger.

  2. Question – is it me or does this team seem like it is not attacking the rim like it was in preseason? Lots of long jump Shots? I just wonder how sustainable their current competitiveness will be when guys regress to the mean. The best solution is to attack the rim, draw fouls, and hit more than 5 threes a game.

    Also, Gorgui is playing like a difference maker at center – holy cow! I’m a huge Pek guy, but if Gorgui can sustain this I am beginning to wonder if you move Pek to a playoff team for young pieces? And if so, what kind of center prospect would you want to pair with Gorgui? Personally I think another rim protector and rebounder would be nice (or just a straight up 3 and D guy), as the rest of the team defense seems set up to funnel guys to them.

  3. Ok yes it was a dumb play, but at the same time I am happy that Wiggins was on the court for the last few mins of the game. He will learn and get better because of it. This Twolves look more like the Twolves when love went down and it was Rubio Toliver DWill etc. They seem to have Rubio’s fight and determination even in cases where the other team probably is better than them. That’s good to see. They wont make the playoffs but hopefully they will be able to add another good piece in the draft if they keep their pick

  4. Some notes from where I was sitting.
    1) I wasn’t disappointed in the loss at all. It was entertaining as all get out and the Bulls are a solid team even without Rose. The Bulls shot 31 (!) free throws and repeatedly got the better of the whistle. The Wolves played hard, clawed back, and there is a sense of joy and chemistry that has been distinctly missing since Rubio tore his ACL back in March of 2012.
    2) Biggity~ It’s not just you, the Wolves are settling for lots of long two point jumpers. The crazy thing is that we’re actually making them at a decent clip (thanks to Thad, Mo, and even Anthony Bennett) that is keeping us competitive. The other things is that the scouting report after the preseason was probably to quell fast break opportunities and all three clubs have limited the Wolves transition buckets. The past two games the Wolves have only scored 24 points on the break, which is insane since Brewer had a couple games last year where he almost scored that many himself in a single game.
    3) Biggity~ I totally agree that Dieng has been playing well and Pek has been disappointing. Dieng still is getting caught too often falling for fakes to get a big swat, but his positioning is vastly improved. He is clearly our best rebounding option right now. It seems clear to me that Pek doesn’t feel 100%. Even healthy he’d struggle to clear a stack of two phone books, but his feet barely left the ground in both home games. There were some times he would have dunked it last year that he settled for shovel lay-ins this year. Also, Pek has stone hands. The guy just is not getting a good grip on the ball.

  5. Skunedog – thanks for responding.

    re: Pek – I’m not too worried about him in the long run. Jumping high has never been his thing. Last year it took him 10-15 games to hit his stride, and I would think the same timetable is to be expected this year as well. I think there have been some articles published stating that he doesn’t work out much in the summer to let his body heal, and so this is him getting his conditioning back. The stone hands, tho, that’s more concerning. Part of what makes Pek so good is that he’s huge and strong but with very soft hands. Dude’s got great touch around the basket. I am hopeful that this is simply a conditioning issue more than anything else, as I’m not sure how someone would ever lose a skill like that.

    re: Dieng. Ya, he’s young. I remember Richard Pitino talking about how Gorgui was pretty terrible for them in Louisville when he first started, but got better and better each year. I am wondering if Gorgui will continue that progress and be even better next year, and the year after. I don’t think he’s been playing that long, relative to some of the other guys his age. It’d be nice for the Wolves to hit on a later draft pick that becomes a star for them, or even a good, unquestioned starter in this league. The more I think about it, a team with a guy like Gorgui protecting the rim makes everything else work defensively for the team, and if he can score enough and pass enough on offense, then it’s perfect. I guess when I watch the highlights it just looks like they hit a flow with Gorgui on the floor that is pretty compelling – it looks like a team that could do damage in the playoffs as everyone grows together.

    re: long two’s. This is what I’m worried about – the rate at which we’re making them is highly likely to be unsustainable. And if we are supposed to be a transition team, then we need to be a transition team. It’s like in football – if you are a running team, then you establish the run. It doesn’t matter if the other team knows it’s coming, you establish the run anyways. Teams are going to happily let the Wolves keep chucking up long two’s and taking away everything else because the odds are heavily in the other team’s favor that we are going to start missing at some point. That’s just the probability of taking shots further from the rim – you make less of them. Unfortunately you don’t get the extra point with long twos that you do get from threes, which helps offset the reduced accuracy. You can be 4/12 from long two range, equaling 8 points, but you can be 3/12 from downtown and have 9 points. That’s a huge difference when extrapolated over hundreds and thousands of shots in a season.

    Anyways, I worry that it is also stifling the development of Wiggins and AB. Those guys need to get to the basket and draw fouls – that is what should be the bedrock of their offensive game. Show that you can always rely on that and openings in the midrange game will always be there. It won’t be long until you start seeing teams taking away Bennett’s favorite spot and proving he can do something else.

  6. I made a similar comment on a Wolves post after the game. All I saw were comments displaying “that was obviously a travel” and “Wiggins shouldn’t have fouled”. I made a comment strictly stating it was Wiggins’ 3rd REAL game and he is allowed mistakes. If it were his, say, 3rd year and he is still making those same mistakes, THEN they can b**** about it. I also urged people to think about the team realistically and realize that playing a good Bulls squad (even without Rose) and barely losing is no reason to fly off the handle. Without sounding like too much of a d*** here I also emphasized for them to enjoy the learning year for what it is and if they couldn’t see that, they were either a casual fan that noone will miss when they don’t show up to the games or they probably don’t know much about how basketball works.

    I totally expected some reactions for basically calling out a bunch of people but noone did and I got quite a few likes on the post. I think maybe people were just venting a close loss.

  7. As a life long wolves fan its fun to watch this team and you can see the team they can potentially grow up to become, even in this short first 3 games. Some hard life lesson will be in order for our young team and as long as Flip can manage their motivation all the while growing and developing the team we are going to start ending up on the other end of games like this in the next year.

  8. @biggity2bit, I noticed how Wiggins isn’t getting to the FT line as well and that’s his most productive offensive skill set at this point for him. They drew up some early plays for him against Detroit and Chicago that included catch-and-shoots coming off screens and some post-ups but the should look for him to curl coming off screens in the direction towards the basket. Getting a couple of shots up from the line will get his confidence going early. Although, I’m fine with Bennett shooting long-twos, even though he’s due to regress (currently at an amazing shooting 64% from 16 ft to the 3PT line). Teams are giving him the pick-and-pop shot and I want to see just how good he is from there. It’s building his confidence as well but the minute thing start to waver, they should go about allowing him to play in the post.

  9. all of the above being said, i am concerned that wiggins’ dribbling skills are downright elementary. dear watson. i mean he has very little face up game other than taking a dribble and then jacking a pull up fadeaway J or trying a spin move that results in a TO. and listen, i’m ALL ABOUT andrew wiggins. get in the triple threat position, my man. mix in a pump fake and jab step. get to the rack!

  10. @biggity2bit. @Skunedog

    Pekovic to me seems like he would be a very good role player off the bench, utilized as a change of pace center. Very comparable to how Omir Asik was used at different times in his career. However, the ghost of Khan is still haunting the Target Center, with Pekovic making so much money he is virtually impossible to bring off the bench, or trade. The Timberwolves would probably have to give up a conditional draft pick just to have someone take on his contract. So, this year we are frustratingly going to watch Deing come off the bench.

    The long jump shots unfortunately are likely a result of Saunders out dated offensive scheme. He runs an offense that emphasizes individual matchups, where he often will have his frontcourt cut to the elbow or wing, and from there a two man game commences utilizing mostly the weak side (this will definitely remind you of where KG scored the majority of his buckets in MN) Both the backcourt player (receives the hand off at elbow or wing) and the frontcourt player (does not pass, or hand off at elbow/wing) are left with the ball in their hands with the shot clock winding down from the spot of a long two, a spot where especially Thadeous and Bennett will be happy to shoot from.

    While this offense was developed and had success with KG, it failed miserably in Detroit and Washington. This is why Flip did everything to keep Love (even though everyone and their mother knew he was leaving) and proceeded to go after Thadeous so hard instead of the (obvious choice) draft pick, he wanted a 4 that could hit that shot.

  11. Solid take. I’m thinking, tho, with the new TV deal, that even Pek’s deal isn’t going to be that albatrossy, especially for a guy who could give you 20 minutes a night and still produce 12-15 points and 6-8 boards efficiently. A little over expensive? Yes, but certainly workable. What a nightmare for opposing teams. I still think the biggest stumbling block is actually having the cajones to pull the trigger and make the switch.

    It will be interesting to watch Flip’s offense as the year goes on. I’m an optimist, but I also get the sense that they are not doing everything they’d like to because Flip isn’t allowing guys to do everything yet. He’s seeing what the young guys can do, and when they show they can handle it, then we’ll something more. He’s choosing the option of ‘it’s better to run a stripped down offense effectively than a diversified offense poorly,’ which is probably the right choice given where this team is development-wise.

    And you can’t really complain about the ability of the offense to generate open looks. It really does. I guess the point that I still have issue with is that it isn’t maximizing or even fully utilizing the talents of this particular group of players. Everyone wants threes, and hopefully they will come, but this team seems designed to drive to the basket via transition or simple ball movement. That’s the piece I’m waiting to see consistently. You have Rubio – one of the best PGs in the league at hitting guys in stride with his vision and passing – and a plethora of wings and bigs ready and able to rise up and draw contact. Given a failing at this, the open corner three should be there. This team is no where near the skilled, dare I say finesse, teams of KGs ‘glory’ years here (if they can even be called that). Those teams were skilled, but weren’t the toughest, weren’t the longest, and certainly weren’t the most athletic. It’s a different group, and I hope we will see a different offense.

    Anyone know how Flip’s offense compares to Utah’s offense with Stockton and Malone?

  12. @biggity2bit

    That’s very true about the new TV deal, didn’t even think about that!

    I really like Pek as a player and I think he brings a lot to the table, especially for our team’s chemistry and a leader for the young guys. But when I see him on the floor, to me he seems a bit out of place amongst a bunch of athletic high flyers who want to get up the floor. I honestly think Saunders believes Deing is the better fit, but just as you said it takes some ‘cajones’ to make the switch.

    Yeah that’s very true about our offense, I definitely misspoke when I said ‘outdated’, I should have said simple. I agree with your take, he’s waiting to see what the young guys do and is choosing the stripped down offense currently. Maybe tonight we’ll get to see some more ball movement which would certainly help Wiggins, Bennett and Shabazz get into the flow of the game earlier.

    I would also like to see Rubio, Shabazz, Wiggins, Bennett and Deing at some point playing together. I think the four of them could really get up the floor and play more aggressively on the defensive end.

    Let’s go Wolves!!

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