The title of this piece may lead some to believe I’m going to let the Wolves off the hook tonight. That’s not the case.
The (nearly) completely healthy Wolves had some great moments in the first half, especially from Andrew Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad. Still, those same two, among others, made a flurry of bad passes in the 3rd quarter that helped the Atlanta Hawks use their fast-paced halfcourt offense to break the game wide open very suddenly. Out of the Wolves’ 16 turnovers, 14 of them came off steals, 8 of those coming in the second half.
Between Atlanta’s high defensive IQ, along with the occasional moment of laziness, there were a number of facepalm-quality moments throughout the evening. But many of these mistakes were avoidable. Take a play here by Wiggins at the end of the 3rd. Stuff like this happened quite a bit. To be fair, Wiggins made a great effort to amend the situation on the other end, but silly plays like these really hurt the Wolves, and happened too often.
Wiggins also lost his shot in the second half, as did Nikola Pekovic, Gorgui Dieng, Mo Williams, and basically the rest of the team. Shots that would normally go in for the Wolves weren’t falling, and Atlanta’s physicality on defense wasn’t making it any easier. The ball stopped moving, and people weren’t scoring off the dribble. They looked frustrated.
After the game, Flip Saunders mentioned that most of the team is hitting a wall, especially guys like Wiggins. He also mentioned that Ricky Rubio is basically going through training camp all over again, and may need some time to find his stamina.
So no, this wasn’t all about the Hawks bullying the Wolves. But man, are they good.
A month ago, I wrote a piece for Sporting News (plug!), where I made the case that 4 Hawks should make the All-Star team. Three of them ended up making it, which is probably fair, given the guys that made it over Kyle Korver were certainly deserving. That said, I think I’d rather watch the Atlanta Hawks in a regular season game than an NBA All Star game.
In an All-Star game, you don’t get basketball played at as high a level as the way the Hawks currently run their offense. On TV, I was always mesmerized by how quickly they got the ball up the floor, and how quickly they got a (usually very good) shot off. In-person, I was even more amazed by how quickly they make decisions on the offensive end. With the exception of Jeff Teague, you almost never saw a guy hold the ball for more than a second. They always seemed to know what they were going to do with the ball before they caught it. It’s really amazing to watch.
The Hawks are great at letting everyone get a turn to be the star. Tonight, it was Al Horford and DeMarre Carroll who carried most of the burden, combining for 54 points on 20-31 shooting. It all happens within the offense, and seeing it unfold feet away from you is really a treat.
If there’s a silver lining to this game, it’s that the Wolves competed throughout, despite nobody (perhaps aside from Muhammad) playing particularly well. The Atlanta Hawks have made teams with much better records look much worse than the Wolves looked tonight. Despite subpar efforts from Rubio, Wiggins, and Pekovic, they kept it within reach of a potential comeback for a majority of the 4th quarter. Three weeks ago, that wouldn’t have happened.
The Wolves have definitely made strides, and tonight is another example of that. It’s just hard to showcase that when Atlanta comes to town.