Much of the Timberwolves’ preseason, save for the occasional highlight (often courtesy of the two gentlemen pictured above), was forgettable. They were trounced by Oklahoma City, Chicago, Toronto, Memphis and Milwaukee; until last night, their only victory came in Ottawa versus a Raptor team that was resting many of their key players. Preseason losses are nothing to agonize over, but it was a little concerning that through six games, the Wolves hadn’t come close to playing 48 minutes of complete basketball at both ends of the court.
That changed in last night’s exhibition finale.
The defense was still a tad porous and foul-prone, and the offense stagnated a bit whenever Ricky Rubio came off the floor. Nevertheless, the Wolves’ 112-108 victory was an encouraging close to their exhibition season. Andrew Wiggins led the way with 24 points, Kevin Martin (20) and Shabazz Muhammad (19) combined for 39 points off the bench, and Karl-Anthony Towns added 18 points and 12 rebounds as well.
It was an odd game because it was both fast and slow; the two teams pushed the pace (combining for 36 fastbreak points) but whistle-happy officials ground the game to a halt at a few stretches. The Wolves and Bucks committed a total of 53 fouls and made 68 trips to the charity stripe. Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way with 23 points and 7 rebounds (with 8 free throw attempts) and Khris Middleton poured in 19 of his own (with 6 free throw attempts).
Near the end of the game, following a transition Bazz-to-KAT alley oop that put the Wolves up by 8, FSN North color commentator Jim Petersen opened a vein a little bit, saying: “Ah, that’s fun. I could go for another quarter, here! This has been that much fun – we haven’t had… how many fun games have we had in the past couple games here? This has been so well played…”
Here are a few of the fun plays Jim Pete was referring to:
Minnesota had their share of clunky moments in transition, but those should be ironed out as the players get more familiar with one another. The clunkiness was owed to too much passing, at times, which is an oddly welcome sign. In fact, the ball moved really well in the half-court as well – swinging around the floor to the open man. Minnesota hit 9-of-18 threes, and the spacing that provided allowed Karl-Anthony Towns a bit of room to work in the post, where he had a terrific night (some of these plays overlap from the first video, but I don’t think you’ll mind watching them twice):
The defensive effort last night was spirited, though often ineffective. Kevin Martin (!!!) was particularly active, Zach LaVine (!!!!!!) was pestering Bucks’ ball handlers the whole way up the floor, and Ricky Rubio (as expected) was going at warp speed, racking up three steals (and recording 5 personal fouls in less than 30 minutes of action). Karl-Anthony Towns played well against Greg Monroe, though as Sam Mitchell said after the game, Minnesota was throwing a lot of traps at the Bucks’ big man in order to help the rookie out. The Wolves had issues getting back in transition, and certain lineups (especially when Nemanja Bjelica plays the four) give up a lot in the paint.
But the rotations were actually pretty decent at times. An example:
Mitchell also said after the game that the victory was nice, but the Wolves still made a lot of mistakes and have plenty to work on. Expect that to be the mantra of the entire coaching staff after victories, however many of them happen this season. After a rough preseason overall, Minnesota closed with an entertaining victory.
After the game, Jerry Zgoda revealed some sad news: Glen Taylor confirmed that Flip Saunders isn’t expected to return to the team this season. Starting Wednesday, the games count for real, but it’s hard to believe a piece of everyone’s mind won’t be on their ailing mentor, coach, friend, and father (Ryan Saunders was back on the sidelines last night, which was nice to see). Again, we wish Flip and his family peace and strength at what continues to be a difficult time.