The Wolves didn’t have their best stuff on Sunday, a matinee finale to their two game California road trip, but that was alright.
The difference between last season and this one, and the reason it’s so obvious that real progress is being made in their rebuilding effort, is that Minnesota wasn’t blown out in a game that could’ve easily gone that way. They battled, even when the Clippers went up by 16 late in the first half, or 15 early in the fourth quarter. The Wolves cut those leads to 5 (early in the third quarter) and 5, again (it was 88-83 with four minutes to go). Minnesota just couldn’t get over the hump; Zach LaVine couldn’t contain Chris Paul in crunch time, and Blake Griffin hit a ton of big shots down the stretch. The pedigree pooches fought off the young pups; that’s the law of the NBA jungle, and rarely is it successfully subverted.
Here’s a look at the Game Flow, courtesy of ESPN.com:
As you can see from the chart (or as you can probably remember if you saw the game), the Wolves’ offense often flatlined during the first 24 minutes of play. From the 5:48 mark to the 1:37 mark of the first quarter, for instance, they went 0-for-10 from the field with one turnover and one shot clock violation. Then in the second, Minnesota was stuck on 30 points for a solid two minutes, finally getting breaking free after missing four consecutive field goals, two free throws, and turning the ball over once.
Stretches like that happened all the time last season, and when they did, it spelled doom, because there was no way Minnesota’s defense was going to hold things together on the other end of the floor. As I watched the Wolves bumble their way through the first half, it suddenly popped into my head that last season, they would’ve been down 55-30 instead of 40-30, and this season, when the ball can’t seem to find the bottom of the net, Minnesota can actually count on getting stops to keep them hanging around.
It’s a small way to measure rebuilding success, and it might even sound like a backhanded compliment (or the product of very low expectations), but the Wolves haven’t been blown out much in their 17 games, and that’s a really good sign. I know some people are sick of moral victories, but I’m not saying that’s what this was. The Wolves have very real problems. But on nights when their issues rear their ugly little heads, Sam Mitchell has his team finding a way to hang around and make things interesting. That is not an insignificant development.
Some random notes for the stats geek in all of you:
- Kevin Garnett is averaging fewer than 3 shot attempts per game, and is grabbing offensive boards at a career-low rate, but is bringing value on the offensive end – by virtue of his passing. With 5 dimes in 15 minutes on Sunday, KG is now averaging 4.1 assists per-36 minutes, his best mark since the 2004-05 season.
- Karl-Anthony Towns put up 17 points on 8-of-13 shooting with 8 rebounds, 3 steals and block in 26 minutes, but the real story, again, is his lack of crunch-time burn. KAT exited the game with 2:53 to go in the third and didn’t return until the 2:42 mark of the fourth, a minute after the Clips pushed their lead from a manageable 5 to an unreachable 12
- Just like the previous two games, Towns rode the pine in the fourth in favor of Gorgui Dieng, who did have a nice evening overall (14-10-2 on 5-of-7 shooting). The sudden shift to Gorgui late has worked fine (hard to argue with the previous two results – wins over the Hawks and Kings)… but it is worth noting that Gorgui’s fourth quarter Net Rating is minus-0.1 points per 100 possessions, while KAT’s is +10.3 points per 100, with better rebounding and shot blocking numbers to boot. I’m all for making Towns earn the trust of the coaching staff, and the right to play when the game is on the line, but I just hope his long stints on the bench in fourth quarters isn’t shaking his confidence too much.
- We need to talk about Kevin Martin. It’s bad, guys. He’s been so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so bad lately. So bad. Sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo bad. To wit:
- In his past nine games, Martin is averaging 7 points and 3 rebounds in 23 minutes per game. He’s made 15-of-54 two pointers (28%) and 4-of-20 threes (20).
- He hasn’t attempted a free throw (a major part of his game) in either of his past two appearances, the first time such a thing has happened since he arrived in Minnesota.
- Martin has failed to score 15 points or shoot 50% from the field in 9 consecutive games, the longest such stretch of his career.
- Despite all that, he’s got a positive Net Rating (+0.7 points per 100 possessions) and the team is 1.2 points better when he’s on the floor versus when he isn’t. I don’t understand how. Don’t ask me how. I do not get it.
- Adreian Payne put together a nice string of games in a reserve role (5 points, 4 rebounds in 15 minutes off the bench in the previous six), but had a rough time in this one: 0-for-4 from the field, 1 turnover, a minus-15 in 8 minutes, and quickly removed in the third quarter after a couple of blown assignments on defense.
- DeAndre Jordan airballed two consecutive free throws and it was glorious.
- Blake Griffin had 26-8-8 and it was kind of casual, in a way, which speaks to his greatness. It’s just sort of what we expect now. He’s so damn good – his improvement as a ballhandler is probably the most impressive thing he’s done over the past couple of seasons, and has added a really dangerous element to his game.
- Speaking of casual greatness: CP3 had 20 and 9. Ho, hum. He didn’t carve up Zach LaVine the way many expected, but he was steady throughout and controlled the pace for the Clippers.
- I don’t like to complain about announcers much, but I always make exceptions for the Clips’ announcing crew. Sheesh. (Before you chide me for missing out on Dave, Jim and Marney – they were blacked out where I am. Fie, fie, ye basketball programming gods!) Lawler and Smith clearly didn’t prep – they had no freaking clue who Nemanja Bjelica WAS, much less how to pronounce his name – and carried on like a pair of homers having stream-of-consciousness soliloquies while wearing red-tinted glasses.
- When Tayshaun Prince checked in, they said, “Where do they get these guys – the old folks’ home?” That’s right – the announcers for a team with Paul Pierce (turned 38 in October) and Pablo Prigioni (turns 63 in May) on their bench made fun of someone else’s bench for being old.
- The Wolves will try to get back to .500 on Tuesday night, as they kick off a four-game homestand by taking on the Orlando Magic. Not to sound too much like a shill, but from the looks of it, there are some pretty good deals on tickets at the moment – hope to see you all at the Target Center over the next week and a half.
- Finally, my favorite song about Los Angeles is this one: