Timberwolves 117, Hawks 107: The Skin of Their Teeth


Sometimes halftime is the worst thing that can happen to a team that’s up big — especially if it’s a young team. Although this year’s Minnesota Timberwolves have more veteran experience than last year’s squad, those players are pretty much over the NBA hill (as attested to by Andre Miller’s angst-ridden fast break from tonight’s game). Thus, while they can help in spots and guide the tenor in the locker room and on the floor — to an extent — in terms of actual tangible results within the game itself, the weight is going to fall on the young players.

Even players as wildly talented as Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns are going to have to fight through inconsistency. We saw it last year with the rookies and we’ve seen it again this year, even as the team has looked much better overall: it’s difficult for everyone to get hot at the same time.

And then the first half in Atlanta happened.

Maybe the Wolves’ passes were a little snappier to start the game, maybe their defensive rotations were just a bit crispier, but overall it just seemed like they were shooting out of their gourds while the normally sharpshooting Hawks were hamstrung. Minnesota shot 63.8% in that first half. Andrew Wiggins was 8-for-10, Ricky Rubio was 4-for-8, Shabazz Muhammad was 2-for-2 and the real story of the first half — Zach LaVine — was 5-for-6 for 13 points and added three assists. Five of those points came right toward the end when he took a heat check 3-pointer — and nailed it — and a heat check jumper from the top of the key — and nailed it.

It’s worth mentioning here that Bill Bohl wrote a great post earlier today about why we should be patient with the LaVine at point guard experiment and tonight was effective support for that. And not because LaVine is necessarily the point guard of the future in Minnesota, but that what they’re trying to build in him is a guy who can carry a playmaking offensive load for stretches when it’s really needed. What we saw tonight was him doing that. Yes, it’s just a flash, but for anyone who’s said he’s shown precisely zero ability to be a point guard, this was an effective refutation. Too often, fans are quick to lump players into “superstar” and “trash” piles, and LaVine showed tonight that he’s very clearly a work-in-progress, but a player who’s at least now shown some of the most fundamental skills he needs to run a game as the primary ballhandler.

But overall, the Hawks in the first half were playing decent defense and daring the Wolves to make shots — they just happened to be making them. On the other side, the Hawks couldn’t buy a bucket, with Kyle Korver going 0-for-2 and Al Horford going 1-for-6.

When the Wolves went into the half with a 30-point lead, it was hard not to wonder how the Hawks would respond and how the mojo the Wolves built up over the first half would weather in the second. Halftime can be such a weird thing for a team that’s on a roll. It’s time to stop and think, and that can be the absolute undoing of a team that’s clicking, especially when they’re not used to that feeling. What was at first an almost out-of-control feeling has to be transmogrified into control, into an ability to modulate the tempo down into something sustainable.

As it turned out, the Wolves didn’t exactly crash back to earth (they shot 52.6% in the third quarter), but the Hawks definitely shook off their shooting woes, hitting 72% of their shots, including 71.4% of their 3-pointers. The second and third quarters ended up as essentially mirror images of each other, with Minnesota outscoring Atlanta 42-23 in the second and then Atlanta outscoring Minnesota 42-21 in the third. The low point of the third quarter came with about 45.5 seconds remaining when bad communication on defense left Thabo Sefolosha open in the corner for a 3-pointer that cut Minnesota’s once vast lead down to single digits. In that moment, Kevin Martin was throwing his hands up, lamenting that no one had picked up his man while others threw their own arms up.

The tumble for the Wolves continued into the fourth, all the way down to where the Hawks took a one-point lead on a Paul Milsap layup with 3:25 remaining. It was looking like the kind of loss Wolves fans could remember from Kevin Love’s last year with the team, and some went so far as to say this kind of collapse was emblematic of the team as a whole and their entire, often futile history.

I mean, let’s forget for the moment that we were watching the team with last season’s worst record play the team with the second best record from last season, a team that was the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Never mind that going into the night, this looked like Minnesota’s stiffest test so far this season. They were up 30, therefore them losing would become a crushing massive disappointment. Have I mentioned that it’s only the sixth game of the season? A loss against the Hawks after that first half would have been rough, but understandable for a lot of reasons.

But Wiggins and Towns care not for your reasons. Wiggins made a ludicrously difficult layup and the following free throw to make it a two-point game in the Wolves favor. He proceeded to drop two pull-up jumpers before Towns blocked not one but two Jeff Teague layups. The Hawks reverted to their first quarter form with Horford and Dennis Schroeder both missing 3-pointers in the last minute while first Rubio and then Towns sealed the win with free throws. It was heartening to see them scratch out that win and not on the back of shooting from Kevin Martin, but on plays by a pair of the team’s youngest players.

Listen: You still can’t expect this on the regular, but this was a treat of a game. Not just for the 30-point lead, which was immensely fun to watch get built. Not just for the grit they showed in the game’s final minutes in eeking out a win. But even for how they stumbled and righted the ship, for how LaVine put it all together for a brief, glorious stretch and showed he at least needs more run before he gets written off.

As a young team, there will be more halftimes where they find themselves up and think their way out of the fluidity that got them there. In plenty of those games, they won’t stave off a run by an experienced, excellent team. But tonight, they did, and that’s enough for now.

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10 Responsesso far.

  1. Jello says:

    It’s great seeing the Wolves start to get some respect and people talk about Towns and Wiggins as future all-stars. I think we have a real chance at drawing some talented FA’s this offseason at a reasonable price. Terrence Jones and Harrison Barnes would be good targets in my mind. People are going to want to play with this young core and it’s exciting to watch.

    • Lincoln Muzzi says:

      Harrison Barnes will be overpaind as hell. I think we should target Nicholas Batum. I cant see Bazz and LaVine starting the game, they would hurt our D so bad, Wiggins would be commited to guard the other teams best player and could get in foul trouble.

      • Jello says:

        Can’t just assume Harrison will be overpaid (especially with the salary cap raising the way it’s projected).At a reasonable price, Barnes and Wiggins make for imposing two way wings. I’m not saying the Wolves overpay, because I think we can get him to come here at a reasonable ask. Barnes is from Iowa and still does local commercials there so it isn’t like trying to draw in a coastal kid. Also, not sure where the Bazz and LaVine comment came from, but I agree neither should start anytime soon.

        • D-leauger says:

          Because of the salary cap increase you can probably assume that he will have max contract offers on the table. The only team he signs for at a discount is the team he is on now because they have proven they can get him championships.

  2. gjk says:

    The only quarter I was able to watch live was the 3rd. Even as it was happening, I wasn’t really concerned with what it might mean if they lost. These are individual regular season games in a likely non-playoff season for a team that gives regular minutes to 3 guys who can’t legally drink. The only reason such a loss would be devastating would be if it happened to a team like the 2013-14 bunch: fighting and desperate for the playoffs. I remember a 40-point swing in a game during the ’99-’00 season where a 20-point first-half lead became a 20-point loss at home to a bad Warriors team; even that wasn’t really a big deal in the long run. In this case, it would’ve been, “Remember when we blew a 30-point lead to the Hawks?”

    • frnorth says:

      I think a young team would have taken that loss pretty hard. I am glad we won’t have to find out how hard…
      I barely got to see Miller play I saw the first half and missed most of the second. How did he look? that breakaway was seriously painful.

  3. Lincoln Muzzi says:

    Great recap Steve.
    My point:
    -Wiggins was awesome, great adjust by Sam Mitch to make Wiggins get the ball in the middle, away from the traps.
    -Prince did a great job on Korver, I like KMart but right now he is hurting the team on D and demanding the ball on O.
    -Towns is a monster on D, two blocks on teague in the 4th scaring the hawks to penetrate.
    -Ricky is so important to this team, even with limited minutes, he ranks #2 in ast and #4 in steals.
    -Bjelly had a great game, he will be our starting 4 next season.
    -LaVine had the best game of his career, even droping off in the second half.
    -Sam Mitchel had a chance to put Ricky and Towns back in the 4th with 9min, but he tried to rest them a little more and the Hawks burned our lead, He’s looking the big picture with 4 games in 5 nights. So far he is doing a good job.

    • 6 mm stone says:

      Zach was great as well in a game last year at Staples vs the Lakers. I’m excited to see three more games in the next four days!

  4. Ben Wilinski says:

    “Too often, fans are quick to lump players into “superstar” and “trash” piles…”

    Amen. Reflexive ‘analysis’, i.e. Hot Takes are meaningless. It is nice to see evidence of the benefit of letting a subject simmer. There is no need to have an opinion at every moment.

  5. d21 says:

    check out http://dailytwolves.com/

    a Twolves blog by Thunder fans.

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