Tonight’s game was fun, but tough. As Alan Horton tweeted out, the Clippers went 2-2 from the field and 11-11 from the line in the game’s final 54 seconds, making it nearly impossible for the Wolves to re-take a lead.
This was a lead that they lost and had worsened, in part, due to mistakes that young players are vulnerable of making. A turnover on a dropped pass from Andrew Wiggins with the Wolves down 1 is a play that comes to mind. Karl-Anthony Towns fouling off the ball with less than 10 seconds (which gives the opposing team 1 free throw and the ball) is another. There were others.
But, as the post-game presser began tonight, the typically (and now well-documented) defensive Sam Mitchell seemed pleased, and more chipper than most post-game losses. As many times as the Wolves have struggled to close out a game, this seemed to be the one that he was most proud of.
“This year, we’re disappointed with our record at home, but we’ve been in every game,” Mitchell said. “Maybe I can count one game where we really didn’t feel like we had a chance to win it, but out of 20 games. With a young basketball team learning how to play and win, if one of them learn something about spacing, execution, timing, waiting on screens, making the extra pass, then it’s all worth it.”
It’s easy to look back at a loss where the Wolves had a lead and a chance to close and get frustrated, but Mitchell seemed especially okay with the team’s effort tonight. Perhaps the notorious terms “good loss” or “moral victory” could be thrown around. Maybe not, but I don’t think the team got a tongue-lashing about late-game execution tonight. So, in that spirit, we’ll look at some things that went well tonight.
Zach LaVine down the stretch
Zach LaVine is turning into a pretty good basketball player.
Honestly, I’m still not entirely sure what his role will be at his peak, but as Sam Mitchell has put him in position to make plays, he’s starting to prove doubters (myself included) wrong on certain levels.
Whether his playing point guard was the reason why or not (I think it’s helped in certain aspects), his decision-making has improved over a short span of time. He got lots of touches late in a game where Andrew Wiggins was struggling to get going, and took advantage.
What was best about his late-game play was his willingness to slash to the basket. He’s getting better and better at dealing with contact and adjusting accordingly.
He also had a great line in the locker room in response to Mitchell’s desire for learning experiences.
“It’s always good, but I’d rather not learn something and get the win. You can always learn it in practice.”
As I said, I’m unclear what type of role LaVine will be in his prime years, but it’s looking like his prime years might have a brighter future than I previously expected. How much brighter?
The Wolves played well despite a rough night from Andrew Wiggins
In games against Atlanta, Philly, and more, the Wolves have leaned on Andrew Wiggins’ scoring to win games. Tonight, he shot poorly from the field and the free throw line, but the Wolves still managed to make a game out of it with one of the league’s best.
Different guys hit big shots at different times. Garnett got a stagnant offense going with a big play (video to come). Karl-Anthony Towns shot the ball great and had 3 three-pointers. Gorgui Dieng continued his wonderful stretch of game. We’ve already discussed LaVine.
There will be games over the next few years when Wiggins won’t be able to bring it down the stretch. Those are the nights when it will be monumental to have guys around him to pick up the slack. Tonight, that happened. They just happened to be playing the Clippers.
Shabazz Muhammad brought the energy
We joked in press row today. Shabazz Muhmmad was on the bench after a great stint off efficiently sprinting, jumping, and scoring his way into big minutes, and KG was in his ear hyping him up. Honestly, as much as I’m sure he welcomed the tutelage, this was probably one of the few times a Wolves player didn’t need a hype up speech from The Ticket.
As we’ve grown accustomed to, Shabazz is going to, at the very least, give you everything he has. At his experience level, it’s not always going to give you the most quality of production, but on the nights it does, it’s fun to watch. Tonight was one of those nights.
Shabazz has learned that leaking out on the fast break at full-sprint has lots of benefits, as does crashing the glass. It was tough tonight with DeAndre Jordan on the floor, but Bazz was always down there battling. The game might have beeen different had his last-second dunk attempt counted, and it was CLOSE.
KG DUNKED AND IT WAS GLORIOUS
You HAD to know I was going to cap it off with this gem. I had no idea Kevin Garnett could still do this, and I almost fell out of my chair as a result. Sam Mitchell said he was fine with the technical foul following the dunk, because it seemed to get the team (and the crowd) going.
Only thing that may have been better than KG’s dunk was Karl-Anthony Towns’ reaction.
So yes, tonight was a loss, but it was a fun loss against a great team. The Wolves competed through the final seconds, and had bright spots mixed in with some expected signs of youth.
Looking at a loss for learning experiences isn’t always the first thing you want to do. Ask Zach LaVine. But Andrew Wiggins will catch that ball next time. Next time, Karl-Anthony Towns won’t foul off the ball with less than 2 minutes to go. And with all the good things that happened tonight, and have been happening in this young core’s 8-12 start, it seems like some of that learning is already happening.