Clippers 110, Wolves 106: Losing and Learning

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 11.38.26 PMTonight’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.


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.

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16 Responsesso far.

  1. pyrrol says:

    This is definitely the correct way to look at this game. But for some reason this game made me lava angry. Yes, you could say we lost because of young guys making young guy mistakes. Yes, you could say it was a moral victory to play a good team close throughout the game. Yes, you could speculate that if we played less imperfectly we would have won and with time we will play less imperfectly (although it seems like we’ll need the right kind of luck to beat the Clippers, too). You could say all that stuff, and it is the true, mature patient stuff to say.

    Sometimes it is hard though. We played well enough to win that game. I found myself confused why stuff like the Wiggins drop and the Towns off the ball foul even mattered so much—we played well enough to have a little lead going into the end of the game, but it never seemed to matter on the scoreboard. When are we going to beat the Clippers? How good are we going to have to play to get it done? It gets weirdly annoying how some teams are so hard for us to beat (Portland and LAC) and we just lost at home to two of them in a row.

    This game was full of highlight reel plays and extraordinary efforts. Rubio was passing well, and defending very well. He outplayed Paul. Shabazz played well and his effort game finally came together. Who knew KG could still DO THAT!? LaVine made some maddening mistakes, but he was very helpful. Towns played great and hit 3 of 3 three pointers. Bjelly took some shots and contributed on both sides of the ball. Deing was good and bad, but he got red hot at an important time. And it is almost like Sam read Zach’s last post on here—suddenly the offense was more diverse, with good ball movement, and a lot fewer isos, plus guys took threes. Yet we lost. And LA played a pretty pedestrian game. Only DeAndre and Crawford played exceptionally well, while Paul and Griffin were just good. Lunch pail effort for LA, strong effort for us, but a loss all the same.

    The way this game ended was sad. You know, that’s not what basketball is supposed to be. No, I’m not talking about the Wolves losing again, or even some slowing down of the game with timeouts and fouls. I’m talking about a period in which we fouled to try to extend the game, and LA fouled to keep us from taking threes. And it went on and on and nothing happened. I mean, we fouled because we were running out of time, then LA responded by fouling to keep us from making threes, but we made out free throws, so it kept going like that until Rubio took a three quarters shot to get three free throws. If a team is going to foul every possession to prevent a three point shot, doesn’t the other team have a right to shoot from anywhere to get three shots? But the refs will never call it. Seems silly to let a team play the rules one way but not the other. Good competitive game, bad, ugly end.

  2. gjk says:

    Funny that the KG dunk came after some dunderhead in the comments of the previous post said KG was “lifeless.” #dunderheads

    • pyrrol says:

      Ha, I’ve been indiscriminately using the word dunderheads since I read that post. Pretty useful for a laugh in today’s world!

  3. Mebert says:

    I wonder if 75% of the made half court buzzer beaters come against the Wolves. Once Lavine lost it out of bounds thinking it was a done deal that the half court shot was going to go in.

  4. mikeskunes says:

    ^ This article became oh so true after tonight. It stinks that we haven’t beaten the Clips since the inception of Lob City because there is no team I dislike more than the Clips right now. Their players oscillate between being whiny and cheap and their broadcast team is the just the worst – pure homers with no insight into the games. It’s like watching an obnoxious elementary school team, except the maddening thing is that they are really damn good.

    I’m not too torn up that we lost the game last night, but I’m starting to get the same feelings about the Wolves as my golf game. You know how you hit a beautiful drive then three putt the green? Or you sometimes you’ll make a birdie on one hole and be like, “This game isn’t so hard” then precede to double bogey the next two holes. That’s the Wolves right now. You can see all the talent and potential for them to be good but then a lack a certain level of consistency to actually win. You have good reasons to be optimistic only to be frustrated by a lack of success. But I guess that’s what you get with a team whose players are mostly before or after their primes.

    • pyrrol says:

      Yeah, I know what you mean. I’ve never seen such whiners. It’s troubling since before Clipper times I liked Doc and Paul and find Griffin a pretty likable guy in normal context (non-Clipper context). I also used to cheer for the team when they weren’t good and were the no luck, no respect LA team. It was fun and they were oddly likable and fun. I was excited when they got good, but they drained all the fun out of cheering for them very quickly. Now it’s to the point that their uniforms are villainous atrocities and their logo looks like it’s from a defunct, malevolent computer company.

      The golf feeling you describe is true to Wolves form, although it’s on a different scale this year because our talent now allows us to compete and possibly win many more matchups than we are used to. It does have this sinking, Love era, ‘this team will just not figure out how to win games they should’ feel. But it is different this time. We are leaning on 20 year olds who clearly are talented enough to already change the reality of the franchise. But the young guys need time to figure things out, they need time to gel, they need some games under their belt to be consistent and smart out there. They’ve shown they are talented, they’ve shown they can learn fast, so we’ll be moving on an upward trajectory despite the roller coaster that young guys put you on.

  5. sportsbygreg says:

    Can you say LOTTERY, again. I hate to pile on but these moral victories are getting old and we are just digging ourselves more of a whole in the standings for the playoffs, even though it’s early. If the Wolves don’t be careful they will be 10-20 in the blink of an eye and, in my opinion, the season will practically be over AGAIN. I’m tired of the excuses about playing youngsters, last I checked KG, Prince, Rubio and Martin are all veterans, with another veteran in Miller on the team. No more damn excuses for this team it’s time to string together some damn victories or this season will be over by Christmas. Is that the Xmas present they want to give to the Wolves fans and to Skip’s family. Enough is enough, win some damn ball games. Moral victories don’t mean diddly squat when you’re constantly chalking up losses. Quit being a damn joke of the NBA and WIN. Too much talent to be accumulating so many losses so quickly. Get your asses in gear!

    • Mebert says:

      I don’t think anyone expected them to compete for a playoff spot this year. I think where the record is now is more in line with what was projected, it was just forgotten for a while with their good start.

      • sportsbygreg says:

        Mebert, you might be right but I think some thought they could PROBABLY sneak in as an 8th seed with the addition of Towns and a healthy Rubio. With Wiggins and the young talented core even better, mixed with the vets. That’s the thing, the expectations are still low. With the talent and veteran mix on this team I don’t think a 7th or 8th seed is unrealistic because they can actually play with just about anyone when they are clicking, that’s what is frustrating. Look at the teams they have beaten already. I mean, they just have to adopt the MENTALITY that the time is now and quit finding ways to lose games. Again, Zach Lapine should be STARTING alongside Wiggins. It would open so many other things up. I just think they are blowing golden opportunities.

  6. sportsbygreg says:

    Typo-hole. And when is Sam Mitchell going to insert Lapine into the starting lineup? Time to take off the handcuffs. It’s not like the team has better options.

  7. sportsbygreg says:

    My damn phone keeps typing Lapine. LaVine

  8. pyrrol says:

    Yeah, Zeek LaPine, he dunks off of two feet and turns the ball over all the time. Zach LaVine just scores.

  9. sportsbygreg says:

    Lol. Yeah, he’ll become more consistent once he stops worrying if he’s going to play 10 minutes are 25. He does need to become stronger with his dribble and quit having unacceptable brain farts. I think he has superstar written all over him, along with Wiggins and Towns, but Sam Mitchell has to help instill that confidence by showing that he’s going to ride and die with him and let him learn through trial and error. I think he’s confused with his role and importance to the team. Ok let a very Westbrook, Durant and Harden log big minutes no matter what because of their talent and it speeded up the process, in the playoffs in no time.

    • gjk says:

      The idea that Sam has been holding LaVine back is borderline insane. He has played more than 22 minutes in each of the last 10 games, including most crunch times. In the clutch, he has the second-most shot attempts (47) on the team behind Wiggins (54); no one else has more than 19. That’s a lot of faith for a guy who’s been terrible shooting in the clutch: his effective FG% (which should help him because he makes 3s) is lower than everyone on the team besides Prince, KG, Bazz, and Miller. Nobody in the league the last 2 seasons has rewarded his coaches for their trust in him less than Zach LaVine; I’m fine with giving him minutes, but it’s not like he’s earned all of the ones he’s gotten. Their offense always looks better with Miller at the point instead of him, and he hasn’t shot well enough late in games to automatically be in there.

      “In the playoffs in no time” lacks all historical understanding. Harden has much higher potential than LaVine as the 3rd best player in the group, there’s no equivalent to Serge Ibaka on the Wolves, and we can’t assume that any of these guys will ever be as good as Durant; certainly, none of them are as good right now as he was when they made the playoffs for the first time. It also took Durant 3 seasons to make the playoffs. Curry didn’t make the playoffs until his 4th season. LeBron, CP3, Dwight, and Davis didn’t make it until their third seasons. Jordan’s team didn’t finish above .500 until his 4th season; KG’s didn’t until his 3rd. Every other great player who made it earlier than that (George, Melo, Wade, Griffin, Westbrook, Harden) benefited from being surrounded by All-Stars and vets who could play big minutes.

      • sportsbygreg says:

        He needs to start. He’s a starter not a reserve and should be playing 32 to 35 minutes. Placing him in the STARTING lineup would do wonders for his phsyci. Not saying he’s Kobe, but look how he took off once the Lakers inserted him in the starting lineup and stopped platooning him with Eddie Jones. I think it’s borderline insane that he’s not starting and playing 30 to 35 minutes, especially considering the option of a washed up journey man in Martin. Crunch time is nice but a player of his caliber should be starting and gelling with the starters. Ok, fine, let Mitchell continue to be stubborn and be right back in the lottery and without a job. How many points does Martin average again? I thought so. So why in the he’ll is he logging half the minutes. It’s not like he’s an assist or rebound guy or play defense. I appreciate your knowledge and commentary but we’ll just agree to disagree on the LaVine issue bro.

  10. sportsbygreg says:

    And don’t get me wrong, I know KMART is very capable of going for 25 points on any given night but that is so few and between nowadays partly because the way this offense is ran and his usual inability to get his on shot. So it should be a FEEL thing with him at this point, off the bench. If he’s hot you roll with him. I hope he lights it up tonight if it means a Wolves win. Go Wolves!

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