The Minnesota Timberwolves did not respond well to a no-call that may have ended up turning the game dramatically in the favor of the Indiana Pacers. It wasn’t that they necessarily lost their composure or complained too much or let the moment overcome them. There just seemed to be a lack of continued focus or a lack of poise or however you want to characterize it for a young unit being given the chance to close out a game.
Here’s the play in question: Rodney Stuckey pushes off on a harassing Ricky Rubio before getting the ball to Paul George for a right corner 3 to extend their lead.
This was an aggressive gamble by Rubio looking to make a play, and everything that gets tied into it makes it such a tough moment for the Wolves. That’s also what makes it so fascinating. The first part of this sequence is Rubio was attempting to take over the game in the fourth quarter. He had just knocked down a big spot-up 3-point shot from the right wing.
After posting up Karl-Anthony Towns on the right block, the Pacers were trying to time their double team on the rookie just right to disrupt his play. The entire time, Ricky was almost begging for the ball, ready to make Monta Ellis pay for leaving him to take away Towns’ opportunity. And you wouldn’t blame Ellis for doing this. We know how poor of a shooter Rubio is and certainly so do the teams scouting him.
That didn’t matter though; Rubio wanted the ball and he wanted to take the shot. His hands were prepared for the pass and his feet were set to let it fly. That’s exactly what happened and he knocked it down to cut the deficit to two points.
Then on the next possession for Indiana, Rubio was hounding Rodney Stuckey to try to steal the ball. In fact, he almost got a steal with 14 seconds left on the shot clock before the screener was coming to separate Rubio from Stuckey. He was getting handsy like a drunken senator at a holiday party and poked the ball away from Stuckey. The only problem was the ball didn’t get knocked far enough away.
The near steal by Rubio seemed to make him hungrier to make that next play though. He pressed up on Stuckey even more, and before Ian Mahinmi could get there to create separation between Rubio and Stuckey, Rodney decided to do it himself. Stuckey pushed off on Rubio and Rubio sold it. I disagree with our friends Jim Petersen and Dave Benz when I say that Rubio definitely flopped, but I say that with the clarification that you can still flop while being fouled. Rubio sells the contact, but he definitely didn’t fabricate a foul occurring.
With Rubio hitting the ground on the offensive foul, it allowed Stuckey the room to force a decision by the Wolves’ defense. Andrew Wiggins stepped in off the strong side shooter, Towns began to step up, and Zach LaVine started to inch toward the paint away from Ellis on the weak side. But the decision had already been made and the consequences would rest on the shooting touch of Paul George. Stuckey found PG in the right corner, he knocked down the 3, and the Wolves went from a potential game-tying play with 3:30 left to having to play catch-up the rest of the quarter. And that didn’t go well.
Pacers ended the game on a 16-4 run and the final score wasn’t indicative of how close this contest truly was. It was an interesting chain of events that makes you wonder where the true mistake happened.
If Rubio doesn’t sell the contact as much, is he in better position to cut off the drive and still make a play?
That’s not something I fault Rubio for either. He made the right play. The foul should’ve been called. We saw an aggressiveness at the end of that game that you love seeing from him. He took the big 3-pointer, then drew an offensive foul that wasn’t called, and then took a 3-pointer that misfired on the next possession. Rubio was attempting to take over that game and even though it didn’t work, he was making plays. That’s what you want to see out of him.
But was he playing aggressively or desperately? Is there a difference in the composure of the two that maybe takes you a bit out of your comfort zone and poise? Is that necessarily a bad thing or is there a balance Rubio needs to find in those moments? Even Rubio doesn’t hit the ground and stays with Stuckey, is Paul George still getting a corner 3-point attempt with Rubio hounding Stuckey on the drive and Wiggins still cheating off? Or would Stuckey have used the screen and created the same situation with Ellis and LaVine on the other side of the floor?
If the Wolves do get that foul call, how do they respond?
Do they ride that next building block of momentum to get a score to even up the game, or would it have led to a deflating missed opportunity? At that point, how do the Pacers respond and do we end up with a similar outcome? I guess that’s the frustrating part of the no-call there. I’m not sure how many of us believe the Wolves would’ve pulled that victory out, but you’d like to see how that young unit gets tested with that opportunity. The Wolves were going with a very young, inexperienced lineup out there.
To Sam Mitchell’s credit (are we allowed to say that?), he let the young guys play it out. The lineup of Rubio-LaVine-Wiggins-Towns-Gorgui Dieng was out there for the final 7:55 of the quarter. That’s a combined 10 completed NBA seasons for that Wolves unit. On the other side of the floor, Monta alone has completed 10 seasons. There is an inexperience factor there that both hurts the Wolves and allows them to soak up moments like a ShamWow. It also leaves them susceptible to not capitalizing on those big moments.
(The reason I keep bringing up the no-call on the foul is not because I think the Wolves got screwed out of a victory by the refs. I don’t believe that at all. It seemed to be the turning point in how the Wolves handled the end of the game, and it’s the moment when they showed their youth, which isn’t damning — it’s just what it is. The Wolves’ poise down the stretch was tested and they failed. Even if they get that call, there was still a lot of time left on the game clock.)
There was a breakdown on the next defensive possession in which an Ellis-Mahinmi pick-and-roll set up a Stuckey 3-pointer to push the lead to eight. LaVine missed a mid-range jumper that was a good look, the Wolves got a defensive stop, and then Wiggins scored in transition through contact to cut it to six. After a timeout, George ran a pick-and-roll on the left wing, Wiggins didn’t get over the screen well enough, Towns didn’t step up to the 3-point line, and PG made it a nine-point game with 1:48 left. Any comeback had fizzled out completely at that point.
Poise becomes the biggest problem for young teams and young units on the floor. You can’t gain it without going through these moments, but you can’t fake it either. Sometimes the other team is gassed in their comeback attempt (see: in Atlanta) and you end up getting a good learning experience by pulling out a close victory. But these moments against Indiana show you how fragile the win profile for a young team can be.
It’s not the end of the world, but that thing got out of control in the final two minutes and the Wolves were left deflated a bit. One no-call because a big run. Aggressive or desperate play became a lack of poise.
— The Wolves killed themselves with turnovers in that game. It was sloppy on both ends (45 combined turnovers), but the Wolves didn’t do themselves any favors by giving it away 22 times for 28 points. It helped lead to an 18-8 advantage on fast break points and the Pacers just got too many easy opportunities throughout the game because the Wolves were feeling charitable with the ball. Dieng and Towns accounting for 11 of those turnovers is just brutal from your big men.
— KAT is a verified monster.
— I was very impressed with Wiggins’ defense on George for most of the night. George hit some shots on him and hit him with a few veteran moments, but mostly Wiggins did a good job of making him work and hounding him. That’s an incredibly tough cover and Wiggins held his own.
— Speaking of Wiggins in impressing, this play is insane:
— Wolves are now 18th in offense and 20th in defense. For the month of December, those numbers are 18th on offense and 26th defensively. This is not a good trend for the Wolves and something Mitchell will have to find a wrinkle for to at least correct the defensive slide (not that type of defensive slide).