Bucks 116, Wolves 101: The Comeback That Never Was

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In a game that seemed lost, a goofy lineup of Tyus Jones, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Damjan Rudez, and Greg Smith/Gorgui Dieng (Smith fouled out) nearly erased a 27-point Bucks lead and brought the Wolves a wild and crazy comeback victory.

But then they got tired.

They played a ton in the second half and eventually got gassed. They played the final 16 minutes of the game – 19 if you factor in the lineup minus Rudez and plus Adreian Payne.

Instead of bringing in the fresh legs of their best players, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Ricky Rubio, Mitchell decided to “ride the hot hand” and roll with the crew that got them back into a situation where a win was attainable.

On one hand, resting the team’s best players on a lost game, on the first night of a back-to-back makes sense. You can add reasoning to Mitchell’s decision when you factor how poorly they played early on.

We don’t know if the lack of subs will matter. To be clear, the Wolves, all things considered, deserved that loss. But it got interesting.

The Bucks led by as many as 27. But with 5:10 to go, Damjan Rudez hit a 3 to get the game within 7. But as the seconds ticked on the next minute or two, it was cleared that the unit that was out there had run its course. Because of the platoon-style lineup Mitchell tends to run (and Wolves have privately expressed issue with), a group of 5 guys was dead tired and a second group was completely fresh. The group that got them back into the game couldn’t finish because they were put out there too long. The group that sat remained seated as their team lost the momentum, because of the coach’s disgust of the first unit.

This is fair. The Wolves played virtually no defense on the perimeter, something that’s become somewhat of a constant over the past month. Khris Middleton made his first 8 three-pointers, with just about all of them being of the “wide open” variety. Screens weren’t hedged hard enough, defensive recoveries on misses weren’t made properly, and it helped give a very good shooter too many very good looks.

But I still have problems with this. For one, two members of “the first unit” finished the game. One of them, Zach Lavine, was the main scoring catalyst in the second half comeback.

Rubio had a bad game. Wiggins was somewhat quiet, but still relatively productive. But there’s no real reason why Karl-Anthony Towns shouldn’t have re-entered the game. And, while Rubio had an objectively bad game, putting him in for a tired and outmatched rookie seemed like an obvious decision. Even on a bad night, Ricky Rubio should be the point guard for the Timberwolves at the end of any winnable game.

But let’s be clear: Mitchell was right to be upset at the starting unit, the lineup that he puts out to get the team in early position to win. As a whole, they played poorly. They didn’t play with any urgency defensively and weren’t making good decisions offensively. As Jim Petersen often puts it in his broadcasts, the Wolves weren’t valuing every possession enough.

But as the game became winnable, it became a great opportunity for Mitchell to give his unit a second chance to prove themselves. LaVine had gotten the chance to do so in the 3rd, mostly out of injury-depleted and roster change-induced necessity. Even if he really was that angry at his starting crew, they’ve proven themselves enough in past games to deserve a chance at redemption.

And the unit that was out there needed a blow. The Wolves gave up a 27 point lead, so absolutely no excuses for losing a game can be made. They didn’t deserve a victory, and didn’t get one. Coach Mitchell decided to make a statement and sit his best players, who didn’t have a great game. The lack of subs probably didn’t decide the game for the Wolves. But we’ll never know, either.

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5 Responsesso far.

  1. pyrrol says:

    What a joke. Ripped the first unit? You’re the one greasing the rope. How are players supposed to succeed in this alleged ‘system’?

    Moreover, the Bucks seem to be trying to squeeze some wins from pure novelty by starting a 6’11” small forward at point guard. The Wolves are the perfect team to do this against–they’ll have no plan, no adjustment and if they do eventually try to do something (see leaving the 2nd unit in until they could barely walk) it is wrong or not enough. Jim Pete kept saying how fun it was to watch, but I was reminded of a circus freak show. I wonder how this novelty will go moving forward.

    I know we have legendarily bad perimeter D, but I think after a game like this it is also time to point out we have bad luck in this aspect on top of it. Teams always seem to come in with a hot hand against us or have a player with a freak shooting night. Or both. It seems like we get burned almost every time we make a head slapping defensive mistake that leads to a desperate run out and late contest on the 3 pt line. It’s almost comedic to see the formula unfold over and over. I find myself saying, do other teams, even bad defensive teams, have to deal with this?

    This season is starting to feel long. If Sam feels the need to walk away from the Mic at the presser, why not just keep walking to his couch and not show up to ‘coach’ the next game. It’s getting to a point where it is damaging to player development and he’s playing ‘us against them’ games with the players–often players who have played the best and hardest for him. We’ve had a tough thing happen in losing Flip, and Sam was put in a tough position. But we really need to do something about the coaching. Realistically, this means making sure we get a real coach when the season ends. But I think it also means making sure Sam doesn’t damage the team dynamic before we can make that change. My reaction may be overly angry, but it is hard to watch a team this poorly coached and then see the coach rip his own players. It’s a little too childish and ironic for me, and lets just say there’s plenty of that going around.

  2. pyrrol says:

    Also, just to be safe, let’s get rid of Milton. Reportedly the Wolves offered to trade Rubio and a first round pick for Middleton. What? I mean, yeah we need three point shooting (thought trying to take some might help!) but Khris is a shooting guard. We already have a younger hopefully someday better version of him in Zach LaVine. Was the plan to move Zach back to point guard? Zach starting and Tyus backing up? Dear god! How long would trading Rubio set our already too slow development back if we don’t get a proven true point in return? Let’s not do anything too stupid and annoying, guys. It’s pretty easy not to mess this up–sit on our main pieces (including Rubio) add what we can in the draft and little trades and most importantly, get a REAL coach. And relax. We’ll be OK if we do that calmly.

  3. sportsbygreg says:

    Wow! I agree with every single point you make, especially the part about teams always having a hot hand against this poorly coached team. I’ve noticed that all year as well. It seems like players are throwing the ball in a ocean against the Wolves. And a real Coach and GM is needed very badly.

  4. Mebert says:

    Great, the wolves got so hot last game that the AWAW servers caught on fire…..

  5. Crumblynut says:

    I sat behind the Twolves bench for this game. Shabazz took a hard foul (while still down 20 pts) and Mitchell ripped into the bench because the only guy to get upset about the foul was KG. “Y’all gonna just gonna f****g lay down?!” While I normally would have had a hard time comprehending the entirety of his benching decision, the starters really did appear to give up. I would even say the good majority of them pouted for the next 20 minutes after getting benched. Perhaps there was an opportunity there at the end to let them redeem themselves, but there’s also a point to be made for playing hard. And they certainly weren’t.

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