Wolves 109, Hornets 74: A Dominant Preseason Finish
The Timberwolves played their second home, and final preseason game on Friday night at Target Center. Much like their first home game on Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, they built up a huge lead (41 points, at different times). Unlike that game, however, the Wolves kept their separation from the visiting Charlotte Hornets in this one. With their third string playing out the final minutes, the Wolves won 109-74.
The game itself — as that lead suggests — was never very competitive.
The Hornets’ Marco Belinelli made a few Marco Belinelli shots in the opening minutes and Charlotte actually held a small lead, but the Wolves took control of this game before the first quarter was over, and never looked back. They led by 5 after one, 17 after two, and a 36 after three. It was steady domination and — from a game-recap perspective — even by preseason standards — not very interesting beyond the fact the Wolves looked really, really good.
With that in mind, it’s probably best to just go down the line.
Ricky Rubio turned 26 years old today and celebrated his birthday in style. After a quiet first half, Ricky got on a hot streak of highlights in the third quarter. It began with a cool no-look pass to Nemanja Bjelica for a fast-break layup, and then sort of took off from there. Ricky chucked one of his famous shove-ahead passes to LaVine for a streaking layup. Then he whipped a cross-court assist to LaVine for three. Then he corralled a defensive rebound and hit Gorgui Dieng way up ahead for another dunk. He started throwing behind-the-back passes after that.
Rubio, in these last two preseason games, has shown off the full arsenal of Transition Weapons that could make this Timberwolves team dangerous. Against the Grizzlies he was forcing secondary transition opportunities and rewarding KAT for trailing hard and filling lanes. Against the Hornets, he looked up the floor for running teammates. This is going to lead to easy baskets (as it did late last season) and also deter opponents from crashing the offensive glass against the arguably undersized front line of KAT and Dieng. Rubio hit a high gear tonight. Happy Birthday, Ricky.
Brandon Rush started for the Wolves in Andrew Wiggins’s somewhat strange “allergies-related” absence. (Note: Wiggins participated in pregame workouts, dressed for the game, and by all indications will be suited up for the season opener.) Rush was a perfect role player in this game. He made smart decisions and knocked down all 4 of his corner three attempts. His jumper from that spot looks robotically automatic. “He fits with the starters. He fits with the bench,” Tom Thibodeau said about Rush. “The biggest thing is his intelligence. He knows when to shoot. He knows when to pass. He plays smart. He’s a very good team defender and we need the spacing for Karl, Andrew, Zach and Ricky.” That about captures what Rush looked like in this game.
Shabazz Muhammad returned to action tonight after missing the Grizzlies game, and played his role of insanely-energetic scorer/rebounder guy as well as can be expected. Bazz’s stat line probably looks worse than his performance — he had 4 turnovers and only 2 rebounds — but he was undeniably helpful due to all of the pressure he put on the Hornets defense and on the glass, pursuing offensive boards the way Wolves fans can just imagine him doing, if they didn’t see the game. He scored 17 points in 19 minutes of +10 action, and developed some nice fast-break chemistry with rookie Kris Dunn in the second half.
Karl-Anthony Towns abused Frank Kaminsky in the game’s opening minutes. He put back a rebound dunk over Christian Wood that didn’t seem human. It certainly wasn’t fair. He took the ball coast to coast for a scooping layup, and he drove hard to the hole to draw contact and finish with a soft touch. Towns somehow racked up 5 fouls in short order which ended his night prematurely. But in just 15 minutes of action he produced 15 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists. (*performs basic math calculations*) That’s really good.
Towns has the look of an absolute killer right now. When he screamed, “GIMME THE BALL!” while posting up recent-defensive-player-of-the-year Marc Gasol on Wednesday night, and promptly received the pass, drop stepped, and drew a foul on Gasol, I took that as a sign that this man means business. I mean, I sort of already knew that from watching him last season, but that sort of “statement play” suggests a player who isn’t interested in his opponent as much as his own destiny. We’re going to enjoy KAT this year.
There were other good things in this game. (How could there not be, when the Wolves built a 41-point lead?) Gorgui looked solid and posted all-around numbers in +20 action. Zach LaVine shot a low percentage (6-17) but looked engaged on defense — disruptive at times, even — and played a nice floor game. He was +27. Nemanja Bjelica was a whopping +39 (!) and chipped in 14 points with 2 assists. He looks more confident and Thibodeau mentioned that he’s almost like a point guard out there, which suggests coach trusts player. Cole Aldrich made defensive plays and grabbed 10 rebounds in just 17 minutes. For fun, he tried a full-on hook shot that looked like something from the 1950s. It didn’t go in. He was +22.
Finally, rookie Kris Dunn busted out of his early-career funk with a nice performance. Dunn had 4 steals, some of which were of the “imposing defender” variety, where he looked a little bit too big/strong/athletic for the opposing guard, and just took the ball away. He made better decisions with the ball when he handled it. Dunn ended the game with 8 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in +16 action. I’m sure he feels a lot better now than he did 24 hours ago. Just in time for the real games.
Thibs made a great first impression to the home crowd, blowing out the Hornets two nights after (effectively) blowing out the Grizzlies. He is a crazy person during these games, just like many of us expected and hoped he would be. Thibs never sits down and he never shuts up. He barks at his players during the action and he barks at the officials during dead balls. I laughed during the Hornets game when he was yelling at Gorgui to keep his hands up (to not commit a foul) and then when Jeremy Lamb decided to drive baseline with LaVine on him and Gorgui in position to trap, Thibs just started screaming “GO GET HIM GO GET HIM!” The defensive mindset of Thibs reminds of that famous Lawrence Taylor clip talking about going out there “like a bunch a crazed dogs and have some fun!”
Thibs is insane.
And I think we’re going to love him for it.