Clippers 119, Wolves 105: Facing off against giants

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Ricky Rubio, we missed you.

The Wolves didn’t come away with the win tonight; in fact, they were beaten by well over double digits (up by as many as 19), but the Wolves were a more competent machine with an antsy Ricky Rubio on the floor again. Even within the first few minutes of the game, he had a pair of (offensive) rebounds, some assists, and the regained respect of all those who forgot about his awesomeness.

But Rubio’s return was mostly silenced by the Clippers, who many see as the team playing the best basketball in the NBA right now. On both ends, too. So while Rubio was solid, it wasn’t Ricky at his best. That carried over to everyone else, too.

The starters were never able to make much of a stand, even as the game began. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were able to use their size and physicality to keep KAT and Dieng mostly contained, while the non-stop wheels of JJ Reddick forced Wiggins and LaVine to run a marathon on defense.

In fact, the only players in the plus going into the fourth quarter were Nemanja Bjelica (+8), and Cole Aldrich (+3). The best starter in that regard was LaVine (-6), while recent hero Andrew Wiggins had his worst shooting night of the year by far, posting 22 points on 24 shots.

KAT, while finishing with 24 points on 18 shots, nabbing 10 boards and throwing down some nice slams, would likely tell you he struggled tonight. Other than some late stretch success, he just looked a little out of sorts tonight. To be fair, playing against arguably the most physical frontcourt in the NBA will do that to most people. Even KAT, apparently.

“We had to do a better job,” KAT said in the locker room. “As a team, we took some hard shots, we took some tough shots. We moved the ball well in the beginning, tried to find some shots that we liked. First off, we’ve all been shooting pretty well today so we gave it our best shot, tried to do it the best we could.”

A big part of the Wolves’ struggles finding a good shot came because the Clippers brought their best defense. They’ve been doing it all year, too, as Jim Petersen showed on Twitter prior to the game.

This is what made it tough for the Wolves to score tonight. Not straying from gameplan, not missing cues, but simply facing off against a now 9-1 team that was on-point on both ends (on a the latter end of a back-to-back, at that). Wiggins was, by all means, shut down by former Wolf Luc Mbah a Moute (who annoyingly shot an unorthodox 6-8 from the field in his own right). LaVine had some nice slashes at the rim, but mostly looked out of sorts on the perimeter. The bench did its job in the 2nd quarter, but was mostly figured out by Doc Rivers’ second unit in the second half.

Thibs summed up the Clippers’ uniform (no pun intended, but those jerseys…) success perfectly.

“They’re playing so well on both sides of the ball,” he said. “They’re sharing the ball offensively. They’re playing together and then defensively, they’re together and make you work for everything. They put pressure on you.”

As the Wolves prepare for tomorrow’s back-to-back finisher against the Lakers, finding ways to find easy shots might be on the forefront of everyone’s mind. They just faced the best defense of the early season, and got trampled on most possessions. The Lakers, while playing better than expected early on, aren’t the Clippers yet.

After tonight, finding shots tomorrow might seem like a taller task than they expect. With Rubio back, on top of the early successes of the team’s youngsters, maybe it won’t seem so daunting.

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