Hornets 115, Wolves 108: Third Quarter Meltdown, the ‘No Excuses’ Edition

Jim Mone/Associated Press

This time Thibs couldn’t hide his frustration.

His young team (historically-young team) keeps blowing third quarters and it’s beginning to wear on everybody. That includes the fans in the arena, the active followers on social media, the players on the floor, and especially head coach Tom Thibodeau. He was not a happy camper after Tuesday night’s loss to the Charlotte Hornets. He lamented his team’s inability to learn from its own mistakes:

“When you go through something and it doesn’t work, you should learn from it. The second time around it shouldn’t be the same way. That has to change. That has to change. And it has to change fast.”

Thibs was not interested in making the “youth” excuse either:

“Your opponent doesn’t care that you’re young. We’ve got guys who have been in the league for a while now. We’re making mistakes that should never be made, from fouling jump shooters to reckless passes, turnovers, it’s all decision-making. What’s a good shot? What’s a bad shot? Knowing when to shoot, knowing when to pass, doing your job. Know what your job is and then go do your job. It’s that simple. It’s that simple.”

Finally, Thibs believes there is a clear link between playing bad offense and playing bad defense:

“The two work together. When you’re sound offensively and there’s movement, and you’re taking good shots, there’s gonna be floor balance getting back and the defense will get set. And when we get to the line, that foul is another chance — it’s a dead-ball situation — to get your defense organized and set. But when you’re turning the ball over and you’re dancing with the ball, the result is gonna be bad. It’s gonna be bad.”

These are all-encompassing attacks on the way that his new team is playing. An attempt at paraphrasing Thibs post game would go something like, “My team makes a lot of mistakes on offense and defense and it isn’t smart enough or doesn’t care enough to learn from them.”

He’s probably sending a message, but he is also speaking some harsh truth.

Tuesday’s loss to the Hornets was not this team’s worst of the season, but it was the latest loss in an early-season stretch of blown leads; specifically, leads blown in the third quarter of play. The Wolves played a solid first half of basketball. They persevered through some early struggles — Wiggins started the game 1-7 from the field and Rubio committed 3 turnovers in the first quarter — and led by a dozen points at halftime, 58-46. Kris Dunn played his best stretch of regular-season basketball, showing off some nice playmaking for his teammates combined with his usual pitbull-style defense. Wiggins turned around his early struggles and started to get buckets before halftime. Ricky Rubio threw some Ricky Rubio passes to set up easy baskets for teammates and entertain the crowd.

But that damn third quarter.

It started with 6 quick Hornets points and a Thibs Timeout. Then Charlotte scored a bunch more in a hurry and a 12-point lead turned into a 1-point deficit. The Wolves showed signs of staying alive — led by Wiggins, who would ultimately drop 29 points in this game and look great on offense at times — but their defense completely collapsed in the middle of the third quarter, right on through the end of the game.

The Wolves led 69-61 halfway through the third and seemed to have settled back down.

Then Nicolas Batum happened. And one of the reasons that Nicolas Batum happened was that the Timberwolves played bad defense — especially Zach LaVine and Nemanja Bjelica.

Batum hit a three to cut it to 69-64. Then Kemba Walker hit a three. And then Batum hit a three. After Rubio made 1 of 2 from the line, Bjelica fouled Batum on a three-point attempt. Whoops. Then Batum hit another three. Then Batum drew a pair of defenders his way when the Wolves were finally scared enough to guard him. So he threw it to wide-open Frank Kaminsky (who had 20 points and 5 assists). This time he made the three. After a Kemba layup, the Wolves 12-point lead had become a 10-point deficit.

They went on to lose by 8 points in a game that went down to the last minute. Wiggins tried to carry the team on his back, but there was no team defense to be found on the Wolves tonight. Both teams scored 33 points in the fourth quarter. A win was there to be had for the team that could just get a few stops here and there. Tonight, that was Charlotte. Not Minnesota.

This loss drops the Wolves to 3-7 and it gave rise to the first major (public) response from Thibs. Whether it leads to any tangible change, like a shuffling of the starting lineup or a new player to be tried off the bench, we will have to wait and see on Thursday night when Philly comes to town. As Thibs’s remarks make clear, this is not a one-issue problem. Yes, the third quarter is when the proverbial shit seems to hit the fan, but the struggles cannot be isolated to one player or one side of the floor.

Ball movement stalls. Sometimes KAT floats on the perimeter too much and then tries to take on a set shell of defenders all by himself. Sometimes LaVine irresponsibly tries to make a steal and instead turns around to see Kemba Walker swishing a wide-open three. Sometimes Bjelica looks half-asleep.

It’s a lot of things.

If there is “one thing,” then it’s youth, but that’s not something the head coach or any of the players will benefit from thinking about.

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8 thoughts on “Hornets 115, Wolves 108: Third Quarter Meltdown, the ‘No Excuses’ Edition

  1. This game was kind of tiresome… Not too much to say about it.

    One thing is that it seemed like Thibs was leaning towards having Tyus #2 on the depth chart. Tonight, no Tyus at all, and Dunn was the only backup PG. He pleasantly surprised with his play (based on the low bar we’ve seen) but he’s just not that sharp. He’s just one inch from being totally out of control all the time. I can’t help but think we would have done better if Tyus had those minutes. Either way it’s a bit of a waffle. Not sure what Thibs is thinking on this…

    We can pick apart a lot of things about this game. Particularly our traditional 3rd quarter meltdown. Maybe this is a bit bland, but my main takeaway from this game is that we just didn’t have it tonight. We never looked in sync. I don’t know why. We started slow. We fought it and built a lead. We crapped it away in the 3rd. But even at our best we never were clicking right at all. Everyone seemed off. Perhaps LaVine would have been on if his knee wasn’t still bothering him (we should probably rest him and do the Belly thing again), and Wiggins came around as the game went on. That’s about it. Everyone else had an off night. Towns needs to work on his feel for when to take mid range shots, post up, and shoot threes. He looks like a young player out there. The silver lining is that we competed in a game against a decent team even as we had an off, mistake filled night. That speaks to our talent and firepower. But Thibs is right, some of this stuff needs to be corrected quickly and shouldn’t even be a problem for young guys with some experience.

  2. A group of guys who simply seem not to care to apply, focus and do what it takes to WIN. And it’s obvious this is a team that doesn’t take coaching well. They just run around trying to look cute. They’re defensive intensity and focus is flat out laughable. To quote my man Pyrrol, even when the Wolves are acting like they’re trying to play defense for a stretch, “Wolves are only a mild annoyance”. A team this young should at least be energetic enough to play 48 minutes of intense defense; should be so ramped up that they should damn near be in the opponents clothes. These guys have to realize that this is not like preseason. THESE LOSSES COUNT. All their playoff talk before the season is becoming more more laughable [by the game]. I do like the fact that Thibs is giving Payne some minutes. I honestly feel he can be a pretty good role player who can give a nice spark from time to time if he can just stay away from silly fouls. But I think the more playing time, his feel for the game will improve and he’ll get his legs underneath him – he’ll be an asset. In today’s game you almost have to have a 9 or 10 man rotation to compete with the great teams. Obviously, they have to be productive. But running 7 men out there every night, you’ll get ran out the gym. All I want for Christmas is a Wolves 2 game win streak. Just at least give us that. Geez whizz! Smh…

  3. This was a fun game, except for having to watch Payne. This team will have problems winning when an opponent capitalizes on their mistakes, and Charlotte’s good enough and plans well enough to do that. I’ve tried to find some stats on whether the Wolves pass less in the second half or if there are any other tracking clues that explain the difference in offense in the 3rd.

    1. Lol. Yeah, Payne can be a bit erratic. But he can nab some rebounds answer score some points in a variety. Pretty decent hustle guy and this team is not good enough to have a hustle 6’10 hustle guy on the bench. At least not yet.

        1. I actually felt the game was pretty entertaining with the ball movement & threes in the 1st half but this 3rd quarter letdown is really getting old. I find it frustrating because it appears that individually some of the guys have improved defensively, but the team defense is atrocious especially in the 3rd quarters. It really makes me appreciate KG even more. I can’t help but think with his communication and knowledge that this team would have 7-8 wins right now even at 39 years old and playing 15 min per game.

          It was odd to see Ricky with such a off night. He will have his bad shooting games, but I can’t recall him struggling so much defensively. Kemba was lighting him up, but then again this also goes back to poor help / team defense again as Gorgi & company weren’t much help.

          One other complaint – the poor free throw shooting is getting a bit ridiculous. It’s not like the wolves have added a Shaq. Wiggins, KAT and Ricky should be reliable and the FT shooting is costing them wins as much as the poor defense.

          On the positive side, I can’t get over how good wiggins has looked. He was the one I was most nervous about taking the next step, but he has been fantastic. Additionally it was nice to see a good game from Dunn and the bench. Heck, even Payne has had a couple good games in a row 😉

  4. Combing through various team vs. team stats for an answer. Assists? Assists/TO? Rebounding? FG%? Etc. The Wolves are top half or third in all that. But in presumably the most revealing of the basic defensive stats – adjusted opponent fg% and opponents points per shot – the Wolves are DEAD LAST. By my eye test of course the worst portion of that is taking place in the 3rd, but it’s not all there. The Wolves are a bad defensive team right now throughout the game, and that includes individually and that includes, most disappointingly, Towns, at least to my eyes. Dieng, Rubio, Dunn, Aldrich, Rush and even Muhammad look decent. Everyone else, despite flashes, looks bad to terrible most of the time. No one looks great. Presumably part of what’s happening is that teams are solving the all too easy riddle at half, settling into a groove and the right adjustments to sink the leaking ship. I’m not sure how to explain it. An ego/alpha thing perhaps – Towns trying to live up to his hype, Wiggins trying to maintain/reclaim alpha status, Lavine trying to squeeze in, none of them playing D? If so I probably blame Lavine least, because (a) he’s taking far fewer attempts at the same efficiency as Towns or Wiggins and (b) I see more effort and improvement on D out of him than them. Towns and Wiggins are supposed to be defensive superstars, should be, but right now they look totally disinterested. Not a good start to the season.

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