2016-17 Season

Nuggets 102, Wolves 99: What is happening in the third quarter?

LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 12: Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Minnesota Timberwolves drives to the basket against the Denver Nuggets during a preseason game on October 12, 2016 at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Eric Francis/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Eric Francis/NBAE via Getty Images)

It’s early in the season, but there are a couple things that have shown a tendency to repeat in the Wolves’ first 4 games.

  1. Karl-Anthony Towns is really, really good.
  2. The Wolves can’t figure out the 3rd quarter.

The first one is obvious. It didn’t take long for the masses to accept the fact that KAT is going to be an All-Star soon. Maybe this year. Against human tree trunks Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic, KAT was able to do basically anything he wanted in the post, had a double double, and also hit a few threes just for kicks. Despite the great size and (in Kenneth Fareid’s case) athleticism, the Nuggets weren’t able to contain KAT. In fairness to them, most centers cannot do this.

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KAT finished the game with 32 points, 14 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, shot 11-19 from the field and 2-4 from three-point land. Even Andrew Wiggins, whose perimeter game has looked much smoother early this season, shot the ball well and landed 25 points as well. On top of a seemingly improved shooting touch (2-3 from deep last night, and 6-10 to start the year), Wigs’ footwork inside looks improved, which is a scary thought.

https://t.co/UbDsSZRRmw

But despite the great production from the team’s two best scorers, the Wolves still lost, and for a reason that they’ve grown more accustomed to than any Thibs-coached team would like. The Wolves are last in points per 3rd quarter (19.3!!!), point differential average (9.0), offensive rating (80.1). They’re second to last in overall field goal percentage (38.2) and net rating (-32.4), have the seventh worst defensive rating (112.5) and the fifth worst effective field goal percentage (44.1).

Last night was the third time in four games that the third quarter not only gave the Wolves’ opponent a lead, it blew it open. After a strong start in the first quarter, where the Wolves got ahead of Denver by as much as 15. By the second quarter, the lead was dwindling, as the Wolves desperately tried to trade makes with the opponent (something Thibs said he wasn’t a fan of after the game). By the third, the Nuggets blew it open.

Specific to last night, a few things were responsible here. After a sluggish first quarter, Jusuf Nurkic had a huge night. He looked to get position in the post early in the shotclock, and nobody on the Wolves had the size or the position to stop him from scoring. He’s been fantastic to start this season, and he managed to sustain that last night.

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And as Nurkic started to find his stride in the post, it posted a perfect opportunity for Danilo Gallinari to set up from deep and start hitting. He missed a few in the 4th as the Wolves attempted to climb back, but the middle of the game was the main time where Gallo hit his 4 threes in 7 tries.

Worst of all, it was the Wolves’ starters that let the Nuggets back into the game. Then they were the ones that let them take a lead and let the lead grow. By the time the subs came in, who haven’t yet proven their reliability in large stints, the Denver lead had already grown to double digits.

To the bench’s credit, the Wolves started making their fourth quarter comeback with Nemanja Bjelica as the catalyst. It was his best game so far, as he was relegated to play point guard, even with Tyus Jones on the floor. Kris Dunn had played a fantastic first quarter, but turnovers and over-gambling on defense forced Thibodeau to keep him out in crunch time.

The question remains: why are the Wolves struggling in third quarters so much? Is it simply youth, inexperience, and not knowing how to play hard for 48 consecutive minutes? It’s entirely possible, especially after last night’s game, where blaming the bench wouldn’t be fair. That said, the depth could still be part of it. The bench managed to not let the lead completely fall from beneath them, but they have yet to help build much of a lead, either (Tyus Jones against a gift of a Grizzlies lineup on Tuesday being an early exception).

Whatever it is, you know that Tom Thibodeau is working right now, trying to figure out the best way to tackle this issue. He has weapons: Karl-Anthony Towns remains really good. Andrew Wiggins has improved. Zach LaVine (who I have failed to mention until now, somehow) has improved, noticeably on defense, even. But if this group can’t sustain their success and improvement in the third quarter, there will be more frustrating losses with awesomely good players.

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5 thoughts on “Nuggets 102, Wolves 99: What is happening in the third quarter?

  1. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to watch this game so I’m not in position to give a long eloquent analysis or breakdown of the game. But I will speculate and comment on a few things whether it comes across as a troll or not. 1.) Why in the hell is Shabazz only playing 13 minutes? I don’t know what’s going on in practice or if Bazz has gotten in Thibs dog house, but Thibs has to realize that Bazz is a sparkplug off the bench who can go for 30 on any given night, and also is really the only wing player on the 2nd unit who can supply some offensive energy, create his own shot and get to the foul line. He’s a budding young player IF these coaches would quit playing with his mind and just let him play. He’s a guy who’s ego needs to be stroked… and let’s face it – his defensive energy feeds off his offense. This team is NOT good enough or DEEP enough to have someone of his ability buried on the bench. 2.) True, the Wolves 3rd quarter woes may surely be attributed to their youth… but I really wonder what’s going on in the locker room at halftime. Is Thibs doing his customary frowning, whining and complaining, instead of uplifting the guys and telling them what a good first half they’ve played? If so, that can suck some life out of a bunch who feels they’ve played their butts off, only to get criticized instead of complimented. Granted, Thibs has a track record of being a great coach and who am I to question his tactics. (But) I do understand human phsci. 3.) This squad has to take it upon themselves to understand and realize the importance of playing and EXECUTING a full 48 minutes of EVERY game. It’s time to quit teasing us Wolves fans and playing a good portion of these games like they expect to lose. Time to let go of the LOSER mentality and start chalking up victories. Enough is enough, it’s time to start winning. None of us fans care about moral victories anymore. Yes, I know the core is still young, but by now this team should be more than capable of starting to fulfill their promise… don’t want to dig to much of a hole by blowing huge leads and chalking up all these unwarranted losses. They need to stroll into OKC expecting to win. Who gives a damn about their past and how great and relentless Westbrook is. The Wolves can’t let a one man gang punk them. KAT and Dieng need to handle those overrated (decent ) slugs they have down low, and Wiggins and LaVine need to be just as relentless as Westbrook in getting to the cup and getting their bags in foul trouble. I realize it’s early and it’s no time to panic, but the Wolves needed to play like it’s a playoff game. And, please, do not get intimidated by their loud crowd. Sure, Okc is still a formidable team, but Durant is gone. Go get the damn victory and leave the youth excuse at home. Frankly, it’s getting old. JUST WIN BABY!!!!

  2. On one hand, their 1st playoff team started 8-17 in Marbury’s rookie year, and they’ve come back after blowing these leads. They get overconfident and then stop doing the things that got them the lead while also not adjusting to the opponent picking up their game. Some of those crunchtime shots will probably start to fall, considering how often they did during the 8-8 start last season.

    On the other hand, the hockey subs thing is super annoying because a high-profile coach like Thibs should’ve left that strategy in the dust when he came back. Aldrich’s primary value is guarding bigger centers, yet he doesn’t come in against those guys early enough. Muhammad brings a physicality that Wiggins, LaVine, and Bjelly don’t, yet he barely plays against these physical teams. Even just generally, there aren’t enough shots to go around when Towns, Wiggins, and LaVine share the floor, and there aren’t enough willing shooters on the second unit. They should be able to have 2 of those 3 on the floor at all times.

  3. I’m actually not worried about the 3rd quarter thing. It’s kind of silly. I think it will work itself out and it perhaps something that happens to young teams (although a more normal version would be not finishing games). They’ll outgrow it, and I’m sure Thibs is working hard to solve it.

    Maybe what I’m worried about is a more general thing. Our offense has looked overly simple (lacking such things as a normal amount of pick and roll) and our defense has looked underdeveloped, also Thibs’ coaching has looked a bit stiff. I’m hoping these are signs of a young team with a new system and we’ll grow into a more advanced action filled offense soon, and stick to our guns on D more often.

    This game provided an instance of Thibs not being stiff. Dieng was playing poorly and so he put in Bjellica a lot. Dunn started out good, but devolved quickly and Thibs went with Tyus at the end. Both these personnel adjustments seemed to work, as we almost came back. Doing things outside the box a bit can be helpful. Of course it depends on how you look at it. You could argue that with Rubio out Tyus is our next best PG and that Dunn is potential and the 5th pick more than a competent PG at this time. So it’s not that crazy to finish the game with Tyus, esp when Dunn is struggling. They have their weaknesses. Tyus is still adjusting to the NBA and is not very good on D. But he’s a collected PG out there who can run an offense and take care of the ball, oh and hit a few shots if needed. People say Dunn is an elite defender now. He’s not. He’s got the physical tools and motor to be. But he has a lot to learn. Despite his physical gifts guys get ‘around the corner’ on him way too much and he takes bad gambles. With time he will work through these issues. On offense he turns it over, often with bad passes that are either slightly ill advised or slightly off target. He doesn’t really run the offense well or set pace whatsoever. He’s not a steadying presence out there, and Tyus sometimes is. Given their flaws I see it is a toss up, and they can be used situationally. This might be what happened with Dieng. Perhaps he just had an off night, or maybe this wasn’t a good match up for him. Either way, giving Bjelica extra minutes shows flexibility and I like it.

    Our 3rd quarter meltdowns have mostly brought attention to the offense and bench issues. But I think we need more timely stops on D just as much. Our offensive fire power is such that it negates our shaky back up PG situation for the most part, and we should play out of the 3rd quarter offensive woes. But don’t underestimate D’s role in working out of an in-game team slump or as a way to control momentum. gjk’s suggestion that we leave more firepower in the lineup at all times is sound.

    1. I hear your great points (as usual), but Thibs demeanor at times may be more serious than one would think if it’s not channeled in the right direction at the right times. Just a “what if” thought. I’m not in the locker room, nor do I live in Minnesota, so I’m not as in-tuned to the inner-happs as I would like. But it’s no way that Bazz should be buried on the bench going forward – too much of a sparkplug (as I previously stated). Whatever the case is with blowing these leads, it needs to get corrected more sooner than later because they’re losing games in the process. Yes, they’ll have plenty losses regardless, but these games count (preseason is over). Humble Brag Alert: with me being a high school football color analyst/commentator in Texas and former football player for the Buckeyes–I (like many of you guys I’m sure) understand the importance of a coach demeanor and how it plays on overall team phsci and moral. #Wolvesnation

  4. Nurkic is nothing more than Bill Lambeer with a different team. He basically mugged our low post guys and got away with it. Our bigs lost their composure and that made it even harder. The game was lost because we allowed their point guards to drive and dish for dunks. This shows the importance of Rubio. Dunn was not keeping the guys passing the ball in the 3rd quarter and it took Tyus Jones to put the offense back together. Unfortunately too late for them to make a comeback. This will be a loss we will wish we had back later this year.

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