Timberwolves 110, Sixers 86: Welcome to the Party, Pal
It’s nice to get an easy one every once in a while, isn’t it? Especially on national TV. This was supposed to be the battle of Joel Embiid vs. Karl-Anthony Towns, but the collective work of the Wolves showed why we’ll have to wait a while before this battle of bigs becomes a genuine contest: looking down Philadelphia’s roster beyond Embiid is like driving over a steep cliff, whereas Towns has an actual team behind him.
Not one of Philly’s starting five managed a positive plus-minus, and it wasn’t even close. Gerald Henderson put up a -4 in 15 minutes but otherwise, all the rest were in negative double figures and the bench wasn’t much better. Meanwhile, every Wolves player put up a positive plus-minus except for Tyus Jones (who was in the game for one minute at the end and notched a -1) and Adreian Payne (who had a -7 in 13 minutes and is Adreian Payne). By halfway through the first, the Wolves had turned Embiid into a non-factor with some solid physical play. He didn’t hit double digits until just before the 10 minute mark of the fourth quarter and once they could keep him in check, there wasn’t a whole lot Sergio Rodriguez and co. could do to keep up.
The Sixers scored 18 points in the first and 15 points in the second while the Wolves scored 27 and 34, respectively. It didn’t matter for this game that the third and fourth quarters were just okay — Minnesota was actually outscored by 1 and 3 there. But this Wolves team will also gladly take a -1 in the third given how poorly they’ve played there so far this season.
Not much to really delve into in terms of the game itself, so let’s just get to some notes, thoughts and highlights.
• What’s great about this Towns spin move on Henderson is the sense of timing. The Wolves forced the switch with a pick set by Towns and then he drops just to the high post to get the entry pass from Zach LaVine. The script for the guard here is pretty straightforward: make life difficult for the big man until help can arrive, so Henderson goes for the strip. Instead, Towns spins lithely off him and expertly lays it in, totally confident in his positioning.
• This is at least the second time that LaVine has swooped in off of a missed free throw attempt for the putback slam and if this becomes a thing, it’s going to be one of those things like Andrei Kirilenko intercepting the tipoff that will warm my heart.
• As Wiggins begins to come into his own, he’s showing off a kind of non-traditional way of being a traditional player. He plays physically on offense and likes to take difficult shots, but he also makes him. His form is not Kobe-esque in terms of being impeccable, but it’s Kobe-esque in approach, and that’s an interesting thing in this day and age of maximum efficiency. Friend of the program Danny Chau wrote a post over on The Ringer about how Wiggins is the Russell Westbrook of wings. I’m not sure I’m totally there yet with him, but I can see how he seems to go directly at current ideas about how to play the game with a sledgehammer. He is, however, also getting better at sequences like this, where he acts as the point guard, gets the matchup he wants, physically exploits hit, hits an open man on the perimeter with a pretty pass, then seals off his man to get the rebound and the putback:
• Last night had me wondering if it’s possible that Thibodeau and Wiggins just have a kind of chemistry that’s really working for Wiggins’ development, and maybe isn’t for Towns, at least right now. That’s not to say that Thibodeau won’t end up getting a lot out of Towns, but I think even great players often need the right coach to come along at the right time to really spur growth. That includes Phil Jackson for Michael Jordan, Jerry Sloan for John Stockton and Karl Malone, Gregg Popovich for Tim Duncan. Would all those coaches and all those players have been great without each other? Sure. But I think we shouldn’t underestimate particular chemistries that occur between individuals in ways that we can’t fully measure, and it’s possible that Wiggins didn’t mesh with either Flip or Mitchell the way he is with Thibs, just based on results. Of course, it’s also possible that he’s just naturally developing from an impressive talent into an actual player.
• Last point on Wiggins: What is with his moral objection to dunking? There was a great open court opportunity for Wiggins to throw down an absolute hammer and instead he kind of desultorily dunked it with little fanfare. And listen: dude can get UP. Look at these highlights from the McDonald’s All-American dunk contest:
Whatever happened to sap the joy from dunking for Wiggins, he has to get off the schneid with it and get back to it. If it means he has to rescue John and Holly McClane by busting a cap in Alexander Gudonov’s ass, so be it. But please: let’s get some joyous dunks, Andrew.
• This is disgusting.
Towns works Embiid again. Flushes the dunk pic.twitter.com/R3RS8seNpS
— A Wolf Among Wolves (@AWAWBlog) November 18, 2016
• Thibs left the starters in super-late during a blowout and of course people online were getting the vapors over it, what with his history in Chicago and things like Derrick Rose blowing out his knee in garbage time when many said he shouldn’t have been on the floor. As of right now, I’m fairly agnostic about it. I think it’s entirely possible that given this team’s recent late-game swoons, Thibs is trying to instill in them a step-on-their-neck kind of killer instinct. Thibs himself certainly has it, given that he was barking about defensive breakdowns and cussing out the refs with the Wolves up 30. It’s not the worst mentality to give a young team, and he may even view it as a reward that they get to finish out the win and enjoy it a little bit. Mentally, seems solid. Physically? It may be something to watch out for but given the overall youth of the team, it might have to take a back seat to that mental toughness.
• In the postgame presser, Thibs talked about how using Bjelica at both the 3 and 4 gives them multiple looks that force opposing teams to prepare multiple ways, and I thought that was an interesting insight into some tactical, long-game stuff that we don’t often consider. I think most people who follow the NBA figure you put your best guys out there, they put their best guys out there, and you have at it. In the playoffs, that’s probably more or less true, but in a long season, any little edge you can find is worth exploiting. If Bjelica can be even decently effective at multiple positions, it forces the other team to do more work before the game and in the game, it forces them to make adjustments. It gets them out of their comfort zone, and that’s a hugely valuable thing, even aside from what it does for the Wolves themselves on the court.