2016-17 Season

Rockets 111, Wolves 109 (OT): What It Could Have Been

With 2 minutes left in regulation, the Timberwolves led the visiting Houston Rockets by double digits.

It wasn’t just the big lead that had the Wolves, and their fans, were excited about. It was the way they had built their lead, and held onto it. The double digit lead had been held up since the second quarter, when the Wolves built a 57-44 halftime lead after a huge second quarter. This was upheld during the 3rd quarter, where the Wolves have infamously struggled with keeping consistent. Hell, this was even upheld through the first 10 and a half minutes of the 4th quarter.

Through all of this, they played mostly sound defense on offensive mastermind James Harden (who still nearly managed a triple double through this effort). That is no easy task, even for the NBA’s best perimeter defenders, a tool the current Wolves roster does not have.

In short, this appeared to be the makings of a game where the Wolves were going to win the way the good teams win games. They built a double digit lead, then played smart but aggressive basketball to uphold that lead.

But, with 2 minutes to go, the Rockets turned it on, and the Wolves turned it all the way off.

The problem stayed fairly consistent on each defensive possession: The Rockets would get back quickly, and the Wolves wouldn’t match up in time. A Ryan Anderson three and an Eric Gordon layup got the Wolves a bit nervous, but they still held a 7 point lead with little time left. The defensive breakdowns really started after that.

After a poorly executed pick and roll between Ricky Rubio and Karl-Anthony Towns, the Rockets got going on the fast break. The Wolves got back in time, but Andrew Wiggins did not get back on his man in time. This is especially problematic, because his man is 3-point marksman Trevor Ariza, who you can NOT give space to, especially at this juncture of the game.

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Even on a post-timeout half court set, the Wolves failed to communicate defensively. For starters, it should be mentioned that this is a well drawn up play off the inbounds by Mike D’Antoni. That said, this could have been avoided with some better defensive chatter.

Whether Karl-Anthony Towns called for a switch, and Wiggins didn’t get over, or KAT simply didn’t communicate is unclear. It was probably Wiggins’ job to get back. KAT had the drive to Harden’s left, and that was the direction Beard seemed to be going (and generally goes). Either way, leaving Ryan Anderson wide open for a three is never a good call. Wiggins did his best to get back in time, but it wasn’t quick enough.

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The play that sent the game to overtime was another half court set, and another defensive breakdown. On this play, Karl-Anthony Towns is on Trevor Ariza, who ends up making the game-tying shot. He leaves Ariza as Harden makes his drive to the basket, leaving Ariza with space. Wiggins tries to recover, but one pump fake and side step gives Ariza space for a clean look.

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The question here: with the Wolves up 3, why leave the perimeter (and the historically strong 3-point shooter in clutch situations) to defend the layup? If nothing else, give up the 2 points, and force Houston to play the foul game. Instead, the game is tied.

A bad inbounds play leads the Wolves into overtime. In the OT, neither team played particularly well, but the Rockets,on the latter end of a back-to-back, found a renewed sense of energy, and were able to string together enough baskets to give themselves a comfortable but cautious lead. A lead that the Wolves couldn’t come back from. The Wolves forced themselves into playing from behind the rest of the overtime. It eventually got too late in the overtime, and they couldn’t come all the way back. They couldn’t do what the Rockets had done to them just a few minutes earlier.

This game had all the makings of the best Wolves win of the season, even before the game had started. The Wolves hadn’t played since Tuesday, and the Rockets had just played the night before. They had shown the ability to play like a team that they strive to be if/when the team’s best players reach a certain level of prowess. But tonight was yet another in what has become an onslaught of examples of this team’s inability to hold onto a lead, and close out a game. For now, it remains a flurry of flashes, but rarely something that holds on through an entire game. It could have been that last night, but we’re going to have to keep waiting, it seems.

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4 thoughts on “Rockets 111, Wolves 109 (OT): What It Could Have Been

  1. I got interrupted and was not able to watch this game in it’s entirety. I missed most of the meltdown that led to overtime (although I saw the beginning of it). When I got back and saw the situation, and then saw how we responded in overtime, I guess you could say I wasn’t happy. But it was a shoulder shrug not happy, not throw the remote at the TV not happy. I’ve come to expect this sort of thing, not just from years of Wolves fandom, but for this season. I really thought the guys would graduate from this kind of thing with a little more urgency, but it’s clear that we’re on a long maturity timeline.

    Part of it is that we didn’t appear to lose this game because we were playing the wrong way. That is to say, yes we had breakdowns and youthful boneheaded plays, but our overall strategy seemed good, and the majority of the time our players seemed to have the capacity to execute it in some form. It looked like stuff that we’ll eventually mature our way out of, not strategic impasses. There’s been some debate on here and other Wolves places as to whether Thibs’ sets on O and D are just not that good (esp for the personnel he has) and if he is failing to communicate and teach the players at the level he needs to versus, basically, his systems are over our guys’ heads and that’s on them. Honestly, I think it is a little of both. But the guys looked a little less out of their depth (quite suddenly) playing NBA defense the last two games. They still have a long ways to go to be competitive, but their D looks less one dimensional and less atrocious. On O, there is still a stagnance much of the time, but more instances where the guys do something other than stand around. There are not as many long lapses when Rubio dumps and slinks into the corner. He’s mostly able to run what we have as an offense. Calling this simply the guys starting to figure it out would be naive, but I hope it is a sign they are catching on. In other words, we are in a midst of a learning process that is longer and more painful than a lot of us were hoping, and it includes players and coaches. To be at the point where we are just settling into a sensible, basic offensive plan, and just being able to sometimes execute a normal, active level NBA defense (with a lot of flaws, even when it is clicking) at the quarter mark, yet still giving away games is behind schedule, and not something I’m happy about. And I don’t think I’m alone. However, it is what it is. We’re too young to solve most of these problems any time soon. We could click and be more competitive any day, or it could be a long time before we get out of the NBA basement.

  2. It was a good game until the last two minutes and OT. I hate to keep harping on this, but Thibs is a lousy coach out of a timeout. His team, fell apart in the last miute as you showed so well in your article. However, they were tied with 6.2 seconds to go and unless the team did something truly against what Thibs drew up during the review of the Houston three to tie, it was one of the poorest designed out of bounds play since the Knicks wolves game at Target. You had KAT (why he wasn’t underneath our basket for a tip in or dunk is crazy) throwing the ball into Rubio, Zack and Dunn (good options all, because they could easily get up the floor with plenty of time to get to the basket, hit a comfortable two pointer or even pass the ball for a quick shot.) But we also had Wiggins to throw too and they did just that. Houston pressed him up the court and he was forced to throw up a terrible three point attempt. OT.

    It is hard to know what was drawn up and Wiggins could have been the fourth option, but the fact that you had KAT throwing it in, was a stupid error by Thibs. He should have had Wiggins throw the ball in to any of the three guards on the floor, each capable of getting well into the front court and get a two point shot off or a possible pass to KAT for a shot. If he wanted Wiggins to make the shot, he could have gotten him the ball on the re-pass with Andrew getting some separation and a head of steam. Andrew was not feeling it for most of the night, so I wonder why you would put him in that spot.

    Thibs may be getting the team to see his defense a little clearer, which could bode well for the next five games against below average teams. The boys were pushing the ice and forcing the player to avoid pick and roll. Houston took at lot of contested threes, but they probably took more non-layup twos than in previous games due to pretty good defense for all but two minutes of the game. I just wish we had a coach like Rick Adelman or Flip to draw up a game-winner at the end of regulation.

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