Timberwolves 115, Suns 108: Contrapasso

The Wolves, who have had some issues finishing plays, quarters, halves, and games (you may have heard about this – they’ve had some spectacular collapses this season) flipped the script on Monday night. They started slow, messed around at the ends of some quarters, but held back the Suns’ persistent charge and finished off a 115-108 victory at home, their first win in Minnesota since November 17th. Karl-Anthony Towns led the way with 28 points, 15 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks, Andrew Wiggins had 26-4-2 and 3 steals, Zach LaVine added 23 points and Ricky Rubio tallied 12 assists.

It was a night of welcome changes. Ricky Rubio played free and easy, pushing the pace with gorgeous transition bombs down the court to Wiggins and LaVine and expertly running the pick and roll (when he was allowed to run it, that is). The Wolves, who’ve struggled from the line in some key spots this season, finished the game 24-of-25 from the charity stripe. Both teams were a bit miffed at the officiating, but it was the Suns who let it affect them (P.J. Tucker and Marqueese Chriss each earned technical fouls, and Eric Bledsoe was visibly irritated with several close calls that went against him). The Wolves, on the other hand played smartly through foul trouble; Wiggins drew his fifth with 4:45 to go, Gorgui Dieng with 3:08, and both played smart defense the rest of the way without earning a sixth whistle.

Most importantly, the Suns made it a one possession game seven different times over the final 13 minutes of the game, but the Wolves never ceded the game-tying or go-ahead basket. On the first six occasions, Minnesota came back down the floor and pushed the lead back to 4 or 5 points, whether it was Ricky Rubio getting to the line, Cole Aldrich finishing in the paint, Shabazz Muhammad with a finger roll, or Andrew Wiggins hitting Phoenix with a jumper, layup or trip to the line, the Wolves had an answer.

The seventh and final time the Suns pulled it within a single possession was with 4:17 to go; the Wolves failed to answer, and Phoenix brought it down the court with the chance to tie or take the lead. Fortunately, Brandon Knight bricked a three. On the ensuing Minnesota possession, Gorgui missed an open jumper, but Karl-Anthony Towns battled down low for an offensive rebound and an and-1 putback, effectively putting the game out of reach.

“A great multiple effort play,” Tom Thibodeau said after the game. “That’s will and determination, and oftentimes that’s the difference between winning and losing… we have to play with as many of those plays as possible in our favor.”

It wasn’t all peachy keen for the Wolves, though. Shabazz Muhammad had a particularly rough game; his numbers (3-for-8 with 8 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists) look fine, but he took a bad pull-up long two in transition, drawing Tom Thibodeau’s ire, and also fouled a three-point shooter, drawing Thibs’ hell, fire, and brimstone.

Kris Dunn – bless his heart – had some truly cringe-worthy moments:

He had another play in the 4th quarter where he pump-faked after a catch (when he was wide open in the corner), got himself up in the air, had to dribble out of it, but couldn’t touch the ball again because it would’ve been a travel, so he watch haplessly as P.J. Tucker snatched it and took off to the other end.

Speaking of pump-faking – Gorgui Dieng had a very nice game overall, doing so many of the little things that the Wolves needed (there’s a reason Thibs has him on the floor for 40 minutes to Cole Aldrich’s 8) but he nearly pump-faked himself into oblivion on numerous occasions. He hit his first shot, which usually seems to relax him, but tonight he kept looking timid upon catching the ball at the top of the key, pump faking and head faking and stepping through and pivoting back, moves without a purpose beyond making us all dizzy.

All things considered, it was a very good win for Minnesota, who desperately needed to bounce back from Saturday night’s debacle against Houston. They did. Can they build on it? Can they keep it going in Atlanta on Wednesday?

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2 Responsesso far.

  1. Tom says:

    A win is a win is a win. They didn’t play very disciplined on offense or defense, but they played a team that was less disciplined than them and that gave us a win. Any team with veteran leaders would have taken this win from us, like Houston did, but luckily we are going to have a few games now where our faults shouldn’t hurt us, because the team we will be playing is equally flawed. If we put in the effort, we could go on a roll and heaven forbid, actually be in contention for the 8th spot in the suddenly not so deep and deadly West.

    However, these are our young Wolfies, and they may decide that effort isn’t a needed element and cough up a couple of these games that they should win. KAT still needs to set up lower in the box. He is still too comfortable letting his defender push him outside. He also is thinking and not reacting to double teams like a great big man should. He seems to want to emulate KG, but I wish he was more like Duncan. Ricky has to learn to take more attempts at the basket. He had one drive, last night, that he could have gotten a lay-up, instead he passes out and we get a bad shot instead. I don’t care what his shooting average is, he has to take what the defense is giving him, so his passes can be more effective.

  2. pyrrol says:

    Notes: Looks like we found a team we can beat up on. When we aren’t willing (or able) to take the full initiative to beat them, they beat themselves. Hard to get proud of a win like this, but we do need to win this type of game.

    Wiggins and Towns had flashy numbers, but LaVine was the ice we needed. That three he hit late was big. Jim Pete said something like, “That’s the kind shot the Wolves have been missing,” in reference to timely shots to win games in crunch time. I couldn’t agree more. And it should be noted who delivered it.

    Towns really needs to improve his passing out of doubles. I think he’s got quite a passing knack (as shown in his dish to Aldrich) but his personality is such that he has taken on our problems and slow start. So he gets this ‘I got this’ attitude when he gets the ball down low and tries to prove he can score for the team rather than entertaining a good pass and the idea of quality ball movement. He’s smart and will figure it out, although I am checking my watch on it a bit and it seems like Thibs isn’t really putting a major emphasis on it, leaving it to Towns to figure. This is just speculation, but with a guy as bright as Towns, with such a feel for the game, it’s hard to imagine that if passing out of doubles was a big priority and something worked on in every practice it would currently look like this.

    If I’m building a team I look at Wiggins as a good 2nd or 3rd fiddle and a team that can make a serious run. It’s clear we (ie Thibs) views him as a #1 option, even over Towns and LaVine and at the detriment of quality ball movement.

    On that topic, there’s a scoop in the Star Tribune about how Rubio is being used (yeah, I know they aren’t really known for their great Wolves coverage…). It’s fairly revealing, in that it has both Rubio and Thibs discussing how Rubio is used and his struggles to fit into this system. It basically puts to rest any notion that Rubio has just been playing bad and Thibs has nothing to do with ordering the ball out of Rubio’s hands. It seems that Thibs has come back from the brink on this a bit on this–Rubio was free wheelin’ much of the game with 12 assists and a robust sense of passing adventure and that’s a big reason we won. But again with that ‘point Wiggins’! It’s actually a bit comical to watch how well we can play with a PG making plays and running a (primitive) offense, and then towards the end of the game Thibs has his ‘we need point Wiggins to save the day’ freak out, which goes bad, and we revert back to Rubio running the offense if there is still time to win. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very excited Rubio has been less handcuffed lately, but as a fan I just hate the point Wiggins moments. And I have to say, even as a long off investment in the future, it’s a bit silly. It’s just not a good look for Thibs.

    There’s the general idea (mentioned in the article) that you can’t be a good team if you have a non-scoring point guard with the ball in his hands at the end of games. Hogwash. You had the ball in his hands all game successfully, for starters. Second, Rubio can pass whenever he can’t score. If he’s afraid of his lack of scoring in crunch time, he can get rid of the ball faster, or he can keep making easy shots for his teammates like he did all game. But I can’t see how having your SF dribble from mid court and try to make decisions (which he’s not good at) and pass (which he’s not good at) when he could be off the ball, making a cut (or some other helpful activity) leading to an easy look. How is Rubio suddenly a problem? Why are we trying to put the cart before the horse and invent a problem (when we have a mountain of real ones)?

    To Thibs’ credit though, our D is looking like it has some flashes lately. Overall, any significant improvement is not here yet, but I’ve seen a few signs it might be on the horizon. We seem to have a bit more attitude.

    Gorgui has been playing better.

    Dunn is weird. Fun plays like the block, but really seriously bad plays like the one mentioned above. Like not stuff you every saw Rubio do. It’s worrisome. What is the ceiling here? He looked good in that he played some D and scored, but he did almost no ‘PG stuff’. This has been a recurring problem (but usually minus the scoring). Still have visions of Tyus in my head along with sugar plums.

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