Warriors 116, Timberwolves 108: What We’d Like to Be

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AP Photo – Ben Margot

“[The Warriors] have a bunch of superstar players that all embrace the role of sharing and sacrificing. And that’s what’s necessary to win big in this league. When you watch, you see how connected they are, offensively and defensively. And that’s what we’re striving for, and that’s what we’d like to be.”

Tom Thibodeau summed up the big picture takeaway from Sunday’s 116-108 loss to the Golden State Warriors at Target Center. Thibs seemed a little bit different than his usual post-loss self; he was a little bit quieter and seemed either tired, or maybe even bored by the easy explanation for Why What Just Happened Happened.

If you watched the game, it was plain to see that the Warriors hit a much-higher gear during the fourth quarter — Winning Time, as we like to call it — than the one they played in for the first three. Defensive focus sharpened. Execution in transition offense was almost robotic. The Wolves, meanwhile, stopped functioning like they did during the relatively easy-going first 36 minutes. Their playmaking and ball movement stalled. Bad offense led to difficult defensive scenarios.

The Warriors have superstars, plural. Four of them, actually, in Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green. That’s gotta be the most talented quartet in the history of the league. On offense they share the ball and make smart decisions. On defense, they stay in their lanes, leverage their versatility with switching schemes, and make it very difficult to find a good shot — at least when they get serious in the fourth quarter.

The Wolves hope to say the same about themselves at some point in the not-too-distant future. Zach LaVine is athletic and shoots well. Andrew Wiggins is athletic and slashes well. Karl-Anthony Towns is athletic and does just about everything on offense. Under Thibs, they’re striving to become a team that wins with chemistry and defense. Right now, the Wolves have some 21-year old ingredients. In time, they hope to develop a recipe for success.

Whatever you thought about the Wolves on Sunday afternoon before this game happened, you still think about them now. This game was a perfect continuation of the season as we have come to know it.

They opened up strong, as they often do, and built a 10-point lead. While their modus operandi typically involves a THIRD quarter meltdown, they have sometimes staved that off until the fourth. That is how tonight’s loss took shape. The Wolves led 88-78 after three, and went on to lose 116-108. Nobody should have been surprised to see the things that led to the lead — scoring from Wiggins, KAT and LaVine, defense and leadership from Ricky Rubio, hustle and “the little things” from Gorgui Dieng.

Nor should people have been surprised to see the things that led to the Wolves’ demise.

The Warriors got serious right out of the end-of–third-quarter break. Klay Thompson cut the lead in half with 5 quick points, and the entire lead was gone when he hit another jumper with 7:41 to go in the game. Everybody could feel that that was far too quick to surrender the whole advantage. Golden State was getting easy stops — they didn’t commit a foul for over 8 minutes of the fourth — and turning those stops into transition offense. Thompson is lethal on the break when he can get his feet even sort-of set for a kick-out three. He ended the game with 30 points. Between he and Durant (who had a very-cold night, but turned it on in the fourth and ended with 22) the Warriors had more than enough firepower to put away a group of young hopefuls like the Timberwolves.

The game flow wasn’t the only familiar feature of this game. LaVine, Wiggins and Towns each scored 25 points. While such exact equal distribution isn’t the norm for these three, they all average over 20 per game now, and it was good to see more offensive success from them against a great opponent. LaVine did his damage from three-point range, connecting on 5 of 9 attempts. Wiggins scored in a variety of ways, including a couple of his patented spin moves. Towns (who also had 18 rebounds) did a great job of taking what the defense gave him and crashing the boards for put-backs.

Ricky Rubio had a relatively good game, working hard all over the floor and ending with a +3 performance. (His backup, Kris Dunn, was -11.) Shabazz Muhammad gave the Wolves a nice first-half burst of energy and ended with 6 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists in 14 minutes. The Wolves were without Nemanja Bjelica (ankle) and Thibs also decided to not play Cole Aldrich, presumably due to the Warriors small-ball tendencies and the struggles Aldrich might face in a faster, more spread-out game.

If you wanted to argue that the Wolves blew a chance at upsetting the Dubs, you’d point out the shooting struggles of Curry and Durant, who combined for 12-34 from the field. If you wanted to counter that argument, you could point out that Green was 5-8 from downtown, which is the sort of factor that can make them seem totally unbeatable.

Whatever your spin is on this one, the fact is that it felt like most of the others. Their best young players score a lot of points, they sometimes build up a lead, and then they struggle to close the game out against experienced opponents who often save a little bit of energy and focus for the second half. Thibs will preach repetition as the guide to improvement. Fans will scream and tweet about trades and the draft. The show will go on, and we’ll continue to look for trends or changes as they take shape.

Tonight’s game, however, was more of the same — even if it involved a pretty awesome opponent that represents what the Wolves would love to one day become.

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8 Responsesso far.

  1. Tom says:

    As good as the warriors are, I would much rather emulate the Spurs than them. They look good against stupid defensive teams like our timbermutts, but what about Memphis, Cleveland, or the Spurs? Draymond Green is a punk, that will lose his cool and hurt his team in the playoffs again. Durant takes shots away from Klay, and isn’t the defensive player Iggy is or Barnes was. They are a regular season juggernaut, but a playoff disappointment.

    I watched the game at home and realized that I can’t listen to the TV crew anymore. Benz is a gray cloud over this team. Petey has some good insight, but together, they make the fun first and second quarters seem awful and I believe they have the same loser mentality our team has in the second half. Opponents go on a run (which happens to all teams in the NBA) and these two are commenting as if the wolves are falling apart. It was so refreshing to listen to Kevin Harlan that it came to me that he eased the pain of losing with his calls. Get rid of Benz please.

    Thibs adds to this with wasting TO in the 3rd every time the other team goes on a five point run. Teams feed off the panic of the coach, the crowd and the guys who cover them. Especially young undisciplined teams like our mutts. Teams like the Warriors have runs (remember last years win against them, we were down twenty) and young teams need to play without fear and hope that they can hit a few funky shots and ride it out. Watching Sam prod them to that victory, was a fun night. Little did we know that they were going to fire Sam and put the great and all powerful Thibs in his place. Lucky us.

    • JV Gibbons says:

      1. I must say, everyone always raves about Benz and Jim Pete but I’ve been listening to podcasts during their broadcast for almost a year now cause I can’t handle them. “Loser mentality” is a great way to put it. I thought I was the only one. Glad to know someone else out there agrees.

      2. I believe in this young core and I believe in Thibbs long term, but its hard for me to avoid the fact that the primary issue with this team right now, HAS to be coaching. Not sure what the quick fix is but I definitely think he’s been making mistakes. To start the 4th last night, Wolves lineup was Lavine, Dieng, Bazz, Rush and Dunn. Not horrendous in most circumstances but when you know the Warriors are going to come at you, and they have both Klay and Durant on the floor, doesn’t take a genius to know that lineup won’t work. Predictably, within 3 minutes, the game was tied, GS had their flow and the momentum was gone. Wolves lost this game in those first 3 minutes of the fourth and I have to put that on Thibbs.

      This will get better at some point. Too much talent for this to continue. How long do we have to be patient? That is the question.

      Keep pluggin away Pups.

    • FNorth says:

      I agree, I used to like Jim Pete but I cannot stand to listen to him any longer. It’s a young team in a new system, we get it, they’re not even close to there yet. The constant harping on it is distracting..

      Also loved hearing Harlan again there was one point in the game when Toronto hit a 3 and Kevin goes “NOOOO!!!!!” lol then tried to retract and say I mean “YES! if you’re a Toronto fan” You don’t need to be a homer and it’s good to offer insight, but there is a tipping point when all of that “insight” just becomes more piling on to the obvious. Jim Pete is way over that tipping point.

  2. Tom says:

    I wish Tom Hanneman and Tucker would still call the games. They both were positive and upbeat, even when the games were not. As you mentioned FNorth, being positive is not the same as being a homer. And I did enjoy Harlan falling back on his Timberwolf days with that three in Toronto. Glenn has to realize that his announcers may save him some money, but they don’t rev up a fan base. When the product isn’t doing well, you have to keep people watching.

    • gjk says:

      Hanny and Tucker were horrible. Their cliches were uncreative and slowly developed. And in what universe does it save Taylor money? FS North hires and pays them. Maybe if the team stops performing like a broken record, they’ll stop sounding like one.

  3. JLo says:

    I miss Trent too, he was always my favorite, “Great! Athleticism!”, loved that, but Pete is fine, actually. But this team, dang, I can’t agree more with pyrrol’s comments on previous posts. I was into Thibs as an idea, but you need to think about the product you’re putting on the floor, and this is just unwatchable. I was bummed about Sam’s firing but understood the logic of an “elite” coach. So how does the elite coach get the team to play *so much worse*? The system coach, they tried this before: Rambis. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got. They had Marc Jackson, point guard not dissimilar from Rubio, sitting right there… record might be similar, but at least it would be fun.

  4. gjk says:

    In a way, Thibs has a point, and in a way, he doesn’t. He’s not the one settling for quick shots and iso ball when things start going badly, and he’s not the one who is inattentive on defense and giving up easy baskets. There’s been more chatter recently about how down the team seems. That’s their problem to fix; their mentality on the court offensively usually seems like “Come onnn, let me do this,” failing to recognize that the opponent has scouted their tendencies and might have figured out some ways to slow them down. Per NBA.com, the Warriors create 74 ppg from assists, while the Wolves create 51. Defensively, their mentality is more “Hey, that’s not MY job” in the way they’re slow to help yet expect others to cover for their mistakes. The Warriors do neither of those things, and none of the good teams do.

    On the other hand, the Warriors don’t play scared, and their coach schemes for the talent. He can’t expect his young team to play fearlessly when he burns so many timeouts on minor mistakes. He’s making a long-term decision, and his demeanor with this team isn’t markedly different from the way Popovich coached his stars when they were younger. With that said, he can’t be too disappointed if they’re not picking that up immediately. Kerr finds ways for every player to have their chance to shine offensively, and that’s not what’s happening with the Wolves.

    • pyrrol says:

      Thibs isn’t the one out there doing the playing, and of course responsibility always falls on the players, too. Still, can he be emphasizing ball movement enough? It’s hard to imagine. For someone always screaming at his players, one would think he’d demand more passes for possessions and if he saw someone, anyone, being a big ball stopper he’d pull them out, sit them early. So, he’s either not explaining/emphasizing ball movement enough, or he is until he’s blue in the face but not offering up any consequences for guys who don’t move the ball. It’s hard to believe the guys are this thick, so I wonder if it’s even that big of an emphasis. On top of that, Thib’s system doesn’t seem to be about a lot of movement without the ball, action and ball movement. If the guys had specific assignments for moving without the ball, wouldn’t they do it? At least half the time? The guys don’t so much ‘fall into’ iso, as it is a major part of the offense and they are told to be doing it. And it ends up being ugly to watch and easy to defend. Ditto quick shots. Why do would the guys keep doing that if it was against what Thibs wanted? I see him roll his eyes at quick shots, but the guys don’t seem to have enough of an alternative to deter the players from doing that when they get nervous or the opposing D picks up steam. Until we start running things that opens the players’ eyes up to what easy looks really are, they are going to keep playing like this. I think this would involve at least a healthy adjustment to the system, and instead of just generically screaming about every infraction, perhaps prioritizing teaching and emphasis so the players can more quickly be taught the difference between a good shot and a bad shot, ball movement, the ‘extra pass’, running action, NEVER just standing around on offense (guys who stand get their playing time cut) etc. A shortcut in teaching all this is to have it taught and shown on the floor some, which involves letting Rubio run the offense. An ideal complement to this would be to have Tyus run the offense when Rubio is sitting (because Dunn does not currently have the tools to run an offense properly in the NBA, even from the bench–all his flashes have been singular ‘cool plays’ or unexpected scoring). Short story long, what Thibs is doing with our offense isn’t working. Some of that is on the players, but he needs to try some different, frankly better, things.

      Defense is harder to talk about, because we’re so much worse at it. So many of our young stars’ first talent (and concern) is scoring. We’re a wreck on offense, structurally, but overcome it somewhat with raw ability. Not so with defense. It’s a total failure. I will give Thibs a break here, in that this was a mess for him coming in, and is the bigger overall challenge for this roster so it’s going to be a long project. Still, that’s his calling card, and a quarter of the way through the season we’ve shown no appreciable improvement on D, not even little hidden signs that improvement may soon start. It’s majorly disheartening and odd. How does someone as smart and avid as Towns blow most of his rotations even with Thibs constantly yelling at him? Something is not connecting. It’s worrisome. And you know what? As frustrating as Towns has been at times this season, I’m sure he’ll get it if given the right lesson plan. I’m not so sure Thibs knows how to deliver the right lesson plan and is flexible enough to find a way. He might just not be the right guy for this project. His early indications have all been negative, and I’ve been scouring the season for any major good signs hidden in the squalor of disappointment. I just haven’t found them.

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