“[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.