Wolves 101, Mavericks 92: Building, Breaking Down, and Building Back Up

It looked like they were going to do it again.

Up by as many as 21 in the first half, the last place Dallas Mavericks brought it all the way back to a 3-point game in the second half. This included a raunchy fourth quarter, where the Wolves were able to rally late and win by 9.

But it didn’t always feel comfortable, and for a while, it felt like the Wolves were going to fall victim to the same thing that cost them losses in their previous two games. No, not getting lazy and letting other teams back in. Tightening up, and letting the lead get to their heads.

To this point, the Wolves don’t know how to win basketball games. Or, rather, how to close out a team when they build a lead. Past-his-prime veterano and future first ballot Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki tried his best to reveal that.

Whether it’s the equally struggle-filled winter months for the Mavericks simply “Maverick-ing”, or the Wolves putting it together at the right time, the Wolves were able to pull away when the game got close. On top of all that, they were able to rebuild their lead and give themselves a comfortable cushion in the game’s final two minutes.

It started with Karl-Anthony Towns getting off to a 60-point pace, hitting on all but one shot and scoring 20 points in the first quarter. With Harrison Barnes on him, Towns was able to get virtually anything he wanted. The double teams, mysteriously, didn’t come until later in the quarter.

He finished with 34 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 blocks, all on 15-19 shooting. It was the ultimate form of offensive efficiency. He shot when he was supposed to shoot, and didn’t force anything (other than the pair of shoulder drops for offensive fouls). He also has mad handles, as displayed in the second half.

KAT wasn’t the only one to stuff the stat sheet. Ricky Rubio had one of his best games of the season, putting up his 16th career 4×5 game. This, according to Alan Horton‘s Twitter account, is the most in the NBA since Rubio joined the Wolves.

The biggest point guard story probably should have been Rubio, but a late injury to Zach LaVine (hip contusion, Thibs said that more information will be made available on Tuesday) allowed the sparsely-used Tyus Jones to get a chance to get some important in-game action. Loud applause brought Tyus into the game, and his solid play gave the applauding fans feeling good as they left the game.

Of course, with Jones’ 3-3 finish, it triggered questions about Tom Thibodeau’s (so far) refusal to put him into the regular rotation, despite generally solid play offensively. After the game, Thibs was very complimentary.

“Every time he plays, good things do happen. I like his readiness,” Thibs said. “I think one of the hard things is when you have to settle on a rotation, there are players that are deserving, but you can’t play everybody. When you do that, you have to take away from other people too.”

The phrase “settle on a rotation” may not sound great…unsettling, even. But he did elaborate later on, perhaps giving Tyus Jones fans a chance for hope.

“It doesn’t always mean it stays that way.”

So, to recap:

  • Karl-Anthony Towns started off great, played consistently throughout.
  • Ricky Rubio ran the offense beautifully and stuffed the stat sheet
  • Zach LaVine suffered a hip contusion during the game, more info to be released tomorrow.
  • Tyus Jones filled in for LaVine, played well.
  • The Wolves built a double digit lead, nearly let it go, but figured it out and pulled through on the victory.

Here’s our victory track of the night.

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12 Responsesso far.

  1. pyrrol says:

    This was a really fun win and we finally hung on. Not to be negative, but this was against a really bad team and we still were pretty close to melting down again. So, while I think it will help us get on track a bit it doesn’t prove a whole lot. I can’t really figure out why Dallas are so bad. Is this roster really worse than Portland’s let alone Phoenix’s? I can see why they aren’t good, but they are in a tailspin right now. I feel kind of sorry for them.

    We can hope the players learned something from this game. Can we do the same for the coach? Jones played, as mentioned above. Perhaps his most obvious skill is just playing PG with a great feel for the game. But he was playing shooting guard when he came in (and the only reason was because Zach was injured and Dallas was playing two PG sized players long stretches). Yet he still managed 7 points in 11 minutes with no notice. I hope that opened Thibs’ eyes a little. It’s one thing to say playing Tyus is the easy way out and we need to give Dunn a boatload of minutes to develop him on paper, but to actually see the positive effects the moment Jones steps on the court… well, that’s something else. That’s dramatic.

    Man, Rubio wanted to win this game bad. He pushed himself outside his normal scoring aggression to help get it done in a shaky stretch. He was all over the place and got a bunch of bruises from what was an oddly physical game. The guy put up 13 pts, 5 rebs, 15 assists and 5 steals. Perhaps his will to win and everything he did stuck out to Thibs a little tonight. Running things through him didn’t seem to blunt development and did seem to make the team flow better. Wiggins took his ‘Wiggins shots’ and surprise, (a lot of them are bad shots) he was often ineffective. He also looked sluggish. Forcing the team to change the style it plays to pander to a player like Wiggins is damaging and I was glad to see us refuse to do it for the most part for once.

    Shabazz had a good game. If he could play like this most nights we’d be a lot better off.

    Dunn started the game off looking pretty good, even proto-dynamic. But he settled into a pretty bad performance studded with poor decisions, bad fouls and turnovers… just sort of flat looking. He’s a tough player to figure out. I’m not sure why putting together OK stretches on the floor is so tough for him.

    KAT smelled blood in the water and had himself a game. I like it–aggressive and smart. He knew where to attack. He wanted this win, too.

    Did I mention that it didn’t look like Wiggins wanted it very bad?

    Hopefully Zach is OK. I am excited about how he’s coming along. This hip this was already bothering him and you could tell the way he was playing before it got aggravated.

    I have a friend who I’m trying to get to watch Wolves games. Without prompting, he said to me today, “Thibs has to have the most unlikable sideline demeanor in the history of sport. It suffocates any joy I can muster while watching. What a toxic looking dude.” That opened my eyes a bit to hear that from an outside perspective without me even asking about the team. I know coaches are professionally angry, but there is just something weird and undignified about someone who’s mouth is bluer than a sailor’s on the sidelines in a suit with kids nearby and a game to direct. All coaches are intense and get mad but gotta pick your places.

    I have to side with Jim Pete on something. What is a flagrant 2 if it isn’t winding up and hitting someone in the head from behind while he’s in the air? Hard. I’m not happy with that call. I was actually worried about an out of control game or retaliation after that because it was just called a flagrant 1 for no reason. But it went OK and melted away. And I have to say, overall the refs have been making me a lot less angry this season than I’m used to. They don’t have their hands in games quite as much. That said, you gotta protect the players.

    • Nate says:

      Totally agree with you. I am worried that Thibs gets stuck in what he wants to see from players and how the team as a whole needs to play. It leads him to overlook coaching to his personnel’s strengths and ignoring their obvious deficiencies. It drives me mad, because he seems to keep doing things that are not working, and may never work. Tyus should be getting regular minutes by now, he’s reliable and performs well when the pressure is on. Andrew Wiggins does not perform well as the primary ball handler in crunch time. We’ve seen some growth around it, but not enough to warrant another blown game because the ball simply stopped moving. If the ball is in Rubio’s hands, we win more games. Is that a recipe for us in the playoffs, probably not, and that’s why Thibs doesn’t like it, but Wiggins is not working out as distributor in the fourth quarter. KAT has mad handles as has been said, and better BBIQ/court vision, we should run the point through him sometimes in the fourth and see how it goes. He does seem to be learning to pass out of double teams to the open man (Tyus). I am becoming fairly anti-Thibs, is that wrong?

  2. gjk says:

    The Target Center and local MN fans make it hard to root for Tyus, honestly. I heard someone mention on Twitter that they think of him as a guy who draws in fans, which is just so provincially backwards. I like watching him play, but it’s grating to go to a game and hear the biggest cheers for him and Cherry Berry. People will probably think he was a catalyst in the 4th quarter when it was Rubio’s reinsertion that led to them putting the game away.

    One of this site’s writers (Steve) tweeted some interesting stuff about Rubio’s game last night that captured the essence of him as a player, and I think the game itself goes to show how much bias skews perception with him. Fans who don’t like him will dwell on the times he refused to shoot and a couple of missed 3s; fans who like him to the point of overrating him will emphasize the way he filled the stat sheet and how he helped take a 5-point lead to a 14-point one with his steals and generating a transition game seemingly out of thin air. If he’s with a team of guys who hustle and cut off the ball, he can pick a defense apart, and he’s still their best overall defensive player because he and Dunn are the only 2 perimeter players who know how to make plays on the ball without fouling.

    The Mavericks played last night like it was a must-win game for some reason. Their bench was going nuts, players on the court were celebrating after made 3s like they had just sealed Game 7 of the Finals, Carlisle was trying every lineup in the book to win the game, and they were doing the “off-the-ball physicality and on-the-ball flopping” that veteran teams often try in order to steal a game. There was a hint of desperation to the whole thing. I was wondering the same thing about why they’re so bad, because the healthy version isn’t the worst team in the West; the crux of it is they can’t seem to win with Bogut and Dirk on the floor together, and Dirk is -21 per 100 possessions this season.

  3. enai says:

    KAT was 15-19 from the field, not 12-15. Not sure where you got that number from.

    • Tim Faklis says:

      Good find! That was his first half field goal shooting. Thanks.

      • enai says:

        Wow, he had only 4 FGA in the 2nd half? Its sort of weird (in a bad way) how KAT will often be the focal point of the offense in the 1st half, and 1st quarter in particular, only to be a forgotten man in the 2nd half (as we go to Point-Wiggins, or whatever).

  4. MWF says:

    What worries me is that Wolves have been (especially for them) really healthy this season. As soon as the normal run of injuries occurs and we lose Rubio, KAT, LaVine, or Wiggins for an extended period of time, we will again hit bottom, unless the law of addition by subtraction somehow comes into play.

  5. Nicholas John Giancola says:

    I’m not a big Rubio fan but he did play well last night. He seems to play well against bad teams. We need to see this against —-all—competition on a—-consistent —–basis. !0-23 this year with Ricky as starting point guard. PER extremely bad. I need to see a lot more—–and much more often.

  6. pyrrol says:

    Also of note when Thibs was asked “You guys are 6-1 now when Rubio gets 10 or more assists. Is that misleading at all or does it show that this team can be a different team when he’s orchestrating?” He responded, “I guess it says we’re making shots if he’s got 10 assists. I don’t know…you can probably make the numbers say whatever you want them to say. The important thing is for us to play well and if he’s performing well our team is probably performing well, that’s usually the responsibility of your point guard and you judge your point guard by how the team is functioning. So performance is important and certainly winning is important.”

    What the F does that mean? This isn’t leadership, this is active, dishonest manipulation to try to support a dogma. To the first part of the response, what is so hard about saying, “Yeah, when Ricky gets a lot of assists we tend to win. He played great tonight,” or something like that and move on. Instead of saying something childish like ‘you can make numbers mean anything!’ Reminds me of someone else I’ve been hearing a lot from lately… Secondly, this ‘you judge a point guard by how the team plays’ thing goes along with another goal post move. If that’s simply true, then there is no such thing as a PG playing well but his team not (obviously a silly claim) and it ignores the fact that Thibs’ system actively takes the ball out of PG’s hands at times, throwing off their flow and tying their hands as to how they can affect the game. Basically, this quote was defensive and disingenuous and I found it alarming and disappointing. Maybe it’s nothing. But it gives me a foreboding feeling.

    What is wrong with Bogut? He looks like a shell. Dirk is just getting old… Bogut just looked bad. It’s sad–he was a good center.

    Ha, if I were the Mavs I’d be desperate too. I guess it could be interpreted as irritating, but I tend to admire when teams try hard to win.

    Groupfan think is almost always annoying and Cherry Berry (R) isn’t helping. But Tyus is likeable. He just is a baller. He takes all the naysayer stuff and shoves it whenever he’s on the court. If he was our primary back up we’d have a better record. I’m a Tyus fan, not because I’m a homer, but because he won my respect. I rolled my eyes when we picked him. But he’s impressed me a lot when he gets the chance. Dunn has not. And Dunn has this penchant to undo a really flashy play right away with bad or erratic play. He doesn’t go on very long runs of competence. It’s strange but also something that could change. However, having a younger, better player warming the bench makes his slow start harder and harder to muster.

    • gjk says:

      Oh, there’s definitely nothing wrong with trying to win. It’s the “gaming the system” part that has always bothered me. When Wiggins is being held off the ball and guys are being pushed inside, yet flopping for charges are being rewarded and any physicality on Dirk is called on the opponent (Rubio’s steal that was called a foul was a joke), it doesn’t seem like good strategy as much as it does trickery.

      I also like Tyus, but it seems hard to dispute that a majority of those who were cheering for him were doing so because he’s one of us. They were cheering like that last season when he stunk. It’s tough to tell whether he’s up for Dunn’s role; Dunn hasn’t been good offensively unless he’s making shots, and his ability to get to the rim was overrated by those who liked him, but he’s one of their best defenders already and makes plays on the ball that are beautiful to watch. It’s just not clear to me yet whether Tyus’ weaknesses would be exposed with regular minutes in a way similar to Dunn; they have so many problems on both ends that any offensive gains could be offset by him being a turnstile defensively.

      • pyrrol says:

        gjk, Yeah they did flop a lot etc.

        I think it is easy to underestimate just how bad Dunn has been overall and how negatively it has affected our bench dynamic. The question often gets boiled down to , ‘which would you rather have in that role D or O?’ But Dunn isn’t as good at D as Tyus is at O, and Tyus isn’t as bad at D as Dunn is at O. As a PG your offense isn’t just how you score, it’s how you run the team–finding looks, running the offense, controlling pace, making decisions, setting the tone of the team. Dunn is bad at all of this so far. On D, he is intense (sometimes fouling unnecessarily). He gets an occasional showy block or steal and provides fairly consistent ball pressure. But it’s not as if our defense would crumble if we didn’t play him. This is all in the context of limited minutes at backup PG. So, would you rather have that 12-15 minutes be a well run offense and shooting threat with some limited D, or would you rather have that time flat on O but potentially spunky on D? I would rather have the offensive competence/spark off the bench. As far as development goes, I’m no longer convinced Dunn is going to eventually be a better career player than Jones. That’s just my 2 cents.

  7. Jello says:

    Gosh I really hope the Wolves are learning. I’ve accepted that this is another learning year, but I hope the team is able to take a whole year and offseason in the same system and really get at it next year. The teams growth has been stinted a lot by switching coaches every year but I really hope that with Thibs in for the long haul we can finally start seeing tangible results. Games that we win are fun, but seeing a team that actually functions like a functional basketball team is better. Karl actually consistently getting assists is great. A lot of people compare Wigs/Towns to Giannis/Parker, but most people don’t realize how important it is that the Bucks have had the same coach all three years. Consistency will hopefully lead to results for us.

    Adding Taj Gibson in the offseason would also help expedite things. A great defensive player who knows the system would help immensely.

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