Cavaliers 125, Wolves 97: A Perfect Storm

 (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

It wasn’t a game that many were expecting the Wolves to win. It wasn’t even necessarily a game that many expected the Wolves to compete heavily in.

But the storyline was there.

On paper, this was a team 10 games below .500, going up against the defending champs. But at the same time, that under .500 squad had won 8 of their last 11, while the defending champs had just gone through a 7-8 January. This was either going to be a continuation of recency, or a step back into what both teams (and fanbases) have grown accustomed to this season.

The latter happened.

The first half was a bit of a combo of both. The Cavs looked sound offensively, but couldn’t find a way to tame the Wolves’ scoring attack, mainly the attack of KAT, Rubio  and Wiggins.

But again, the Cavs were still the Cavs offensively. LeBron put himself on a sound scoring pace, Kyrie Irving tied his first half career high in assists (10), and Tristan Thompson did all the “scrappy role player” things he does best. And when the second half hit, the defending champs kept their pace. The young, still-learning Wolves did not.

The half got away from them almost immediately, and it wasn’t from the usual suspects. Channing Frye got off to a hot start with a quarter-starting three pointer, and followed soon after with an unusual and-one dunk. Frye, in for the injured Kevin Love (which I guess took away another narrative in itself), had one of his highest-efficiency performances of the year, and did the majority of his damage in that third quarter.

But the majority of the second half belonged to…wait for it….you’ll never guess who…. LeBron James. Not only was he able to out-muscle Andrew Wiggins in the post for easy buckets on nearly any occasion he wanted, he was also a wizard with his passing. None of this is new for anyone who has watched the NBA for the last 13 years, but it’s still a dazzle to watch, even against your favorite team.

I mean, man, come on.

All of this wasn’t typical of the Cavs in January, but it was expected that the defending champs were going to find their footing at some point, and the possibly overconfident (and, not coincidentally) recently successful Timberwolves were the perfect team to get back on track against.

The Wolves have won games recently, and looked flat out impressive in doing so. These games were against mostly poor competition, but they weren’t flukes that they fell into. They were games that they fought hard in and won. But, like any young team, a string of wins is going to bring a level of confidence. With confidence can come a level of cockiness.

This isn’t to say, of course, that the game was lost because the Wolves got cocky. The Wolves lost because LeBron James is a mutant human with basketball superpowers, and has an extremely (and relatively) solid supporting cast to work with. The Cleveland Cavaliers are better at basketball, and played like it tonight. In the past month, it might have been different, but it looks like they tapped into something. It looks like they figured something out about themselves again. The Wolves were just in the way when it happened.

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7 Responsesso far.

  1. Tom says:

    Hopefully, our young squad learned something tonight, because they got hit in the mouth by a team that wanted to show its home crowd it is still a champion and Friday they will have another team with similar mentality in Detroit and Saturday with the Griz. The attitude the Cavs came out tonight with is the attitude our young players need to get, and soon. Be mean, nasty and have no regard for the opponent. The Cavs played us with the mindset that we are scum and they would have run up the score by 50 if they could. Our defense was swiss cheese. We couldn’t stop anything the Cavs did tonight. Even the scrubs took it to us. It wasn’t just LeBron, it was everyone down to Kay Felder and some McCray nobody beating us up and taking our milk money.

    It should be embarrassing to the Wolves that they got beat so completely. If we have future championship type players, Friday in Detroit should be a war and the team should bring a passion that should carry over to their home stand. Instead of whining for fouls like tonight and playing like they were being bullied, we should be ready to retaliate with good hard play of our own. Sharp passes, attention to detail on offense and defense and punishing block outs for rebounds. Detroit gave us our worst spanking before tonight and the Griz are not our best match up. The wolves need to look at this stretch as their playoff primer or they will come home with their tails between their legs and a label of showboats that can be pushed around by everyone.

    When you play teams like Orlando and Phoenix, you can get by on your freakish athletic talent. When you play teams like the Cavs, Spurs and Warriors you have to have your A game down pat (no thinking, just doing) and you need to have an attitude that you are going to be in a war. Doesn’t mean you’re going to win, but you got to leave the other team gasping for breath and not wanting a rematch.

  2. pyrrol says:

    Our defense has officially been improving. I didn’t expect us to pick up Thibs’ D right away, but the signs of progress have been slow. A few have sprung lately, but a game like this puts us into reality–we are a flat out horrible defensive team. You can say that is because of what Thibs has to work with (situation and players) or you can say that he should have gotten more progress out of the guys by now. I tend toward the later, but hope for the former. The marginal improvement we’ve so far shown doesn’t guarantee a competent playoff-level D in the future. There is barely a glimmer of a future average D. Our interior D was particularly bad, esp in help. Wiggins can’t cover LeBron at all. It’s like a guard playing a center. He has all the skill and more of a Wiggins, the frame of a PF and the weight of a center. Dunn kept letting guys fly by him, The rest of the guys had their problems, too.

    I will give Thibs some credit, though. In the first half we pushed the ball on O, and I actually heard him say in a huddle to get out and run with it. I’m a little stuffed up, but I think I heard that right. That would be great if he encourages the guys to get out in transition a bit more. That was cool (grasping for sliver linings). Overall, we moved the ball well and ran some action but when things got out of hand we got bogged down mentally and fell back into bad shots and our most stagnant offense. Due to the blow out, point Wiggins didn’t make a major appearance (glad to have the night off). Hard to read Thib’s tea leaves. For a guy so interested in development and doing things the right way (reportedly) it seems odd to play Rubio 37 minutes in a blow out and his backup only 10. Don’t get me wrong, Dunn was horrid, and Rubio was pretty good. But if Dunn plays so bad you only play him 10 minutes perhaps you should give Tyus some minutes, because wearing down Rubio isn’t a great idea. Bazz also played well. I’m not sure why Thibs is playing Rubio so much other than because Dunn is really not good now and he’s just gotten fed up with it. There are other conspiracy theories… Also, if point Wiggins is in part (or mostly) a developmental thing, and not actually the best way to win games in the last 5 minutes now, why isn’t there a little of that strategy at different times in the game, esp end of half (this happened on one end of half possession). I can’t seriously think that Thibs thinks this is the best end of game winning strategy now, and it is a hope for the future and development move. But he’s not really playing it like a development thing. Just some things I’m curious about…

    Usually Wiggins brings it against Cleveland in a way unusual for him. Not this time. Dang, one less source of rare sure effort from him. He looked frustrated and distanced. The box says an average Wiggins effort, but mostly the body language and timing said something less impressive.

    LaVine. Man, he’s worrying me. He just can’t crater like this. He has to outgrow it so that his bad games aren’t so horrid and so his slumps aren’t so long and devoid of usefulness. I honestly thought he’d graduated from this. If he doesn’t soon we might have to treat him as expendable. At his position, he’s got a lot less chance of moving the team needle and a positive way playing with flaws than a 6’8″ guy like Wiggins. Andrew has a lot of disappointing flaws thus far, but he’s 6’8″ and bit stronger and sort of accidentally does some things to help us win when he’s not scoring, esp on D.

    Will this game crush our spirit? We’ll find out. I hope we can pick up our relative competitiveness like this didn’t happen.

    • gjk says:

      LaVine is playing hurt. Even if the team isn’t officially saying that, it’s so obvious watching him even walk around on the court. The reason for him continuing to play is a mystery, but the reason for his slump is clear.

      • pyrrol says:

        That would explain the slump, but would not explain why we play a player who can hardly contribute and is risking further injury. Just strange either way.

  3. gjk says:

    The Wolves struggle against physical teams, teams with a premium wing scorer, teams that can space the floor, and teams that make the defense work side-to-side. Check, check, check, and check. The Cavs might be their worst matchup of any team, which shouldn’t be too much of shock due to how good they are, but it’s not a surprise that some hope of winning may have seeped in because of the Cavs’ January. Those teams that beat them, though, don’t have the same problem spots that the Wolves have.

    As an opponent, watching LeBron is still a great show. It always amazes me when people mention LeBron’s physical gifts like that’s the only reason he’s this good. There are plenty of similarly great athletes who flame out; he sees the game more quickly and clearly than even lesser athletes. With all the annoying things he does off the court, it can be hard to recognize how dominant he is on it.

  4. Jello says:

    I’m interested in what other’s think about Wiggins playing SF moving forward. He has the length of a SF, certainly, but he doesn’t have the strength or weight. This isn’t an overreaction to last night, obviously LeBron isn’t the norm at SF, but he is a great exemplification of Wiggins deficiencies at the position. The common complaints are Wiggins rebounds horribly for his position and can’t play defense. Well maybe he is actually playing out of position and his rebounding and defense would look better playing lighter, weaker players. Do you think moving forward Wiggins can put on 20 pounds of muscle and is a future SF? Or is it silly to make Wiggins play SF in order to start LaVine? Should LaVine move to the bench and the team look for a viable SF option next to Wiggins? Personally, I think the way to move forward with building this team is to bring in a guy like PJ Tucker to play SF and some small ball PF (Wolves are reportedly interested and if they would take a second round pick I’d do it in a heartbeat), and get a stretch 4 like Ibaka (might be too expensive, but just as an example of type of player). I think a lineup like that with Rubio/Wiggins/Tucker/Ibaka/Towns would work very well together. Take the primary defensive role off of Wiggins and save his legs from having to fight post ups from stronger players. Let Wiggins be the bigger player and his length bother two guards. His shooting from three has improved enough for me to feel comfortable with spacing so long as the 4 can make a respectable percentage from three. You then have Dunn/LaVine/Bazz/Dieng on the bench. LaVine and Bazz can absolutely murder a second unit offensively and while they don’t offer much defense, they should be able to outshoot any opposing bench. Smart rotations with the starters would also cover for defecincies. Play Muhammad with Wiggins to keep Wigs at the two and play LaVine with Tucker to keep a defensive presence.

    In general this team is just out muscled against any solid veteran team. Obviously guys will add muscle as they get older and playing such a young lineup leads to these issues, but it’s also a possibility that forcing them into these positions isn’t the way to go. Muhammed played so much last night because he’s one of the few aggressive, strong, rebounders, but him getting so many minutes is also a defensive liability. I say add a guy like Tucker to do sh*t and cover for Wiggins lack of being able to do sh*t and let Wiggins put on a clinic against smaller two guards. LaVine doesn’t deserve to start right now, and if he eventually does deserve it we can see if Wiggins can handle the role of playing bigger guys or not. Right now, I say the best way to play is with him on the bench getting sixth man minutes and Wiggins at the two.

  5. Tom says:

    We could have brought Rush into the game and played with Rubio, Wiggins, Rush, Belly and KAT. Brought Dunn, LaVine, G, Cole and Baz off the bench. Wait, what am I thinking? Without an injury, Rush doesn’t play. I think it’s in his contract.

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