The Timberwolves beat the Washington Wizards by 15 points on Monday night at Target Center because they continued to play good all-around basketball. Much like their other impressive wins of late, the game involved an early lead (41-23 after the first quarter), stingy defense for long stretches of the game (Washington shot 42.9% from the field and just 26.9% from three) and a couple of big offensive performances from Ricky Rubio (22 points and a franchise-record 19 assists) and Karl-Anthony Towns (39 points and 13 rebounds).
The Wolves led for the entire game, building the huge early advantage behind Rubio defense-turned-to-offense; fast-break basketball that had the fans excited from the get-go despite Towns sitting much of the opening quarter with a couple quick fouls. Brandon Rush, who has contributed very little in recent weeks, buried 3 threes in the opening quarter (4 for the game). Rubio was leading and orchestrating just about everything that was happening, racking up 9 points and an absurd 10 assists in the first period alone.
This play was especially cool:
1 of 10 Rubio 1st Q dimes pic.twitter.com/RUD4us75Qk
— A Wolf Among Wolves (@AWAWBlog) March 14, 2017
Despite the highlight-filled first quarter and huge early differential, this was not a blowout win. The Wolves got lackluster performances from key bench players, especially Kris Dunn and Shabazz Muhammad. Dunn made some poor decisions with the ball — dribbling high and flashy enough for Brandon Jennings to steal it, throwing a lob pass that had no chance of working — and ended with 0 points (0-1 shooting), 2 turnovers and 0 assists in 9 minutes of (-5) basketball. Thibs was visibly irritated with Dunn’s decision making with the ball in his hands. Bazz played a little bit more than Dunn (15 minutes) but was equally ineffective, shooting 1-6 from the field and scoring just 2 points with a team-worst (-10).
The bad bench play, combined with John Wall playing Quarters 2 through 4 like the Transition Terror that he is, allowed this game to get pretty close. The margin hung around 8 to 12 in the third and fourth quarters. It was a 5-point game with a little over 4 minutes to play when Rubio hit KAT for a three at the top of the key. From that point, the Wolves took control and ended up winning by a slightly-misleading but very impressive margin against one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
Rubio checked out with less than a minute to go to a standing ovation. After the game ended, Marney Gellner interviewed him on the floor about his career night and franchise-record assist total.
— Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) March 14, 2017
Anyway, it was another feel-good night at Target Center, where the Wolves have now won 4 home games in a row, dating back to February 24, right after the All-Star Break. The last 3 of those have come against some of the best teams in the league (Clippers, Warriors, Wizards). They now go on the road for a three-game trip that won’t be easy. They face the Boston Celtics on Wednesday, Miami Heat on Friday, and the Boogie & Brow Pelicans on Sunday.
A few quick hitters about this game and a few other Wolves happenings to wrap this up:
- Earlier on Monday, Towns was named Western Conference Player of the Week. (Ironically, Wall was announced as his East counterpart.) For the week, he averaged 29.0 points, 12.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and shot 63.3% from the field. That is good basketballing. If he keeps playing like this, he’s got a shot at making an All-NBA Team.
- Rubio is playing the best basketball of his career. After the game, Thibs likened his success to KAT’s award, explaining that what he likes is their “impact on winning.” Consider that some of Ricky’s best games of late have come against Chris Paul, Steph Curry and now Wall. Those are three of the greatest point guards in the league, and Rubio has outplayed all of them. (Wall, on Monday, came the closest to playing him to a draw.)
- Towns obviously played a very good game against the Wizards. You don’t score 39 points on 17-26 shooting while playing poorly. That said, it wasn’t my favorite *style* of KAT game. He took umbrage with the early-game officiating — both his own early fouls and then some non-calls against his own shots — and seemed hell-bent on going 1-on-1, sometimes to the detriment of team chemistry, but more so to the detriment of his defensive focus. He played a poor first half on defense. To his credit, he was really tough on the defensive boards late in the game. This is nitpicking, but only to say that his worst-among-starters plus/minus (+4) is worth noting, given that his gaudy stat line will draw more attention from the masses after a win like this.
- Andrew Wiggins played a pretty quiet game, ending with 15 points (5-15 shooting), 5 rebounds and 1 assist. His jumper was falling short in the first half, and the team mostly — and successfully — steered the offense toward Ricky & KAT action. For what it’s worth, Wiggins seemed to play pretty good defense. He was (+20) on the night. Wiggins has been on a bit of a cold streak for the past few games, after playing some of the best basketball of his career, before that.
- The team defense was very good in this game, with the limited exceptions of Towns in the first half, and a handful of Wall transition plays that, honestly, looked pretty unstoppable. That is more of a failure of the offense to not be in position to get back than it is anything the defense could’ve done differently. John Wall with the basketball and the whole floor of players moving in the same direction is just unfair. He is going to get there faster than anyone else and he’s incredibly skilled and intelligent in transition scenarios.
- Nemanja Bjelica had a nice game off the bench, subbing in earlier than usual for Towns (who had the 2 early fouls). “Belly” had 16 points on 6-7 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds and 2 assists in 29 minutes of (+17) basketball. He was a big part of the crazy first quarter.
- Perhaps the best way to close this one… Thibs smiled during the game and we have video to prove it.
Thibs smiling in slow motion. Glorious. pic.twitter.com/a1vdAtctkn
— Meredith Minkow (@murrminks) March 14, 2017
Until next time.