Celtics 117, Wolves 104: Play “Let it Be,” or “Nevermind”

I can hardly stand upright
Hit my head up on the light
I have faith but don’t believe you
This love ain’t enough to leave you

Everything I love is on the table
Everything I love is out to sea

The National – “Don’t Swallow the Cap”

For the past few months, when an opposing wing player has stood at the line to shoot free throws, the Wolves’ own wings have made their way to the opposite end of the floor to wait, one in each corner. The goal is obvious: run a quick-hitting play for an easy bucket off a miss. The problem, of course, lies in its transparency. I can’t count how many times I’ve watched the Wolves’ opponents realize what the Wolves are trying to do between the first and second foul shots, then send two players down the floor to “guard” them, 85 feet from the ball. Last week against the Clippers, Andrew Wiggins even pretended to check out of the game as he “snuck” off to to his corner, before Luc Richard Mbah a Moute sauntered down the floor to guard him, rolling his eyes at the silly, obvious trick the Wolves were attempting to pull.

Butarly in Wednesday’s loss to the Celtics, this obvious trick play led to a Wiggins alley-oop! Off a Jae Crowder made free throw, at that!

It’s particularly ironic that the Wolves’ longshot, crackpot, Annexation-of-Puerto-Rico-ass “gotcha!” play actually worked on the same night everything else that’s been reliable lately did not. Karl failed to score 20 points for the first time in nearly two months. Ricky fell short of double-digit assists for just the fourth time since 2/10. The Wolves defense, which has been stellar, gave up 115+ for just the second time since Valentine’s Day. Two players (Nemanja Bjelica and Lance Stephenson) suffered ankle injuries of yet-to-be-determined severity, breaking a relatively enjoyable healthy streak (Zach LaVine’s knee not withstanding… pun? Was that a pun? Do I need to apologize?).

Overall, Minnesota led in total rebounding and held a sizable advantage in second-chance points (20-to-6), but Boston shot a blistering 54-39-86 line for the game and had 34 assists on their 43 made field goals. Marcus Smart played his usual pestering defense, Isaiah Thomas posted a free-and-easy 27 points on 15 shots, mixing deft moves in the lane with confident launches from beyond the arc, and Al Horford (20-9-8) flirted with a triple-double. Boston looks, and plays, like a team ready for the postseason. Their 10-man rotation is full of interchangeable parts, all of whom move the ball and space the floor.

Ricky Rubio did his best to keep the Wolves in it, starting with 10 points and 4 dimes in the opening frame:

The turning point for the Wolves came immediately after this nice Wiggins to Bazzy feed gave the Wolves a 46-36 lead halfway through the 2nd:

On the Celtics’ next trip down the floor, Ricky fouled Isaiah Thomas on the perimeter, giving him three free throws. That sparked the Celtics to a 22-14 run to close the half, and the Wolves’ 10-point lead dwindled to 2 at the break. Minnesota battled to keep it close in the third; they lost their way for good when Ricky picked up his fourth foul with 5:38 to go in that frame, down 72-71. By the time Ricky came back, with 8:00 to go in the final period, the Wolves were down 12. They never got it to single digits again.

A few other tidbits from this one:

  • Kris Dunn… I… look, there’s going to be a long offseason to dissect his game, his numbers, video of his play… having said that… uh, I don’t want to call him a bust, but let’s just say the temptation is growing. He’s an electric defender. Once he learns to do that without fouling all the damn time, he’s gonna be something. But… the jumper is broken, the offense looks like a mess whenever he’s running it, and he hasn’t improved this season whatsoever. Here’s his breakdown pre-and-post-February injury:

  • I just… there’s no “there,” there. His Net Rating was second-worst among Wolves regulars in the first portion described above, and his post-2/10 Net Rating (which coincides with Minnesota’s markedly improved play) is dead last among the team’s rotation guys. I don’t know. Maybe he’s Tony Allen, or will be, someday? He’s a fighter. I should know better than to doubt him. But I think there’s plenty of good reason to be concerned.
  • On a related note… just 8:47 of action for Tyus. And what do you know, despite HIS low stat count (2 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist), the Wolves were plus-3 during his stint. Sigh…
  • 4th straight DNP for Cole Aldrich, who may end up back in the rotation if Nemanja Bjelica’s MRI reveals a season-ending injury. A huge bummer for Bjelica, whose 8 points, 6 boards, and 2 assists on 44/36/72 shooting over the past month has been a sight for sore eyes. He was becoming more aggressive and comfortable with each passing game. Damn.
  • With 15 games to go, the Wolves are now 4 back of Denver in the race for the final playoff spot in the West. I ain’t saying it’s over… but yeah, it might be over. The Wolves get back at it on Friday night in Miami.
  • In closing, I finally started listening to The National after years of meaning to get to it and ohmygosh I’m in love

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6 Responsesso far.

  1. pyrrol says:

    Man this game was irritating! Irritations included:

    Some sort of transparent plastic covering the Wolves basket all night. We couldn’t hit a shot. Except Rubio could… I actually felt bad for Rubio because he kept trying to get folks going and they kept missing, so he took and made shots out of desperation. He wasn’t really off with his passing, maybe not on fire, but folks missed so many shots he only ended up with 7 assists.

    The other side of the coin was that Boston was hitting everything. Sure, some of it had to do with the Wolves playing less well on D than recently, but Boston just had a hula hoop tonight.

    Speaking of the Celtics, what a bunch of scrubs. Brad Stevens is a really impressive coach to get the record he has out of Thomas, Horford and a bunch of dudes who can apparently hit enough jumpers to be annoying. Seriously though, I’m exaggerating, but it’s not the most impressive roster, but well coached. They might get killed in the playoffs. In fact, I expect them to.

    There were some weird calls in this one, most of them not favoring us. I count at least three games in a row of officiating I’ve felt the need to complain about. I’m prone to that, but have not felt the need to do it a whole lot this season until recently.

    The ankle injuries were emotionally… annoying. Lance just came back on his 2nd trying to prove something 10 day, and really he didn’t get played enough. He finally sees the floor and poof, injured. I feel bad for him and honestly, even though Thibs failed to use him much, we could have used him. We need more competent bench minutes. Bjelica was finally playing to potential and looking comfortable and poof. I hope it is minor, I really was enjoying watching him.

    Man, Isaiah doesn’t do anything but score. During some fawning, Jim Pete mentioned that he’s not good on D but it’s not his fault because he’s tiny. Well, yeah, but he’s not exactly using his quickness to get steals and be disruptive either. He kind of takes D off.

    Speaking of not doing anything… Yet another game of Wiggins looking bad and worn out. He scored 21 but labored to get those points and had many bad misses that fueled run and gun Boston offense. There are signs his 3 might be coming back a little, but it isn’t very relevant if Wiggins can’t bring more energy and make the easy looks.

    Towns didn’t play up to his very high bar he’s set. But he did have 17 and 14 on 50% shooting, which is hard to whine about. One would hope he’d feast on the tiny Boston line, which features a 6’8″ish center (have fun in the playoffs). But it was Towns’ turn to look a little tired and frustrated. If that’s tired Towns, I’m impressed, however.

    Shabazz was better, but cannot hit threes anymore. We’re running out of sources for threes. We got killed from behind the arc in this one. It was basically the ballgame.

    I have to second William here. There is no there there with Dunn right now. Even his D… I mean it’s not nearly good enough to be his sole reason to be out there, he takes a lot of risks and fouls way too much. It’s what he has a knack for, but he’s not some virtuoso on that end yet and given how bad he is at everything else, it just doesn’t add up to a rotation player. At very least Thibs should stop this Dunn comes off the bench to replace Rubio alone for like five minutes thing. It should be reversed. Tyus comes in for Rubio, then Dunn joins later as a wing D guy. All the while Tyus runs point. I wouldn’t mind seeing Tyus-Lance-Shabazz plus two bigs as a line-up but that’s dead in the water now. Looks like we have to play Dunn a lot because we don’t have that many warm bodies (we might HAVE to play Cole, too). But I’d encourage that to be on a SG basis. Both Dunn and Thibs didn’t look great with their families looking on…

    The playoffs are very unlikely, but we’ve got 15 games left and should play like we want to win them all. Kind of lame if Denver gets in the playoffs. Who wants to see them over us? I think we’d be more fun as the 8th seed. Thibs waited too long to ‘play to win’ and stop his developmental/experimental ‘stuff’. Yeah, the guys had their problems and are still learning to play with each other, in the NBA in general and in a new system. But I don’t think we had the right strategy fast enough (hey if it was up to me we would have done about none of that ‘developmental’ crap like playing keep away from the best passer of his generation).

    • Brandon says:

      You don’t know if the recent upward tick in play would have happened without that “developmental crap” as you put. I think Thibs has a long term outlook. Making the playoffs would be nice, but getting creamed by the Spurs/GS isn’t the end goal.

      I do think Thibs entered the season with a certain view of Rubio and it took a while to come around to him. However, you could also argue that adversity and being forced to score more may have something to do with Ricky’s much better play of late.

      I hate when fans are quick to praise the Wolves for playing better, and then discount Thibs’ impact. Do you really think there’s no correlation?

      Sure, maybe they win a few more games early on if Thibs had played more to win. But his “developmental crap” likely caused them to win a few games later on that they wouldn’t have had without it.

      I could care less about playoffs this year. It would be nice. But next 2-3 years are far more important. And simply playing meaningful games in March is the next best thing anyway. It stops the attitude of “losing is ok” that can infect tanking teams.

      • pyrrol says:

        And you don’t know if Thibs’ ‘developmental crap’ early in the season did a single thing for our long term outlook. Or helped us get one win we would have not gotten if he didn’t play the team like he did early. So I guess we’re back to square one.

        For instance, one theoretical Thibs goal early was to develop Wiggins’ skills and ability to run the offense without needing a PG to set him up. And lately, Wiggins has been slumping hard and needs a team around him to flourish as much as ever. So…

        I frequently criticize Thibs but also complement him. I may have not mentioned it in this specific post but certainly in others–I like what he teaches on D and he’s gotten the guys to improve there a ton lately. He certainly doesn’t let up on them when they are doing things wrong–he puts pressure on the guys to get better all the time which is good for our future.

        If playing meaningful games in March is good (this seems obvious–good for development, good for a team who’s goal is to win) then making the playoffs is also good. That’s how sports usually work. We might flop if we make the playoffs, but we can’t go anywhere in the playoffs without making the step of actually being in them. Even if we got swept it would provide important experience for next year. It seems unlikely we’ll get in, but also seems odd to not care whatsoever if we do but to love playing meaningful games in March. Actually, why am I bothering? In the first sentence you say you couldn’t care less if we make the playoffs and in the next say it would be nice. Anyhow, it’s my personal opinion that the way we’ve been playing lately does more for development than the stuff early in the season, but who knows.

        To Tom’s point, it was fun to see the Gophers improve so much this year. They will be much better next year in all likelihood and the experience they had this season will be helpful. I really like how they are maintaining more MN talent–it’s fun to see that on the team.

  2. Tom says:

    Winning the eighth seed is a great goal for this team, but remember the Utah Jazz (now the fourth seed) was the West nine seed last year and didn’t let it effect them. They were able to add players like George Hill, Joe Johnson and they now have budget to go further in FA if needed. Portland which was a fifth seed last year and invested a ton to keep their team together, may not make the playoffs this year and may have to try to tweek their lineup. A lot will have to change on this team to make the kind of jump Utah made this year and of course we need to remember that until we are favored in the West, spending all the cap money is how you almost get there, like Portland. Thibs and Layton need to follow Utah’s plan.

    Rubio is playing like a savvy veteran and that is a great sign for our other team leaders. He will be pushing them to lift their game up to match his. It concerns me that Wigs is playing like he is gassed and resigned to not getting calls when he drives to the basket. Earlier this year, KAT was playing soft and looked like he hit a wall, but he has pushed through that wall of fatigue and it looks like he has become the All-Star we knew he would be. Now Andrew has to fight through the legs of cement and reconnect with his jumper and go hard to the basket and get to the FT line. Misses be damned. Thibs may be wondering if Wigs has that fear of only being good and not great. All the greats are afraid that they will only be good in the league and not dominate their fellow players. Wiggins doesn’t seem to mind that he wasn’t an All-Star candidate this year, or that no one even thought he should be.

    I was hoping that Rubio would be a great mentor for Dunn, given that both of them need to be floor leaders and not primary scorers for this team. You see small flashes that he has talent, but he never gets beyond those flashes and I wonder how committed he is to running this team. He plays better when Tyus plays along side of him and runs the offense, while he plays the combo two guard. When he runs the offense, he usually ends up dribbling until he has to throw up a prayer. I thought he would be able to drive past people to the basket a la John Wall, but that is one area that he is not yet shown to have much ability in doing. Thankfully, the Knicks didn’t give us what Thibs wanted for Ricky.

    The Gophers lost their opener in the tourney, but they have to be proud of their breaking through and getting to the dance. The will be a much harder out next year and years to come. The Wolves may get a similar chance this year, but either way, pushing for a playoff spot has made them much more prepared for when they do get there and hopefully not as an eighth seed.

  3. Tom says:

    Just read that Belly is out with injury to his foot for the season. That puts a highlight on a couple of Thibs issues. First, it was obvious the moment it happened that Belly wanted to get out of the game, but Thibs did not call an immediate timeout or do a quick sub at FT. It probably didn’t do any more damage, but a foot injury isn’t a rolled ankle and Thibs hard line makes me wonder if Belly was trying to be a good soldier and play through it. I have not been a belly fan, but he was making progress and now he is out. I hope he can make a full recovery.

    It also leaves another gaping hole in the bench which was already leaking with Pek, Zack, Lance and DNPCD, Jordan Hill and Adrian Payne. We are basically down to Baz, Cole, Dunn and Tyus and two guys that have watched the season from the first row. Thibs focus on KAT, Wigs Zack and Dunn getting minutes and not picking spots to get others in the game, has reminded us of Thibs overworking players and not developing his bench in Chicago.

    I hope that this isn’t a trend. Getting to the playoffs is a great goal, but keeping KAT and Wigs healthy should be too.

  4. gjk says:

    The point of that free throw play isn’t really to catch an opponent off guard as much as it is to create points against a defense that can’t get set. Even on makes, Rubio has beaten at least 2 opponents up the floor (usually bigs unless they have Towns in one of the corners) while a third is either limiting his speed by backpedaling or opening up a passing lane by sprinting back. It’s not a gimmick as much as it is something that’s still hard to guard even if the opponent knows it’s coming.

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