What’s New is Old Again: Lakers 130, Timberwolves 119 (OT)

 

(Photo via @NBA)

 

It happened again. The Wolves lost another close one in which they squandered a double-digit lead in the second half. But the news wasn’t all bad.

This time, the loss came against the 20-51 Los Angeles Lakers, in LA, on a historic night in which the Lakers honored Shaquille O’Neal by erecting a giant statue bearing his likeness outside of Staples Center. The Diesel was in attendance, but in keeping with proper Los Angeles decorum, he either left early or absconded to a luxury box to hang with other celebrities.

What happened in the game is essentially this: the Wolves got off to a so-so start, playing sloppy basketball in the first quarter, which the Lakers matched with their own brand of slop. Careening, colliding, grabbing, falling and flailing characterized play in the first. The Wolves were ahead by 1 point, 27-26, at the end of one.

After a slow start to the second quarter with Ricky Rubio was on the bench, Tom Thibodeau brought Rubio back and Ricky catalyzed a Wolves’ run that reversed the only real resistance the Lakers showed from the middle of the second to fourth quarter. The Wolves’ largest lead was 15, in the third quarter. But in the end, ‘Sota snatched defeat from the jaws of victory for the umpteenth time this season.

Let’s deal with the bad stuff first. There wasn’t just one problem.

On offense, the Wolves scored a lot of points before crunch time, but went dry during it (and overtime). Wiggins and Towns both scored a lot of points, but the boom-to-bust effect from the first half to the second half was staggering. Despite a superb all-around game from Rubio (19 points and 15 dimes, along with his usual defensive peskiness), there was no real third option who could be relied on for buckets down the stretch. Shabazz Muhammad, who attended UCLA and is usually the team’s energy scorer off the bench, did not score on the night and had a team-worst -20 in plus-minus. And neither of the other two starters, Gorgui Dieng and Brandon Rush, is the kind of player who can or should be asked to resuscitate a failing offense. Zach LaVine isn’t dunking through that door (this season, at least), and lack of depth remains an unsurprising problem.

On defense, the Wolves were torched by Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson, who went for a career-high 35 and made big bucket after big bucket down the stretch. D’Angelo Russell didn’t put up the best numbers or even play the greatest game, but his dribble penetration and ability to pass and shoot put pressure on the Wolves defense. The Lakers main big, Julius Randle–who, incidentally, is not that big at 6’9”–gave Karl-Anthony Towns problems on defense. (Editor’s Note: Randle also inflicted numerous unforced errors on himself. He not not out of control when he does stuff with the ball. All in all, it was that kind of game.) Randle is an entertaining if occasionally cringe-inducing player. He’s a human bull in a china shop, with a lot of strength and bulk and energy and explosiveness. Oh, and recklessness. His coast-to-coast attempts remind of a less-skilled and coordinated Anthony Mason. The moral of the story is, the fact that Randle outran the entire Wolves defense in transition at least once (I think more than once, but I’m not 100% certain) WHILE handling the basketball is troubling for Tom Thibodeau & co.

Down the stretch, the Wolves couldn’t buy a basket. The offense stiffened up, spacing was poor, and shots didn’t fall. People didn’t box out. Corey Brewer was instrumental in the comeback.

There’s no need to belabor it. You’ve seen this movie before, basically.

Now for the good stuff.

First, Ricky Rubio played a hell of a game. Yes, the team lost, but it wouldn’t have been close if he hadn’t shown up. I mentioned his 19 & 15 above, but the chemistry he’s developing both with the team’s offensive sets and with individual teammates within those sets continues to make one wonder what the upper-bound of his potential could be if he stays in Minnesota as the starting point guard for the long term. Ricky did lots of stuff tonight. Maybe it was the LA sunshine, but he even brought a little extra swag to the passing game beyond his usual theatrics.

Granted, the Lakers don’t have the best defense in the league, but it was fun to see Ricky having fun just dissecting LAL’s defense with his whole bag of tricks.

Second, Andrew Wiggins was aggressive, and in a (mostly) constructive way. Wiggins scored 36 on the night. It wasn’t the most efficient game ever played: it took him 28 shots to get there. But, on a night when few teammates looked prepared to pick up any scoring slack, Wiggins’ work carried the team a considerable distance. Oh, and in case you missed it, he has cornrows now.

Third, Kris Dunn was a real disruptor on defense. This is his calling card, yes, but Dunn appears to be gaining confidence in what he can do on that end. And while he’s still very far from ready to run an NBA offense full-time, he made some nice passes and was an able ball-handler when Thibs went to a small lineup that included all three point guards.

Like many others in the 2016-17 campaign, it was a fun game until the end. And rest assured that somewhere tonight in LA, Shaquille O’Neal is also having fun.

Here’s a tribute.

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7 Responsesso far.

  1. gjk says:

    If the game plays out that way 10 times with the same shot opportunities, the Wolves win the other 9. The Lakers had to take heat check shots the whole 2nd half to even get that to OT. It was discouraging to see how poorly they worked at getting good shots once the lead started to dwindle; their offense more than their defense was what reminded me of their earlier-season collapses. They got suckered into an AAU rhythm late on offense and weren’t able to grab enough of their own misses or draw enough fouls to seal the game. It didn’t help that they got nothing from their taller wings who they needed for floor spacing near the end.

    Maybe it’s petty, but I’d enjoy a situation where 1) the Lakers have to give up their lottery pick; 2) the Pelicans land in the top 3, depriving the Kings of a pick that will be much lower next season; and 3) the Kings get a top 3 pick, which would trigger a swap with the 76ers. If the Wolves won the lottery, that’d be awesome as well.

  2. Tom says:

    This is the type of game that, you wonder if Thibs is over rated, or our stars are. It is pretty obvious that the Laker franchise would like to keep its lottery pick and to make sure of that they have to at least be the second worst team in the league. The Laker group that played us last night have one thing going for them and that is scoring talent. You don’t want to trade baskets with this group or think this is playground ball, because that is the only way they can stay in a game. Give them life and shots like Clarkson, Brewer had last night will happen. Bury them early and then keep them down with solid defense and rebounding.

    Thibs was upset with the defense against the three. Plays like KAT running into Clarkson for a four point play is a perfect example of our stars not thinking and paying the price for our stupidity. But even when they were up by a dozen, they were not staying out and defending the three point line, but looking for steals and showboat plays. Even with the poor play, we were getting pretty good looks and making most of the shots we had. Yes, our team is stupid, but we still had time to win the game in regulation and that is when Thibs decided to panic and use three timeouts in quick succession. On top of that, he calls a time out for an out of bounds play to Wiggins slashing to the basket, and he gets fouled and misses an important FT. Why wouldn’t the Lakers foul, Wiggins has missed clutch FT before. So With the game tied and the Wolves waiting for the last second shot, He has no TO to run a last second shot and of course we end up having to have G try to make a long corner shot as time expired. This is where we should see a great coach add the difference between winning and losing. I’m waiting.

    Thibs whines and bitches every game about being smart and not beating yourself and yet, he has repeatedly gone into the final minute of the game with no TO to set up a play for a win or tie. That is not only stupid, it is redundantly stupid. Now one has to wonder IF the wolves had kept Sam Mitchell and not gone to the great and powerful Thibs, would we be any worse off? Would the learning curve early in the year, have been avoided and a few more wins popped up for the boys? I’m not saying Mitch is a better defensive mind, but his team responded much better last year than this year has shaken out and the looked much fresher than they do now. Imagine if they have to work this hard next year to be the 6-8 seed and they are this tired looking?

    If Thibs still has to remind these guys how to defend the three and play with defensive intensity, I wonder if he is as good a coach as everyone says. The team is reverting to bad habits, it should have unlearned in December. I think Thibs needs to know that if this team doesn’t start learning their lesson on the importance of defensive focus, it is much easier to get rid of a coach than a bunch of players on a lottery team. We better see some improvement against Portland.

  3. pyrrol says:

    This was horrible. Playing games like this is a bad way to end the season. When we started this skid, we had a reasonable chance at the playoffs. Our response has been pathetic. I get that injuries have played a role, but we’re not even fighting, not even playing respectable basketball.

    Part of me agrees with gjk–this was freakish game. The Lakers got lucky taking wild, desperate shots to get back in it and they just all went in. They shot 60% from 3, with Clarkson making 8 of 10. That’s just silly. Add in Brewer coming out of nowhere right when the Lakers needed it and the game became cartoonish at some point (and you just knew we were going to lose the OT). On the other hand, we’ve been playing horrible D for many games now–it’s really inexcusable from a player and coach perspective at this point. Our inability to defend the 3 is particularly pronounced and confounding, made all the worse by our own 3 point shooting doing a nose dive. A lot of Wolvesy things happened–giving up a big lead, melting under pressure, inability to function in crunch time, random opposing players going off (mediocre Clarkson looking like Curry and Brewer coming out of nowhere) getting killed by three pointers, and just the luck of happening on a team that gets red hot… ooo we are good at that last one. That said, you have to expect problems when you play awful D, and problems we got. Our D has to be fixed. On top of that, we are going into slump in crunch time mode again on O, an early season staple. We’re simply not progressing as a team like we should be.

    Wiggins seems to be coming out of his slump, yet he looks labored. Little is effortless. He’s back to being a bit robotic. It’s not good enough. He went all K Leonard with his hair, but not with his game. What happened to the concept of him being a D stopper? That kind of got brushed aside…

    I like Shaq’s statue.

    Being a ‘disruptor’ is not the same as being a good defender. I think people look at the moments when Dunn disrupts and add them up in their head and total that he’s a good defender. He’s not. I like his energy and disruption, but he fouls too much, is often out of position, gets beat on the dribble, leaves the baseline open, gets beat by bigger wings, and misses basic team defense assignments all the time. This is all probably normal for a first year player, but he still has a lot of work to do on D. He’s a not PG as far as his play, so while these were good numbers for him, they are off-wing or ‘dude guard’ numbers, not stuff he’s doing playing his advertised position, which he has little aptitude for. Tyus has better PG skills, and has proved semi OK on D most of the time, with a good instinct for jumping passing lanes. But his shooting has been really bad, he’s not physical enough to have a way to score if he’s not hitting shots. And he’s so weak and stubby, while not being particularly fast. He hasn’t looked good, either. Thibs plays him at the 2 way too much. I think he should be almost exclusively played as the backup PG. He can at least play PG with competence. Early, Thibs succeeded with a strange ‘3 PG’ (2 PG?) lineup of Rubio, Tuys and Dunn. Then he kept doing it. Later it did NOT work. What would make you think it would?

    I can’t help but think that while much of this skid is inexplicable, a big part of it is fatigue and Thib’s inability to use a solid bench normal minutes. The fatigue has forced us to rest on D, and that resulted in bad losses which sent our young confidence off a cliff. There are many other causes to our problems, most of which I’m unaware of, but that is a factor. And there’s no excuses–Thibs has to form and play a bench better, and find better lineups and rotations which keep minutes of the starters down a bit.

    Shabazz? Hello?

    Price of admission was paid for by that behind the back pass from Rubio. I don’t think people got excited enough about it. It was unreal—it looked like a video game.

    I’m from the future and things DO NOT get better in Portland. Lots of the SAMO.

    • gjk says:

      One quick thing: their defense on 3s was acceptable. They wanted Randle and Brewer (both under 30% for the season) to take 3s. All of Clarkson’s shots were closely guarded.

      • pyrrol says:

        Yeah except we’ve been getting killed from three for almost a month now. I actually agree, the ‘eye test’ in this game looked like we were defending the 3 in a normal way, but we got beat there. The Portland game only confirms the issue. Not enough of a basketball mind to know what exactly we need to do about it, but it keeps happening to us.

      • Patrick Johnston says:

        Clarkson made a bunch of difficult shots. He’s capable of making those, and thus merits more attention, but I didn’t think the 3PFA defense was bad. Also, Clarkson is better than usually advertised.

    • Patrick Johnston says:

      Definitely unpleasant to lose a game like this one, but it really doesn’t matter if you look at it strategically. Hate to say that, but it’s the truth we all need to deal with. Dunn IS showing more chops than he did earlier in the season. Given the team’s inert position at the moment, this is something worthy of discussion. Would he be playing as much if the Wolves were in the playoff hunt? I don’t know. Probably not. But that’s a hypothetical. The Wolves are not in the playoff hunt. And he is playing better recently. The defensive range could imply value where we worried there wasn’t any. So, I’m interested in what Dunn does the rest of the way this season.

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