“Ice cold, baby, I told you, I’m ice cold.”
-Frank Ocean, “Pilot Jones”
Starting games is overrated. You want to know who the coaching staff believes in? Take a look at who is on the court during fourth quarters, especially when the game is close. Starting slots that aren’t obvious (such as Towns, Wiggins, Dieng, and Rubio, currently) are driven by early-game matchups, with heavy preference given to veterans; Brandon Rush has 14 starts this season, and his numbers don’t appear to justify it.
There isn’t a basketball stat-equivalent of “saves” or “games finished” the way there is for pitchers in baseball, but there ought to be. Someone much smarter than I am should figure out the nitty gritty details. Who is on the court when it matters most? And how do they perform in those pressure situations? Who are the “closers”? Who is “clutch,” and not in a “who are you handing the ball with the game on the line” kind-of-way, but rather a “it’s an 8 point game with 10 minutes to go, the other team is closing in, who do we trust out there?” kind-of-way.
Tyus Jones has become one of those guys for the Timberwolves. This is a(n admittedly) clunky method of explaining it, but here’s a breakdown of various minutes distributions throughout the four quarters of play and overtime periods this season. Notice the numbers highlighted in yellow:
Well over half of Tyus’ total minutes have come in the fourth quarters of games. Granted, some of that is mop-up duty in blowouts, but lately, he’s been on the floor late in important victories. He played all 12 minutes of the 4th quarter in wins over the Raptors (which included the game-winning shot), Mavericks, Kings, Jazz, and now the Clippers. Jones leads the team in Net Rating overall (+5.5 points per 100 possessions); in 4th quarters, that figure is +4.8 points per 100, which is remarkable, as he is the only person in the regular rotation with a positive figure in the final frame. The Wolves, as a team, are actually -4.5 points per 100 overall in those scenarios. But when Tyus is on the court, good things happen. The Wolves outscore their opponents. In short, the Wolves WIN.
Last night, with the Clippers still pushing to get back into it, he hit a floater, then nailed a three with 2:25 to go that caused Doc Rivers to raise the white flag (read also: Wesley Johnson checked in). Before that, he assisted on two of the Wolves’ first three buckets of the final quarter, including salvaging a possession with a nice pass for a Kris Dunn three that gave Minnesota a 15-point lead. His final line – 7 points, 3 assists in 18 minutes – may not pop out at you, but there’s a certain calm and flow to the game when he’s on the court, whether he’s on or off the ball. The offense looks the way it’s supposed to look. And while he has limits as a defender, he’s rarely out of position or overmatched. And the kid can’t legally buy himself a beer for another two months. The Wolves might have a player, here.
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) March 9, 2017
A few other bits and pieces from a nice victory over the MS Paint Clippers:
- Those uniforms are trash.
- The Wolves won points-in-the-paint 62 to 40, fastbreak points 20 to 4, and outrebounded the Clippers 50 to 36. All of these factors helped them overcome a rough night from beyond the arc (they missed 14 of their first 16 attempts and finished 5-of-20 overall).
- This passssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss
Lance fastbreak finds Karl-Anthony Towns for the slam pic.twitter.com/rRgUuAOdbJ
— StreetHistory (@streethistory) March 9, 2017
- Minnesota started the game red-hot, and they have Ricky Rubio to thank. I know I went on and on about Tyus, but I could’ve done the same for Ricky, who has gotten crushed by Chris Paul over his career but clearly got the better of him in this one. His steal and jumper, putting the Wolves up 21-6 midway through the first, brought the place to its feet. Overall, he had 7 points, 3 boards, and 5 assists in the opening frame. He played physical, tough defense on Chris Paul and didn’t back down when things got chippy. He knew when to push, when to slow the pace back down, and when to juke CP3 right out of his shorts:
Rubio euro Chris Paul out of his shoes pic.twitter.com/7NM4nRFZwW
— StreetHistory (@streethistory) March 9, 2017
- Karl: 29 points, 14 rebounds, 2 assists on 14-of-21 shooting. Come on.
- Karl, since January 9th: 26 games, 15-11 record, 27.9 points, 13.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.4 blocks, 60% FGs, 41% from three, 84% FTs. He’s reached the same point Kevin Love did towards the end of his time in Minnesota: the great numbers come so naturally, it’s scary.
- Bazzy was solid off the bench, pouring in 17 points, grabbing 6 boards, and burning the Clippers in transition a few times. His energy/chaos was contagious; the Wolves put themselves on the floor for loose balls and clawed for rebounds. Bazz seemed to be in the middle of all of it.
- Kris Dunn had a very good first-half stint. His offense is starting to come around. On the other side, he still fouls too much, but once he adjusts to what is and is not a foul (in my opinion, that’s the biggest leap players make from Year 1 to Year 2) he’ll be a very good defender.
- Lance had a solid first-half run as well, but in the second half, he went full Lance. You never go full Lance. He started breaking off the play and doing his own thing, which, to be fair, does involve trying to create for others. The problem is, the others don’t always know what the hell is going on, and the passes aren’t always to the guys in the same-colored shirts. He was improvising too much. FreeLanceing, if you will.
- Sorry, I’m sorry, I’m trying to delete it,
- 16 minutes into the game, the Wolves had two techs and a flagrant. Gorgui got into Blake Griffin’s face, Kris chirped at a ref, and Tyus hit Austin Rivers’ head on a fastbreak attempt. The Bad Boy Wolves.
- I know this isn’t breaking news or a wondrous insight, but the Clippers talk after everything. Every whistle. Every call or non-call is harangued over and fretted about. It used to really, really bother me. But since my hatred for the Warriors has consumed all of my ire, it is now merely a mild annoyance, or a bizarre curiosity. It looks like it’d be exhausting to do that every night.
- The Wolves are 2.5 games back of the final playoff spot in the West. Next up, the reeling Golden State Worriers at home on Friday night.
- We’ll send you all out with a little Frank Ocean. Enjoy.