Blazers 105, Wolves 98: Whats Cooler than Being Cool? ICE COLD (in the 4th)

Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Timberwolves squandered away yet another double-digit lead Thursday night, losing to the Portland Trail Blazers by the score of 105-98. This was the 21st time this season that the Wolves have led by double-digits yet came away with the loss.

With Andrew Wiggins, Ricky Rubio, and Karl-Anthony Towns leading the way and combining to go 13/17 from the field, the Wolves built a 34-20 lead by the end of the first quarter and it seemed as if they were well on their way to victory. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum couldn’t buy a bucket in the opening frame, combining to go 2/10 from the field.

However, the Blazers clawed their way back into the game on the backs of their leaders, Lillard, McCollum…and Allen Crabbe. After starting off slow from beyond the arc, Lillard began utilizing his speed to drive past his defenders – mainly Rubio and occasionally Wiggins – and get to the rim and/or free throw line, while McCollum bounced back from shooting 3/11 in the first half to 3/6 in the second. But it was Allen Crabbe who was the largest driving force behind the Blazers’ comeback. Crabbe finished the evening with 25 points (on 8/10 shooting from deep), five rebounds, and 3 assists off the bench; he simply couldn’t miss. The Blazers out-scored the Wolves 85-64 after the first quarter.

For as hot as Crabbe was, the Wolves were equally cold in the fourth quarter. Entering the frame up 87-80, the Wolves proceeded to shoot 3/20 over the final 12 minutes. It’s not as if they were putting up particularly bad shots; it’s just that none of them were falling. Towns – who finished with 24 points, 16 rebounds, and four assists – had a minuscule amount of touches down the stretch as the Wolves turned to Wiggins to lead the comeback. This isn’t anything new; the Wolves have been doing this all season much to the scorn and ridicule of many a fan and writer.

On one hand, the Wolves will be better in the long-run with the more reps Wiggins gets at leading the offense and comeback in crunch time. But part of leading the offense is getting the ball in the best position to be scored; the Wolves need to get the ball in Towns’ hands more often in crunch time. Tom Thibodeau obviously wants the offense run through Wiggins down the home stretch of games, so don’t expect it to go away. I have no doubt that Wiggins will better refine his end of game leadership with more reps (one season’s worth isn’t nearly enough) and will recognize when to get the ball to Towns and when to call his own number. Wiggins finished with a team-high 36 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and two steals.

The Wolves are next in action Friday night when they take on the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City in the second game of a road back-to-back. Tip is scheduled for 8 p.m.

Notes:

  • Karl-Anthony Towns finished with one three and 16 rebounds putting him at 92 and 940 on the season, respectively. He needs to average 2.0 threes and 15.0 rebounds over the final four games to log the NBA’s first 100 3FGM/100 blocks/1,000 rebound season.
  • Shabazz Muhammad wore a headband again tonight. He finished with seven points in 12 minutes.
  • The Blazers out-shot the Wolves 14/33 to 4/18 from three. The need for the Wolves to add not only bench depth, but, preferably, three-point shooting bench depth this off-season has never been any more apparent. Zach LaVine currently leads the team in three-point makes with 120 (in 47 games), while Wiggins (98) and Towns (92) are second and third. The Wolves need more players who can come off the bench and shoot consistently as compliments to the Wolves’ core three and tally more than 100 made threes.
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5 Responsesso far.

  1. pyrrol says:

    This game was an illustration of many of our most pressing issues: Bad team defense, getting beat at the three point line (allowing great 3 point shooting and both not taking enough of our own and shooting poorly from there) allowing normally mundane players to explode against us negating any good work we do defending stars, crumbling down the stretch, giving up leads, no go to player or plan in crunch time, stagnant and elementary offense prone to droughts, junk ‘plays’ when coming out of a timeout, force feeding players roles that may not take and have not yet, lack of bench play and cohesion… off the top of my angry head.

    But lets talk coaching. How many times did we run the same ‘play’ during that drought? You know, Rubio dribbles down, dump passes to Wiggins who runs a little curl and either pulls up for a defended 2 above the free throw line or drives into a triple team. Blame the players all you want, even if it is totally their fault, at some point you have to at least call a TO and draw something different up (if not scream PASS THREE TIMES BEFORE SHOOTING KIDS). At some point this is the coach, and not a good look. Do other teams routinely go into dry spells like this? Do said team have Karl Anthony Towns on their roster?

    I like heat check Rubio. It’s like one of those fun action figure variations they have like battle armor He-Man or something. But I want classic assists Rubio back. The interesting quandary of Rubio’s improved shooting is when to use it and when to tell your offense to get its *hit together so Rubio has someone to pass to (and isn’t one of the best shot taking options). His improved shooting is great, but he’s still a pass first guy. And while he can get shots for us now and again, if we are relying on him as a 1st, 2nd or even 3rd option for shot making, that says more about the state of our offense than Rubio. In this game Rubio took 19 fga. Towns had 16 attempts. That’s not a formula to win.

    Particularly with Zach and Bjelica out we’re hurtin’ for three point shooting. But you can’t make three’s you don’t take. Or more to the point, you can’t make threes your offense doesn’t allow you to take. No question we need three point personnel upgrades next year. But all 5 of our starters can make 3 pointers at an OK to good rate–no great assassins, but guys who can take enough good threes between them to allow us to compete in games. We get beat hard in attempts and % and that’s a prescription to lose no matter what else you do well. We don’t just not take enough threes, our offense is not creating good enough three point attempts when we take them. Most teams have possessions that culminate in a good three point shot. If we end up taking one, it is often the result of a stagnant, well defended set and is taken for lack of better ideas as the shot clock near zero. It’s the type of threes. Part of this is surely a failure of the players. They at times move the ball well, but when they stop doing that we get bad looks at bad times. But part of this is just needing a grown up, honest to goodness real NBA offensive system. I can’t really recall a team that runs something as primitive as we have right now. This isn’t a ‘well, you couldn’t do better!’ sort of observation. Of course I would have no idea how to run an NBA offense, like most fans. But I can also see that other offenses look better than ours from a system respect almost across the board.

    Wiggins will get better leading the offense and in crunch time? Sure, probably… he’s 22. But he’s been the go to guy on offense since he entered the league (not just this season). He’s been pressed hard into a closer, offensive leader, #1 option all season by Thibs to basically no improvement in this aspect. While being pressed into this role, his improvement on D, supposedly an instant strong suit, has been near nil. So, that’s a flat out concern. It just is. I wish it weren’t. In this game we went cold. We missed good shots, we missed shots we normally make. But we also took too many bad shots. And we took too many shots that weren’t working. We didn’t shift gears away from the type of shots that were not working. I mean, there’s the whole, ‘eventually these will start falling’ line and there’s truth to that. But teams defend in certain ways, guys have off nights… you have to work around these things.

    This whole Wiggins discussion takes place in a context of having a potential all of famer in the making in Towns on the team. I get it… going to a center down the stretch isn’t as appealing as training a quicker guy like Wiggins to be your finisher. But let’s be honest—as long as KAT is on the team he should be at least sharing finisher duties. He’s just too damn good not to. If I were coach it would be 60 KAT 40 Wig finishing. But it should not be as skewed to Wiggins as it is. Even if this is a developmental training program (which apparently the season started as and has again devolved into) for Wiggins… It’s not gonna be like this when we contend. He has to learn how to make others operate better, work within a system and win, and share with Towns (who in my eye is the greater talent).

    None of this is a good look for Thibs at this point. You can defend him and say it’s all a master plan and he has us right where he wants us. But what is available to be seen on the court has often been a disappointment and flat out not good this season. That’s just the breaks. There’s no way around it. Perhaps Thibs will have a great season next year and all will be well. That doesn’t change the rather embarrassing look we have right now. Part of me thinks the issues discussed above can’t possibly stay like this and Thibs will come out looking good next year. But part of me has lost a lot of faith in the guy. For all the things that I’ve found disquieting about the product on the court, there have not been many consistently positive aspects to feed the line that Thibs is a good coach for this team. The guy eats sleeps and breaths basketball, so the hope is all these issues will get better.

  2. Tom says:

    You have three starter worthy players in KAT, Wiggins and Rubio right now. The others, sorry G, are bench players or non players on a playoff team. Thibs lost one potential starter in LaVine and a slightly below average bench player in Belly and really hasn’t had a good team since. The question is whether or not it is Thibs fault for not developing his bench or our fault for thinking guys like Cole, Tyus, Baz have value when they may not.

    Now Cole had a decent stretch with the clips last year, so most thought he could replicate some of that here. He was forced to play in LA due to injuries and gave them quality support play. However, before the Clips gave him some love, he was out of the league and viewed as a bust, so should we really expect him to be a quality bench big? Baz has never understood the importance of consistency, so his play this year is nothing different from every other year. Payne and Tyus were Flips follies, Hill was a last second roster add and Rush has shown that when used regularly, but not for as many minutes, he can get hot at the corner 3 and make some defensive plays. This is not a group you can expect much from.

    However, Kris Dunn was Thibs choice, and was floating Ricky around as trade bait almost from Day 1. He has given the kid minutes as an early bench sub, that he hasn’t earned. Dunn should have been sent to the D league ala Tyus to learn how to run a team, but instead was given minutes and praise for just not screwing up and that is Thibs fault.

    Thibs has also inserted his bench en masse, giving all or most of his starters rest at the same time. Many of those changes gave the other team momentum after the starters got us a nice double digit lead and now we possess a record for giving up at least 16 games when having a double digit lead. San Antonio saw that Dedmon would be better for the starters than coming off the bench and now they have Pau coming off the bench and made themselves better and deeper. When we started so poorly this year, could bringing G and LaVine off the bench and having Rush, Belly or Cole start gave us a deeper more effective team? This is Thibs fault for not finding out. Almost all his moves have been made by injury, not tinkering with what he had, to get the most from his stars and his bench.

    With another year wasted, we have to hope that the wolves can get replacements for bench players that didn’t take advantage of their opportunity to come in and show they belong in this league. It may be better to find vet starters at bigger salaries and move LaVine and Ghorgi to the bench. I don’t think any of our bench will go somewhere else and become something great like Phoenix Thomas and Dragic or Kawhi going to San Antonio. However, because we are not much better than last year, what quality players will come to Minny this year for less than top dollar? If Dunn is an example of Thibs decision making, will adding another Thibs disciple in the draft make us better? Imagine if Thon Maker had been our pick and this year we added a young point guard. What happens if an excellent pass first PG is the best player on the board when we draft?

    Last nights game is so reflective of how this franchise has shot itself in the foot every year since the Western Conference finals. No bench. KAT and Wiggins taking turns going one on one instead of finding ways to play off each other and both working to make others better. Injuries to key personal.
    It isn’t all Thibs fault, but it appears that he isn’t the solution either.

  3. pyrrol says:

    It’s easy to pick the bench apart… because they suck. Why? To over simplify, it’s half Thibs fault, at least, because he’s POBO. I guess my concern isn’t so much his ability to put guys together as get the best out of the guys we have. Take Cole Aldrich. He’s not a great player. He might not even be a good player. His good stint for the LAC may have been a bit of a mirage. But he’s not useless. I mean, you can plug a hole with him for a few minutes to give Towns and Gorgui rests. To Thibs’ way of coaching, Aldrich is so bad he’s not playable and that’s simply not true. So why does he refuse to play him? What is the strategic point of not consistently playing backup bigs to slightly lower starter minutes? This is actually an issue across the board, but I’m using Cole as an example. And this problem is like a spinning drain. Guys that might not look exciting enough to find minutes, like Cole, just look worse when you don’t give them consistent play and you don’t form a full 2nd unit with consistent time and chemistry developed. You give ’em a bunch of DNP’s and then throw them out there randomly… of course they look bad. That’s not a strategy to maximize what you get out of guys. They need to know what other guys they will usually play with, how often and play with regularity in order to function as usable players. This is unbelievably basic and it’s a little odd I’m I even have a reason to speak about it but it really seems like something that doesn’t occur or matter to Thibs and how he handles a bench.

    So… we certainly need to upgrade our bench, but we also need to play a bench. As far as what Tom has to say about Dunn, Thon and Thibs’ decision making, I agree there’s a big question mark there. I mean, he’s not been in the POBO role long at all so we have very little work to check. But the bench pieces he helped put together (and the fact that he won’t play many of his own acquisitions) together with the less than stellar value for our 5th pick even given a weak draft doesn’t add up to a very good grade so far. I will credit him with not pulling a wild trigger on big deals that might have been foolish in the long run. So his caution is something I see as a positive. However, his ability to make small helpful moves with Layden is not yet proven.

  4. tom says:

    I agree that Thibs has to shoulder the blame for not getting the most out of what little bench he has. I also think that putting in wholesale bench units has been a disaster, because he started his best players and had little star power off the bench, when he rested his starters. Having leaders in your first and second units is so important, I think he would have been better served with a starter unit of KAT, Cole, Wiggins, Rush and Rubio. Second units of Zack, G, Belly, Baz and Dunn or Tyus, challenging Zack to be the leader and getting these guys to play hard. At the end of games, he could bring Zack in with the starters and G or Belly or whomever was hot that night. He didn’t.

    As a matter of fact, he was so locked into his rotation that opposing coaches could bring in mismatches and he had no counters. I can’t imagine how laughable his team was to game plan for. His only creativity came from injuries and that was begrudgingly. As soon as a player got healthy, guys like Rush were sentenced to DNP-CD.

    Next year, with Pek, Garnett’s and possibly Shabazz money gone, he has the opportunity to add players. I think that he needs to go after a veteran or two that could be able to push for starting positions. Not just bench players, but actually a PF and a 3 and D player that could push G, Wiggins and LaVine to up their game on both ends of the floor, or face losing a starting position. He will also need a strong big to offset guys like Nurkic and centers that give KAT trouble.

    This team has to reverse the 20 games that they had large leads fade in the third or fourth Quarters. With Ricky’s discovery of his shooting touch, teams will have to choose how much they can leave him wide open. Thibs also needs to look in the mirror and, since basketball is his only passion, ask himself if he really did his best job running the game for his team. His use of timeouts, his substitutions, his desire to give Dunn minutes he didn’t earn all have to be reviewed by him and his staff. Other coaches are able to have lives outside of basketball and still out coach our mad monk.

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