Warriors 121, Wolves 107: Losing the Ones You’re Supposed To

 

Shabazz Muhammad, pensive

The Timberwolves lost to the Golden State Warriors 121-107 on the road in Oakland on the second night of a back-to-back. After defeating the Trailblazers by one point on Monday night in Minneapolis, the team flew to the Bay Area to take on the best team in the NBA on national television.

As usual, the Wolves did some things well early. They played the Warriors to a 32-32 tie in the 1st quarter – the only frame in which Minnesota looked competitive against the team with the NBA’s best record and the odds-on favorite to win the 2016-17 Finals.

The Timberwolves’ New Big Three–Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Ricky Rubio–did their share of stuff in the first frame. KAT was unstoppable early, scoring 9 first quarter points on on 4-4 shooting, including his usual variety of one-legged Dirk fadeaways, jump hooks, and layups. Andrew Wiggins matched KAT’s 9 first-quarter points, but not his efficiency, as Wig needed 10 shots to get his 9 points. Ricky Rubio also scored 8 points in the quarter, to go along with 4 rebounds and 2 assists. Rubio looked for and took a lot of jump shots with confidence. Like pretty much all non-Wolves media crews covering post-All-Star break Wolves games, the ESPN crew of Mark Jones and Doris Burke were shocked to the point of confusion that Ricky could shoot the basketball with such confidence and accuracy.

Fight Night

Who isn’t a little testy these days?

[segue to JaVale]

Long, athletic goofball JaVale McGee came off the bench for the Warriors late in the first quarter and immediately made his presence felt. JaVale sneaked behind the Wolves’ front line for a couple of big dunks.

Brimming with confidence, JaVale escalated things with a Flagrant-1 foul against Gorgui Dieng, which resulted in this little scrum. (Editor’s Note: Predictably, professional irritant Matt Barnes was right in the middle of the hostile parties.)

 

After the game, JaVale took to Twitter, either to make fun of the ease with which he can be boxed out, or to humble-brag that he’d been in a mini-fight. (Editor’s Note: Or possibly both. #DoubleEntendre)

 

 

McGee, for his part, is not a stranger to confrontation. Earlier this year, for example, JaVale got caught up in a high-profile Twitter beef with Shaquille O’Neal, from which the only positive was the mainstreaming of the hashtag “#bumass”.

 

 

Perhaps there’s something in the springtime air, but Dieng-McGee was not the only Tuesday night fight: former Timberwolves guard Lance Stephenson, now an Indiana Pacer, capped a blowout win over Toronto by going for a stat-padding layup as time expired, which drew the ire of Raptors forward PJ Tucker.

 

Note in the video how former Wolves assistant and Punch-Drunk Wolves hero Bill Bayno comes off the bench to defend Lance from Raptor Retaliation. Classic.  (Editor’s Note: After the game, Lance apologized for showing up the Raptors.)


Back to the game. The Wolves fell behind in the second quarter, trailing for most of the quarter by 5 to 9 points. Rubio scored 7 points in 8 minutes of play in the quarter. However, Rubio shot poorly in the second half, ending at 6-17.

Shabazz Muhammad came off the bench to replace no-energy starter Brandon Rush. Unlike Rush, who didn’t attempt a field goal in the first half and was 0-1 in 15:39 on the night, Muhammad not only provided some much-needed energy, but also some instant offense, going for 9 points in the quarter en route to one of his better games of the season. More on Bazz below.

The big problem was that no one could guard Klay Thompson. Thompson, who got a bunch of good looks in the first quarter, mostly on Brandon Rush’s watch, scored 14 points in the second, including 4-4 on threes, and ended the night with 41. Thompson made it look easy to shake loose from Kris Dunn’s rugged defense and stick quick-release Js. No matter who Thibs put on Klay, Wolves defenders looked dizzy trying to contend with Klay’s movement without the ball and his use of screens.

Collectively, the Wolves’ team defense didn’t help (literally) and was torn apart at the seams by the Warriors’ fast-paced, well-executed offense. That, despite the fact that the Warriors only got a 7-18 night from Stephen Curry and a 2-8 night from Draymond Green–and nothing from injured superstar Kevin Durant, who’s scheduled to return as soon as Saturday–illustrates why the Dubs are still the team to which the rest of the NBA aspires.

For the Wolves, the wheels truly came off in the third quarter. Thompson and Curry poured in buckets. Rubio’s shot stopped falling. The Warriors outscored the Wolves 36-26 in the quarter and coasted for the rest of the game.

After playing his starters long minutes in Monday’s win over Portland, Tom Thibodeau did something unusual in the fourth quarter last night: let his starting five rest the entire fourth quarter and play his (deep) bench for an extended stretch of minutes. Bazz was the de facto scorer in a lineup that featured him, Dunn, Tyus Jones, and (wait for it) Adreian Payne (!) and Jordan Hill (!!). (Eds. Note: Hill had only played one minute and twelve seconds since the day after Christmas.)

For the Warriors, the win was their 12th consecutive. It put them closer to ensuring the best record in the NBA and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. For the Wolves, the loss was another chance to work on developing good habits and to do their job. 

Shabazz’s Scoring

Bazz went for 13 points and 7 rebounds in the final quarter.He finished as the Wolves’ leading scorer with 24. He also grabbed 11 rebounds, 8 of which were on the offensive glass.

The production was nice to see, but also fairly meaningless in context.

However, Shabazz’s big night against the Warriors raised a separate question:

I took a look at Bazz’s highest-scoring single games of his four-year career.

At first glance, the hot-take from Twitter basically looks correct.

Shabazz Muhammad’s highest-scoring games.
Source: statmuse.com

As the chart shows, Bazz notched his career high of 35 at Golden State almost one year ago to the day in a Wolves overtime victory over that historically great Dubs team, which was 69-8 heading into that game and which ended the regular season with a 73-9 record.

But when Bazz dropped 30 on Utah on 12/30/14, the Jazz were only playing .343 basketball. When he fell the Pelicans on 4/13/16, the Pels were playing .365 basketball. Yet when Bazz hung 28 on Portland on 11/30/2014, the Blazers were 13-4 (.764) and would finish the season 51-31, good for 1st in the Northwest Division.

As with so many other things in basketball, Shabazz Muhammad shuns the orthodox, even when it comes to his specialty – scoring the ball.

That’s all for now. The Wolves play again tomorrow at Portland. Tip is at 10:30 PM ET on TNT.

Until then.

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6 Responsesso far.

  1. gjk says:

    A team like that exposes the Wolves’ biggest weaknesses: playing together as a team and stagnation on both ends. So many times, the Wolves have won games by having just enough energy, focus, and cohesion to win. I honestly don’t know how many times they actually played a good 48 minutes or even a good 36 minutes in those 3 areas. Maybe that means improvement in some of those areas isn’t far away; with that said, the ball movement problems should be a huge red flag for anyone expecting big things from this core.

    That scuffle was so weird. Barnes was intent on holding Dieng back, which was bizarre, and there wasn’t a single Wolf there to get in between him and McGee. That part has to change. When Rubio had that shoving match with Patrick Beverley, Dieng was the only one to rush to his teammate’s side. It just reminds me of how that 2012-13 team (especially Shved and Greg Stiemsma) would get punked by opponents.

    • Patrick Johnston says:

      The scuffle was very weird, and yes, Gorgui is the only Wolves regular you’d expect to rush to a teammate’s defense in a chippy situation. Kris Dunn might do that eventually, but it definitely isn’t in his comfort zone as a rookie. I was against bringing KG back this season, but I often wonder how big an impact he would have had on the attitude and toughness of some of the guys through acculturation alone.

  2. pyrrol says:

    Gjk makes a great point. A very simple way to describe our problems is stagnation on both ends of the court. To my eye, this has to do with bad system on O and guys not picking up on complex D system, which sort of makes them deer in the headlights on D. But I don’t know, that’s just a guess. Hard to pick apart the cause, but stagnation is clearly a problem on both sides of the ball.

    Another thing this game illustrated was the importance of D. This season, and particularly in this recent stretch, our defense has been really bad. Even when we try hard, it’s like we stick our finger in a hole the dike only to have another one form. We quickly run out of hands. In this game we kept Curry’s scoring down, but Klay was unstoppable. Curry distributed well. We didn’t have a counter move and Klay kept killing us. In general, again, we lost the game at the three point line, hitting 4 ourselves to GS’s 14. In total points that’s 42 to 12.

    The other side of the coin is that GS also defended well. Our stagnant O had no chance against their well oiled team D machine with the refs helping to boot. Ricky was taking a lot of jumpers. I was glad to see he was able to get his shot back on track somewhat after two rough games. He was a basket when we needed it during several stretches. I couldn’t help seeing this as a symptom of both the stagnation gjk talks about and GS’s impressive defense. Ricky took those shots because there were not better options available. This is supported by the fact that Rubio was only able to get 5 assists. That’s a loud stat for me.

    Wiggins showed he can be pesky and get steals in moments. Hopefully he can build on this.

    Doris Burke kinda sucks.

    Everyone seemed confused on the broadcast as to why that was a flagrant 1. I though it was definitely one. I like how Gorgui seems like the nicest guy until someone messes with him or he’s just had enough. I wish our whole team could be like that.

    Shabazz!

    On a totally unrelated note, Brad Stevens for coach of the year! Seriously, how can the guy not be considered for that for getting Boston, with that roster-like group of dudes, to the same record as Cleveland at this point. Yeah part of it is Cleveland mysteriously underachieving, but jeez 50-27!? That would be 3rd seed in the west. With those dudes…

    Shoutout to Thibs for playing deep into the bench when the game was out of control in the 4th. Simply put, no need to risk injury to our most important players in an unwinnable game that had degraded into something less than watchable. Maybe I should hold my tongue, but the flip side of this is of course we’re going to get taken to the shed by GS after playing all the starters 35-38 minutes the night before. Kinda takes any chance to win this one, or even compete on national TV away. But you pick your battles?

    • Patrick Johnston says:

      Resting the starters in the fourth was necessary. They were going to lose the game, and they’ve been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. If Thibs had run the starters in the fourth, even more people would be on Thibs about the minutes issue, which has already become a real concern to many.

  3. Tom says:

    The theme: losing the ones you’re supposed to is pretty accurate. The Warriors are better at all aspects of the game versus the T-Wolves, so there should be no lingering bad feelings about this loss. The converse of this theme should also be true. Winning the ones you’re supposed to. The Kings game and the recent Laker game in LA should not happen to a team that is better in most respects. Heck LA, risks losing their pick with every win this year and they still beat you.

    Those are teams that aren’t better in almost all aspects of the game and yet, this team plays down to the competition and finds ways to throw away games that should be wins. Looking for another seven wins this year, shouldn’t be this easy. The losses to the Nets, 76ers,LA, Mavs, Knicks twice, Sacramento 3 times and Pelicans 3 times. Forget the teams that you should struggle with, just beat the ones that you should beat and we would be in the eighth seed.

    Thibs I think needs to tap into his inner Zen Master and work on focus with this group. Team is not an appropriate word for this group right now, because as gjk mentioned, when one of your teammates gets into it, you have to be there for them or you’re not a team. Band of Brothers these guys are not.

    Offense can sometimes hide a lack of teamwork, because guys like Wiggins, LaVine and KAT can score in difficult situations. Rubio can find 8-10 assists to help get the team to 100 points most nights. Not saying that sharp passing, good cuts and screens don’t help, but this group has the talent to score most nights. Defense is hard work and jelling as a team and helping with rotations and boxing out the guy that was left open because his man was covering yours. You are either tight with your teammates or you are going to be weak on this side of the ball. Thibs is supposed to be the genius of defense and yet, they flounder all year. We can assume it isn’t because his defense is wrong for the team they are playing, but it is the execution and some of that is lack of knowledge, but some of it could be they don’t trust each other to help defend.

    As the year ends, Thibs hopefully has a good understanding of who he wants to go to war with and who he can’t. His first draft choice was not a great pick-up, but the class in general has been below average. This year has a fairly deep group of point guards and power forwards and a couple of wings that could be special. Adding more youth isn’t going to make this team significantly better next year. Using his available cap space correctly, will. Look for warriors, Thibs. Guys that will support their teammates and bury the teams that you are supposed to.

    • Patrick Johnston says:

      Good point on “losing the ones you’re supposed to win.” It has bothered me all season. The Wolves match up better against some teams than others, but they’ve beaten themselves so often for the reasons you mentioned that it’s difficult, even post-hoc, to construct an analytic narrative that would help you predict upcoming games. That has been discouraging, but to me, it’s better than being outgunned in losses by teams that are clearly more talented. Even with so much control over the team, the burden is on Thibs starting next year to move the needle. Our young talent has to improve into a team that wins (most of) the ones they’re supposed to win, and their improvement as a team under Thibs has been uneven at best. There are clearly roster gaps and some mismatching pieces, in my opinion. It will be especially interesting this offseason to get a glimpse into how Thibs views these issues. The draft and free agency should reveal a lot.

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