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.
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.)
— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) April 5, 2017
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)
#53 boxout game was textbook…. pic.twitter.com/MS3KqwVViE
— Javale McGee (@JaValeMcGee34) April 5, 2017
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”.
— SHAQ (@SHAQ) February 24, 2017
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
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:
No clue if stats back this up but it's always seemed like Bazz's scoring bursts have no regard for opponent quality. Doing stuff tonight
— Punch-Drunk Wolves (@PDWolves) April 5, 2017
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.
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.