There’s what happened and then there’s what almost happened.
What happened is the Timberwolves played a strong second half in their home opener against the Utah Jazz, built up a 10-point lead with under 5 minutes to go, and ultimately won the game.
That’s good. Winning is good, especially against a quality opponent like the Jazz.
What almost happened is the Wolves nearly lost what should’ve been a comfortable win. Instead of taking care of business down the stretch, they melted down. Wiggins dropped the ball out of bounds for no reason, then Derrick Favors scored on a dunk. Jimmy Butler missed a jumper, then Joe Ingles made a three. After a timeout, Wiggins drove hard baseline, but right into a happy-to-swat-that-weak-stuff-outta-there Derrick Favors, who… well, swatted that weak stuff outta there. Ricky Rubio pulled up and buried a three.
After a Jamal Crawford three pumped the lead back up to 5 and the Wolves had the ball with a chance to go up 7, Towns missed a bunny, the rebound kicked back to Rubio, who was then clear-path fouled. After a few empty possessions, Jeff Teague fouled Rubio on a three-pointer. He made all of the free throws.
Coming out of a timeout, Crawford and Towns botched a pick-and-roll, Rubio stole the ball, and they fouled him again. He made one of two free throws and the Wolves were now TRAILING by a point.
The Jazz got a stop, then the Wolves got a stop, the Wolves regathered the ball after Butler was blocked by Gobert, and they called timeout and set up the biggest play of the game.
Crawford cut off of a pick set by Towns and buried a three from the corner to go up by 2. A whole bunch of chaos followed that play, but that was ultimately the game winner.
The Wolves almost lost a game that they should’ve won comfortably. But they didn’t lose; they won. Fans went home happy. Disaster was averted.
How did they manage to build up that 10-point lead?
The game went back and forth a few times. In the early minutes, the Wolves struggled with Gobert’s size, but the game was really low scoring. A slew of Wiggins dunks and layups got them a first quarter lead.
The middle quarters saw some disjointed Wolves offense, with little streaks here and there of good play from certain players. When things were getting out of control in the 2nd Quarter, Butler went to work in the post and got a few much-needed buckets. In the third quarter when Rodney Hood started to get really hot and the Jazz threatened to extend a bigger lead, Butler and Taj Gibson started playing Grown Man Defense, fighting extra hard for rebounds, and — whenever in appropriate position — chopping hard at the basketball and usually coming away with it.
The edge provided by the former Thibs Bulls was pivotal in turning this game the Wolves’ direction. A game against this Jazz team is often going to be a grind, and the Butler-Gibson duo was happy to partake in that kinda party. This is not something that recent Wolves teams had.
The fourth quarter, even before his game-winning shot, belonged to Crawford. Through two games, Thibs has been using a small-ball lineup that includes one of the point guards, Crawford at the two, Wiggins at the three, Butler at the four, and Towns at center. He did that for a while tonight, even trusting Butler (with mixed luck) on the huge Derrick Favors.
Playing all of the big minutes in his 6th Man role, Crawford caught fire and really never stopped. He made a layup with 9:53 to go in the game, a 20-footer at 9:12, a three with 8:01, a mid-range jumper with 7:32, a pair of free throws at 7:00, a sweet assist for a KAT dunk at 6:01, and then the pair of threes mentioned above in the closing minutes, including that big one to stave off what would’ve been a really sad loss.
If you’re counting at home, that’s 17 points in the 4th Quarter for J-Crossover. After the game, he credited his teammates for his scoring:
“That was the easy part. They (teammates) were setting good screens, they gave me the ball at the right time, I just had to finish the play.”
Thibs compared the 37-year old Crawford to others playing well in advanced age like Vince Carter and Joe Johnson of the Jazz. He mentioned that Crawford has probably done himself a favor by keeping his weight down and playing ball year-round.
So, what was a pretty messy game at times got a lot prettier with a hot streak from Jamal Crawford, and then got a lot more dramatic when the Wolves fell apart and Ricky Rubio nearly stole the game away from the fans who used to cheer him on.
Rubio had quite an evening. The crowd — predictably, and appropriately — gave him a rousing ovation, which he visibly welcomed and appreciated. For much of the evening he struggled and even boiled his frustration into a confrontation with his Minnesota-favorite replacement, Jimmy Butler. Both players were given technicals, but Butler came away smiling and motioned for the crowd to get on its feet.
The crowd cheered on Jimmy, signaling the effective transfer of fan adoration from the Spaniard to the native Texan.
After the Wolves barely held on for the win, Rubio exchanged hugs with Wiggins and other teammates before leaving the floor the he used to call home.
A few bullets to wrap this up:
- The offensive chemistry will take time. It often seems as if nobody knows when to pass or shoot.
- Towns made some extremely difficult shots and played okay by his standards, but he isn’t yet in the high gear that he finished last season.
- Nemanja Bjelica continues to play good two-way ball. In 13 minutes of action, he had 10 points on 4-5 shooting, along with 5 rebounds. He was a team-best (+14).
- Shabazz Muhammad didn’t play well. He lost Joe Ingles — a money shooter — in situations where he shouldn’t have. He didn’t create enough offense to offset bad defense.
- Tyus played fine, but wasn’t as noticeable as the first game. He did manage to rack up 5 assists in just 15 minutes, but never scored. He missed a couple of wide-open threes.
- The Butler-at-the-4 thing is worth keeping an eye on. If Thibs trusts him on Favors, he trusts him on anybody, because Favors is a big center playing power forward. For what it’s worth, Butler could not really hold his own in that matchup. He tricked Favors into one turnover, but really needed a double team to stand a chance otherwise.
- Taj and Jimmy play defense like we’re just not used to around here. Oh, maybe I already mentioned that. Gibson could teach a graduate-level course on holding box-out position on a long rebound.
- Rodney Hood injured his ankle when he was having a really nice game. Hopefully he’s okay – the league has already had too many injuries through a couple games.
That’s about it for now. Wolves play at OKC on Sunday.