Escaping Disaster: Wolves 100, Jazz 97

via nba.com

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.

Tie game.

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.

Until then.


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11 thoughts on “Escaping Disaster: Wolves 100, Jazz 97

  1. This game included ‘Wolvesy’ things, like blowing a lead, and non-Wolvesy things like hitting ice water shots, showing ‘tude, and hard nosed defense. It was really a mix. When I say stuff like ‘hard nosed D’ I mean a select couple of players displayed it at times. Overall, our defense was bad and the lowish score was more about two teams with some turnover still figuring out how to play together. The Jazz played better defense, but seem to be offensively confused. Actually, so do we and the Jazz did run some nice action at times. It’s just that their margin for error on O is pretty small. All in all, it was a draw, and Crawford is the only reason we won. That and the red hot Hood leaving the game. Early word is that it is only a calf strain and a day to day type thing. This injury rash is getting old, fast.

    Something that stood out for me is how much Jimmy Butler sucks out there. He looks so clunky. I’m sure he’ll get there and the junkyard dog thing is something the team needs I guess. In the cloud of Wiggins talk surrounding his deal, I predicted we were shelling out max money for a 2nd or 3rd wheel on offense who doesn’t do anything much other than score. Two games in and I’m so far wrong. Butler is kind of a cinder block steadying presence out there, but he’s hardly an electric scorer. He’s probably the 3rd option at this point. The pecking order seems to go, Wiggins, Towns Butler. And Wiggins has done well in that role. His 3 point shooting looks better, and he seems to benefit from being less ball dominant yet getting a lot of looks. This covers up some of his flaws–not elite decision making and feel for the game, bad ball handling. We could have been playing more like this last year, with Wiggins truly off ball more and good team ball movement. But for some reason it was not a priority. For now, it’s not so much slick ball movement and well developed O system that is doing this as the vague threat of our talent and a little infusion of Vet decision making. In other words we still have a lot of work to do.

    That said, again this is only 2 games in. At some point maybe Wiggins will be the 3rd option. Towns really needs to step up his game, and he will. It’s just not fun that he’s starting so off. And Butler seems really off. Teague… he’s probably off, too. Or maybe he sucks this much? Not sure. The west is a different landscape. He’s not worth the swap so far, and I found myself missing Rubio. I had a fantasy that at halftime the teams could just swap and switch jerseys. Silver can Okay it in the morn’. I was maybe cheering more for the Jazz. It’s fun to watch Rubio and he’s likeable and he was his old self. Towns and Butler and possibly Teague aren’t up to snuff, not themselves yet. Of them, perhaps only KAT has the chance to be as interesting and fun a player as Rubio is, but he’s not there yet this season. I anticipated Butler would be a fun watch, but he isn’t yet. KAT is my new favorite Wolf to watch but he’s lost right now. Of course the fans cheered our guys on, and that includes Butler in his ham moment. I didn’t see a lick of symbolism there and what stood out to me is the warm reception Rubio got and how he sort of made me cheer for the wrong team as the game went on. Butler, for all his virtues is not so likable he can steal fans. I found his toughness helpful, but the incident when he got double T’s with Rubio gross. He fouled Rubio hard over the back (star no call sighting!)and then was jawing at him for no reason. I like toughness, but not that kind of junk on my team. Butler has an interesting personality and I’m sure he’ll grow on me. But from a likability standpoint this team has some work to do.

    The Jazz are by cliché a team that bludgeons you with D and slow pace. But they have Rubio now and will actually push it now and again. Our ability to use pace, both to push it and to control it, does not look good so far. Teague looks a little lost. The Jazz do have a team identity–defense. Thus far we don’t.

    Crawford is a fun instinctual guy to have on the floor. His calling card is making tough shots. Not really a good role model except to show what balls are, with the understanding that you can’t rock them all the time. As fun as it was to see him win it for us, he will fail when he tries to do that down the stretch more than succeed. So we need a plan B for the bench (and the starters, for that matter). He also cannot handle that many minutes all the time. Good weapon to possess, but…

    1. How is it u calling Wiggs main offensive option when the guy is scoring 21 on 19 shots for a 38% and Towns gets 20 on 13 shots for a 58%, like I’m not mathematician but I’m not sure how u said one is being better that the other just for amount of points,… Since when Efficiency isn’t what wins games?? Yeah Towns has a slow start by his standards but some of that it’s because of low usage and shot opportunities cuz the man it’s shotting 55% in 2 games while wiggs, butler, Teague hobling around 40%, same with the rest of the team, Butler has a magnificent PER of 9 in 2 games and don’t see many people criticizing how slow he started giving he is the guy with the ball in his hands most of the time ..

      1. Hey, if it was my team KAT would be the clear #1 option on offense. But two games in, Wiggins seems to have a slight edge on usage. Only 2 games so it probably means nothing, but I did expect Butler to take up more of the oxygen on offense right away. Generally, Butler has not looked that good yet on offense, but it’s two games in so that likely means absolutely nothing. Ditto Teague.

  2. I think Jimmy Butler has been great the start of the season. When KG moved to Boston he gave up so much of his scoring and let Pierce and Allen continue to shoot. He did the defense, shot blocking and rebounding and scored when needed. Jimmy is doing the same for KAT and Wigs. That is a sign of a team player. The player that is clogging things up right now is Teague. To much dribbling, and his shot has been off.

    1. His shot was never good. People mistook better than Rubio for good. Fact is, other than 1 outlier year, Teague has been below average for his career.

  3. Teague hasn’t been a great shooter and for $5 million more a year than Rubio, he may be an expensive mistake on Thibs part. Especially when you see Hill playing for the Kings at only $5 million and Collison playing for about $5 million. I do think we will see Crawford teaming up with Butler in the backcourt and Wiggins and Belly at the forward spots as the year goes on. That would open up the post for KAT more and give us driving lanes for Wiggins and Butler.

  4. New players… Crawford is going to be a strong contributor from the bench! His signing was a very good thing and likely with reduced minutes can play for a few more years. Teague – is to early to evaluate. He has struggled with his shot – timing and running the offense – and he has to carry the burden I’m not Ricky. All true – all will pass, will evaluate this move later. Gibson – I’m most impressed with offensive rebounds – his presence will help the team become better on defense. The difficulty will be Thibs managing floor time – Bjelica needs 24 minutes (Gibson’s 25 isn’t the problem – but it becomes one if we go small with Butler playing 10 minutes at PF). Thibs/Dieng also have to figure out how he plays effectively 12-16 minutes at backup C – it’s been a struggle so far. The biggest surprise for me is Butler – I was afraid he would clash with Wiggins, and they would not work well together. Butler is better than his stat line – if he plays without ego all season, Wiggins will have an all-star chance – Butler has set him up and brings out Wiggins best.

  5. They had to unfortunately cash in one of their Crawford Bailout Games early in the season because the Jazz were stealing their lunch money for most of this one. Who knows how many more of those he has in him this season. It’s nice to see they have someone who, every once in a while and probably not as frequently as could be hoped for, can hit tough 3s. In that way, he’s a partial replacement for LaVine.

    It’s being overlooked how versatile the Wolves’ 2 PFs (Gibson and Bjelly) are on defense. Both of them can pretty much guard anyone who lines up as a 4, and it seemed like part of the reason why Johnson wasn’t in the game late was because of how those guys bottled him up. Neither of them are strong floor-spacers, but that becomes less of a problem when the center can hit 3s.

    1. Good point– Bjelly has looked really good. He’s so strange. He’s got a great natural feel for the game, and so on paper he shouldn’t be a good defender, but he is because of his feel. He finds ways to score even without being a pure shooter that we hoped for. He drives really well for a big. On the other hand when his confidence is kicked down he spoils so fast. Hopefully more bench help with create an environment where we get only confident Bjelly.

      It’s not too strong to call it a ‘Crawford bailout’ as gjk does above…

      As to the Butler comments above, I wonder if anyone seriously thinks first 2 games Butler is really the Butler we can and should expect on this squad all season. I mean, yeah there’s things he does that don’t show up on a box and his D has been decent, but the box isn’t good, he needs to score more, and the box doesn’t fully show how stiff and awkward he’s looked on O. He’s just not in sync yet, and that’s OK. It’s only 2 games in and other guys have picked us up.

      This was a good win for us. The Jazz have some gelling issues and don’t have the big stars, but they are a tough team and returning Rubio was determined. They just beat OKC (with Hood out and Mitchell in at SG).In our game it was odd that the Jazz used Mitchell as backup PG so much. He’s PG sized, but really doesn’t know how to play the position. I think they are trying to work him into being a combo guy who can do some PG stuff (which seems really doable), and they are very light in the PG dept. We will be hearing good things form this player, but asking him to play PG makes it tougher. It will be interesting to see how the Wolves fare against other clubs. I’m at the stage where I’m waiting for three starters to get better and more comfortable (Butler, KAT and Teague) so if that happens we might be even more dangerous.

  6. Wiggins & Kat should be options 1 & 2 on this team PERIOD. Both are special in my opinion. But they can’t continue to go away from Wiggins in crucial parts of the game. KAT needs to learn to pass out of double teams and quit forcing shots. And Wiggins needs to become a better playmaker. One assist in two games won’t cut it. He should be dominating the game at this point. He also should be a bit more intensive on defense. I’m really looking forward to inserting Justin Patton in that rotation at some point this season. Hopefully sooner than later if healthy enough. I could go on on about other aspects of what I’ve seen so far, but I’ll save it for another time.

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