Pacers 130, Wolves 107: Apparently, Wolves Can Lay Eggs

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In a brutal display of defensive indifference and general apathy, the Minnesota Timberwolves fell to the Indiana Pacers Tuesday evening 130-107. Despite star center Myles Turner missing the game with a concussion, the Pacers were able to gain and maintain control throughout the majority of the game, outworking the Wolves on the glass (37-25) and – taking their monicker literally – dictating the pace of play from the jump.

Wolves’ forward Jimmy Butler (upper respiratory infection) also missed the game and his status for Wednesday’s tilt against the Detroit Pistons is unclear as of this writing.

Courtesy: ESPN.com

The Pacers’ starters, led by Victor Oladipo (28 points) and Domantas Sabonis (15 points, 11 rebounds, five assists), combined to shoot 37/52 from the field and thoroughly outperformed the Wolves’. As a team, the Pacers boasted an effective field goal percentage of 72.6% and a true shooting percentage of 73.4%. Hot knife, meet butter.

Indiana shot the lights out and it’s possible that it was just their night, but the Wolves didn’t exactly make things difficult for them, frequently losing off-ball shooters, allowing drives and cuts with weak opposition, and going under screens. One strategy the Pacers employed frequently throughout the game was to run Oladipo through screens, whether he was on- or off-ball, to get him switched onto the slower Taj Gibson, and more often than not he was able to create his own shot as a result. Sabonis attacked Karl-Anthony Towns early on, helping establish a punch-you-in-the-mouth attitude that seemingly caught the Wolves off-guard. Indiana point guard Darren Collison finished with 15 points and 16 assists and his backup, Corey Joseph, added 21 (5/6 from 3) off the bench.

Butler missing the game obviously hindered the Wolves’ ability to perform optimally (or even semi-adequately) on the defensive side of the ball, but to declare that his absence was the sole reason for the team’s mighty struggles seems a little too convenient. What the Wolves displayed was a total system failure and an inability to respond to a big win against a high-level opponent. The Wolves came out of the gaits with the energy of a team that assumed all they needed to do was show up and win and that simply won’t get it done in the NBA, no matter who the opponent is; hopefully, the sting of this loss serves as a wake-up call to the Wolves.

Perhaps the lone bright spot for the Wolves was the strong play of the bench, particularly Nemanja Bjelica and Jamal Crawford. Bjelica continued to display a lack of hesitancy from beyond the arc, confidently chucking threes and knocking them down with ease (he was 4/8 on the night; he finished with 18 points). Crawford was the most important factor in helping the Wolves tie the game at 61 by halftime, scoring buckets when they were needed most and setting up his teammates for easy attempts (he finished with 18 points and nine assists). Towns led the Wolves in scoring with 28 and was able to take Sabonis to task during from the middle of the second quarter to the middle of the third.

Jeff Teague continued to struggle, connecting on only one of his seven field goal attempts and was unable to effectively lead the offense for large stretches of the game. Wiggins provided his first clunker on the season, scoring only seven points and going 1/6 from the free throw line.

Jimmy Butler is obviously an integral part to the Wolves ability to function on both sides of the ball, but to collapse to such a degree with him out against an opponent that should have been beatable, with or without him, was eye-opening. When Butler sits, the Wolves need Towns, Wiggins, and Teague to step up, especially on the defensive end of the court. They can get buckets, that’s well known, but if they can’t begin to stop opposing teams from scoring, the Wolves will find it difficult to consistently compete against the cream of the crop in the West and to beat teams they should.

The Wolves’ defense will most likely continue to struggle with consistency until they gain more familiarity with the system and each other, but it wouldn’t be crazy if performances like the one against the Pacers conjured concerned thoughts about whether or not something needs to change. Does Tom Thibodeau need to simplify his strategies until it’s proven that the concepts he wants to instill are taking root or do Towns, Wiggins, and company simply need to focus more and provide a better effort? The Wolves have the talent to be a top-notch defense, but if showings like this continue to pop up, perhaps we as a basketball collective need to reframe our ideas of what these players can be on that side of the ball.

Until the answers to these questions become a little more clear, all that can be said is that the Wolves truly laid an egg against the Pacers. As Thibodeau put it:

The Wolves will look to bounce back Wednesday night against the Detroit Pistons. Tip is set for 6 pm CT.

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2 Responsesso far.

  1. pyrrol says:

    This was an unbelievably poor effort. I actually fell asleep during it, so I missed some torture. The thing is, though, I didn’t just fall asleep because we were playing bad, or because the other team was on fire, or because our effort sucked. We were very boring to watch. Towns had a couple cool plays, Wiggins had a cool spin move, but otherwise there was nothing to see here. My last sentence implies that we are boring because of lack of flashy plays. While that is true to some secondary degree, we are boring because of the way we play the game. More to the point, we are boing because of coaching. We have a supposed D guru who can’t coach guys to play defense. Butler and Gibson have helped make us a little better in that respect thus far, but a lot of it is teams just not being warmed up yet, and just not done with their game plan against us. It’s not too hard–have your PG score a lot. Run a lot of pick n roll, bruise Towns, ball movement, run and take a lot of threes (because our O can’t keep up with a team that’s hitting a lot of them). Teams are going to gel, they are going to get the cobwebs worked out and they are going to gameplan us and suddenly Jimmy and Taj aren’t going to be enough to make this D look decent. Meanwhile, I’m not sure Thibs knows how to coach and run modern offense at all. Some suggest that his demands are too complex on D (evidence?) and he needs to simplify it to let his players catch up to him. I doubt this is true on the whole, but it is something to consider. However, it’s pretty hard to deny that Thibs is simply behind the times, and lacking ideas on offense. It seems like it doesn’t completely hold his attention while his focus (perhaps rightfully) is in righting the capsized defense. Aside from the potential effectiveness of the offense, this issue makes us boring to watch. I’m a Rubio fan disproportionate with his absolute ability to help win games, but man do I miss the guy right now. I mean, Thibs was basically trying to squish him like a bug all last season by thrusting inappropriate offense for the personnel that we had (particularly Rubio) for no known reason. And yet Rubio helped the offense through stagnance, still found a place on the team and made us fun to watch. We got out and ran the ball. This doesn’t seem to be a priority this year. It’s like Thibs wants every game to be a war of attrition under 100 that we win by a basket. That’s not a way to win in the modern NBA.

    After looking very comfortable with Butler setting the offensive tone, Wiggins looked lost and aimless (and lacking effort). So many guys were do bad… Wiggins– 7 pts, 33% 0-3 on threes, -21. Teague 2 pts (1-7) 7 assists and 5 TOs. KAT scored but only had 7 boards (a team high!). Shabazz scored efficiently, but completely destroyed our offensive and defensive flow. Crawford actually led the team in assists with 9 and was a bight spot, but he played 29 minutes which is too much. Tyus… will not be a backup PG in the NBA if his shot doesn’t start getting better… On this team he looks lost out there, and confused by Crawford taking so much of his passing and ball handling role. If he’s off ball there’s not much he does at this point.

    Lucas is right to suggest it is already time to look hard at things. It is so early in the season, but a game like this makes you wonder. For me it suggests two things. One coaching is going to continue to be a problem, perhaps until Thibs leaves. Two, this roster has a lot of flaws the way it is constructed. The wing issue was what was shown today. Another one apparent was paying what we did for Teague when someone like Collison is actually better, and Rubio would have also been cheaper and he was signed, on our roster and had a rapport with Towns, Wiggins and others. I can’t recall if Collison was getable in the offseason. That’s really not my point. He’s an example of a guy who is cheaper and does something elite (speed). We are going to be playing PG’s all season, even on ‘lowly’ teams like Indiana who have an elite aspect to their game… size, athleticism, shooting, playmaking, passing, leadership, scoring, finishing, speed, strength, defense, toughness etc. Teague is decent at everything but elite at nothing. It isn’t like we ask him to be super important on a roster with Wiggins, KAT and Butler, but having no elite aspect as a gear change from our big three isn’t helpful, and swapping out elite passing for Teague means our weapons are missing a set up skill they could have had on the roster to aid them. There are other roster issues. We will get better but there is a lot to be scared of after a game like this. Is our roster a ‘good mix?’ Is Thibs the right or a good enough coach for todays NBA? Will Wiggins learn to be more consistent and not have shrug games all the time? Teague and Butler will get more comfortable, but how much so? It will be interesting to see how the team responds to being absolutely embarrassed. Normally, after a game in which the opposing team shoots 66.7% for the game I’d say something like, ‘I know we’re not god’s gift to D, but jeez, why do we always attract teams that are on fire randomly?’ Not this time. We deserve to get kicked around like we did in this one. On O and D we deserve it, and seeing the numbers comes as no surprise.

  2. Tom says:

    It was easy to switch to the World Series in the third quarter, because a comeback was never going to happen. Butler’s illness was unfortunate, but it shows what happens when the glue guy is out. Normally, the PG takes on the role of setting up the offense and getting guys in sets, but it was obvious that Jeff Teague is not interested when he isn’t scoring, and young Andrew is a long ways away from being a leader in this league. The Pacers had literally no one who could match up with KAT, or Wiggins yet more sets were run for Baz and Taj than those two, in the first quarter. KAT and Wiggins also have to realize that stupid fouls are going to hurt them, because the refs in this league do not see them as superstars and give them a couple fouls for free. Although their teammates weren’t interested in bailing them out. It seemed like the Wolves were a pick up team and all they cared about was staying in the game.

    During Free Agency, I was upset and mentioned that Thibs overpaid for Teague, when he could have gotten Darren Collison, Hill or kept Rubio for less and added to his bench. Interesting how both Rubio and Collison have beaten Teague like a drum. His offense was good in OKC and awful everywhere else, and that is his strength. Defensively, he has been worse than Tyus and that is a low bar to jump over. It is pretty easy to see that Thibs is 0-2 in replacing the Spanish Unicorn with Dunn and Teague. It begs the question, does Thibs have a clue what a point guard does?

    The bench was respectable, and showed how easy it should have been to beat the Pacers AT HOME! It will be interesting to see how the boys do with the Pistons tonight. They certainly shouldn’t be tired after sleepwalking through last nights game.

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