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.
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.
The Pacers shot 77% in the 2nd half (30/39 FG). Of that, their starters were 87% (19/22 FG)
— Real Super Dave (@SuperStatsDave) October 25, 2017
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:
Thibs: "You’ve got to fight through things and find ways to win, and we didn’t do that tonight.”
— jace frederick (@JaceFrederick) October 25, 2017
The Wolves will look to bounce back Wednesday night against the Detroit Pistons. Tip is set for 6 pm CT.