Pistons 122, Timberwolves 101: What Happened

h/t @TlMBERWOLVES on Twitter

Last night, our team lost a tough matchup in the battleground state of Michigan, as the Pistons of Detroit beat us 122-101. Now, our opponents might call that a “landslide” victory, and they’re doubtless bragging it to their supporters, but I’d just like to remind everyone that we won half of the quarters in the game. Viewed through that lens, it was very close to being a draw; we lost, in my opinion, on a technicality, a rule that is a remnant from an outdated system.

When Tom Thibodeau, our 2017-18 campaign chairman, conceded the game (sending Aaron Brooks, Cole Aldrich, and Marcus Georgee-Hunt onto the floor), all I wanted to do was scream into a pillow. But it got less terrible after the final tally was in – I did some thinking, some writing, some praying, some stewing, and after awhile, a good deal of laughing. I took a long walk in the woods of upstate New York; I believe this is what some call “self-care.” Turns out, it’s pretty great. But now that my season of self-reflection is over, I have decided it’s important to describe “What Happened” in detail – so that we might learn how to move forward.

But before I get to that, I want to thank the great team we put out there. Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad, Tyus Jones, Nemanja Bjelica -outstanding people with impeccable track records, except, of course, when it comes to winning. But I really thought bringing them together on this 2017-18 campaign would be different, especially since some veterans (Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague) were brought in to help. Of course, not having Jimmy Butler hurt us; he is the one tasked with delivering Thibodeau’s message to the rest of the team. Without him, our message was missing. And it’s hard to win when you have no message. And we had no message. No message at all. Our message was nonexistent.

We thought it might not matter, though. We were facing an opponent that was coming off a loss to the Sixers – the Sixers – on its home floor, and we jumped out to a commanding lead (9-0). Detroit seemed beaten down and unstable. They appeared to be totally disorganized, and with prickly personalities such as Reggie Jackson in the mix, the potential for self-combustion was right there.

But we could not hold the advantage. Without Butler, the rest of our team had no chemistry. I don’t want to get too wonkish, but the pick and roll execution was lacking, live-ball turnovers were a huge problem, and defensive rotations were either late or non-existent. Jamal Crawford could not get it going, and neither could Shabazz Muhammad. Andre Drummond cleaned up on the glass. No one could stop the one-two punch of Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley. Despite fighting back to a tie halfway through the night, as negative results kept pouring in, it became clear that we could not hold them off.

It is also hard to win when you get beat on the fastbreak 24 points to 0. It seemed like the Pistons turned every turnover and missed shot into a runout. We could not get back in time to stop it. Which reminds me – have you heard of the game “Pokemon Go?” It was very popular awhile back, it is an application that you can play with on your mobile telephone device. Pokemon Go? I wish our team would Pokemon Go and get back to play transition defense.

Also, in a particularly embarrassing oversight, our team completely forgot to account for Wisconsin….’s own Henry Ellenson, a native of Rice Lake. We should have known he was important, but we neglected him entirely, and he came back to hurt us in a big way, scoring 14 points and pulling down 5 rebounds off the bench. He drove to the basket, he hit a couple threes… he really hurt our chances, and it was all because we just plain ignored him.

While we made mistakes, I have to mention the possbility (heck, probability) a nefarious interloper gave our opponent an unfair advantage. I am speaking, of course, about the Pistons’ ties to RUSSIA. That’s right, RUSSIA. Ish Smith, a backup point guard, was once associated with a Viacheslav Kravtsov, who is definitely RUSSIAN. In 2013, the two of them were traded together to the Suns for Caron Butler and cash considerations. What kid of cash? Dollars… or RUBLES? A popular MSNBC commentator informed that backup center Boban Marjanovic hails from the former SOVIET COMMUNIST country of Yugoslovenia, which is certainly a RED flag… a RED flag with a HAMMER AND SICKLE on it, if you ask me. Anthony Tolliver once played in Germany, and do you know which country had a non-aggression pact with RUSSIA during the Second World War? There seems to be many connections. Did Russia interfere with this NBA basketball game? I’m just asking questions.

In any case, it’s time to head back to Minnesota to prepare for our next run in 2020 on Friday night against the Thunder. Until then, I believe we should all take a good look at What Happened, so we may learn to avoid the same mistakes again. We should also hope our message (Jimmy Butler) returns, our defense is better, and the damned RUSKIES decline to meddle in our sovereign basketball game.

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12 Responsesso far.

  1. pyrrol says:

    Oh jeez, 5 games in and the Wolves have already broken one of the AWAW commenters. In all seriousness, though I’m in no mood for silly satire analogies of our current, dire political/cultural situation. Can’t say I find it as amusing as it was intended…

    Something pretty obvious is being shown to us in these two stinker games: We’d better pray Butler stays healthy. Basically, we are last year’s roster with Teague instead of Rubio when Butler is out. It’s nice in some ways to have Gibson, a true PF and a guy who can play some vet D along Towns. But this is not a huge difference maker. The net difference between him and Gorgui in that role isn’t large. And Crawford is nice to have off the bench, but again this is the type of addition that will add a few wins not redraw the tone of a team. The real main difference with Butler out is the PG swap. It’s not looking like a net win. In this game Teague put up a decent box score line, yet somehow it felt like he played bad. And we got creamed as a team. The offense just doesn’t run well with him at the helm. And Jackson’s stat line wasn’t very good, but it felt like he outplayed Teague somehow. I can recall when folks thought Rubio was going to be traded for Jackson. Honestly, I don’t think we’d be any worse off with him versus Teague. When some folks point out the playmaking deficit that we took on when we got rid of Rubio for Teague, they write it off as not mattering because we have so many more weapons (a MAX Wiggins, an OLDER KAT, Butler, a scoring minded PG who is OK as scoring!) and Butler would distribute from point forward. If this argument is true, it basically boils down to, ‘our roster now makes PG not that important of a position for us’ and if that is true, any starting PG would work well on the team and be a plus. I don’t think this is true. Without Butler it’s a disastrous proposition. With Butler, I think it still hurts to not have an offense running, playmaking, good passing defensive minded PG. Having a jack of all trades PG who is probably most concerned with scoring and is surprising me with the extent of his defensive ineptitude is kind of a drag. And it puts that much more pressure on Butler to be perfect and to do more things for this team. Will he be able to handle it when mixed with the lofty expectations so many gave this season? Perhaps, but I’m worried. Jimmy hasn’t looked all that good so far. Seeing us without him is shocking, but we have to be a lot better with him if we have any chance of getting into the playoffs.

    Is it just me, or does Towns look like his conditioning isn’t that good. He looks gassed on D, not just confused or disinterested. He looks tired a lot.

    That said, it’s been a bit wacky so far in the young NBA season. The odds makers must be pulling their hair out. And the Wolves play right into that. So maybe things will settle a bit after a while, including with us. The cream certainly has not risen to the top yet in the NBA… And yet, I think what the fans were sold above all is a team that wouldn’t look Wolvesy. A team who would play up to potential, who would be consistent, who would [at least try to] defend, a team with a more vet tone, who would compete every night, who would guard home court, who would usually beat the teams they were supposed to, who would bring effort not just to the goliaths and the marquees, but every night. Note I didn’t even say we were promised the playoffs, though some will certainly feel that way. But so far, we have exactly what we were last year–all the same issues we’ve been struggling with for years, a team that you expect to fudge up at any moment. And, frankly, a version of that which is less fun in my eyes. Things can and almost certainly will improve, but this isn’t the tone the fans were hoping to start ‘the new Wolves’ with.

    When Jim Pete tried to diagnose the problem one thing he said (he seemed to be grasping, but thought that Butler being out was far from the only factor) stood out to me. I can’t recall how he worded it exactly, but he said you have to be hard for teams to face. And we’re not. What we do on offense is really easy to defend, with no adjustment in sight. Our D basically is daring teams to go off on us, particularly from the 3 point line. Right now we have a toxic mix of bad 3 shooting ourselves and bad 3 point defense, making it easy for teams to build and keep leads against us, making it hard for us to score enough to keep pace. We also allow a lot of fast break points while not getting out and running ourselves at all, not even trying to make it an emphasis. This only makes the stew more toxic. Being built like this as a team exasperates our flaws and makes us play worse than our talent (which may be overrated). Looking over at Thibs I saw a new expression on his face a few times in this game. Not the usual puffy rage I expect, but something close to concern. Disgust, too. But I think he’s scarred that there is trouble. This is his mess and he knows it. As GM and Coach there’s nowhere to hide. As a GM he put together a team that’s a mix between same old sh*t and randomly throwing elements together and hoping they will just end up complimenting each other, or even elevating the young guys to be what they are supposed to be. So far the roster feels more thrown together than I expected. As coach, he’s old fashioned, unexciting, unwilling or unable to adjust (game to game and to larger things like the strengths of who you have or style that works against current opponents) and possibly overrated. Maybe this is just the ranting of a disappointed fan, but he’s sure taken a lot of responsibility with all that power.

    • finchy74 says:

      Can’t disagree with anything you stated, pyrrol. For the most part, I’m forcing myself to relax and I’m reminding myself that I expected there to be struggles this season early on with the mix of new players.

      That being said, watching last night’s game I couldn’t help but go back to my gut feelings when Thibs was first hired. The hire made all the sense in the world on paper. But at the time I felt that he was not the right guy for this team.

      It bothers the hell out of me that I can’t articulate why as I tend to operate on facts and logic, not feelings. But my gut told me from the beginning that he wasn’t the right fit and that feeling has never gone away. I can’t help but irrationally go back to those instincts given how awful we’ve looked at times in this young season.

      • gregory1976 says:

        I agree. He’s old fashioned and way to stubborn and nowhere near innovative. The guy doesn’t have a clue. All he does is stand on the sideline yelling, screaming and frowning. I’m not a big fan of his at all.

      • Mebert says:

        For me it was the minutes he puts on starters. KAT and Wiggins will have more NBA minutes at 23 than most players see by 28.

    • gregory1976 says:

      Bingo! You make some superb points throughout. I’m not going to piggy back on everything, but it’s very disappointing the lack of effort and attention to detail those guys show on defense. Towns is extremely disappointing as a defensive player. He’s plum awful. I know he’s only a rookie, but I pray Thibodaux comes to his senses and give Justin Patton some minutes if/when healthy. The Wolves simply lack TRUE talent around the big 3 (if you want to call them that).

  2. jmndodge says:

    Rubio – where are you? Butler took over that role – has sacrificed his own stat line and made everyone better when he is on the floor. Without him – there has been no team – only players on the floor. It’s really not his job – J. Teague – it’s essential that you learn how to make these players better. To get KAT his open looks (so he stops pressing) – Wiggins transition shots – Gibson a open corner once in a while. It will happen – Jones/Brooks can’t accomplish what you need to do – until you do it, we are going to have these types of games. Good individuals only pad stat lines (not all bad for the fans) – great teams win (next man up – doesn’t matter, they all do their job). Coach – It is up to you to build that team. Go wolves.

  3. Tom says:

    Houston, we have a problem. Actually two. Leadership and spacing. First, the spacing issue. With Jimmy Butler out, we have Baz, Taj and KAT all in the low block trying to get their points. KAT was good early on the perimeter, keeping Drummond away from the basket area. When Drummond got in foul trouble, we fell apart with Leuer and the night before Leaf and Sabonis, pulling KAT away from the paint to guard them. So we have a team that is clogged in the middle, making it difficult for Andrew to drive to the basket and no real three point shooters to space the floor. Defensively, we are spaced out by “Centers” that can shoot the three, (all of our losses) and KAT is now trying to be a rebounding presence and defend the perimeter. That issue is on Thibs. He built this team and it was clear that Teague was not a great three point shooter when he signed him and Andrew was a developing one that would have good nights and bad beyond the arc. Taj gave us a tease that maybe an old dog can learn new tricks, but it is obvious that his offense is limited to three feet and in. Worse, Gibson’s and Teague’s defense seems to be more limited than we expected. $33 million dollars a year spent for those two key additions to the team. Glen must be sick.

    Problem two is actually more difficult to solve. This team is banking on Wiggins and KAT becoming superstars that take the challenge and rise to elevate their teammates to victory. Butler was intended to be the catalyst that pointed them in that direction. So far, they are still looking for their teammates to make them better and that is a problem. Kahn called Kevin Love a third wheel on a great team and not a max contract kind of guy. He was right for once on that call. I wonder what he would say about our two wunderkinds? Neither has shown the leadership needed to make the others on the team better. Wiggins, should be demanding the ball from his teammates and working to get them open looks, not the other way around. He should be pushing the offense, not lagging behind them as he trots down the court on a fast break. KAT should be leading the defense, not getting caught in no man’s land. He should also be more relaxed when things aren’t going well. Keep his cool while others are losing theirs. Leaders don’t panic, they get back to basics and trust the process and their skills. Since Andrew just signed his Max contract, I give him more blame than KAT for being a non-leader to this team. However, two years ago, KAT was the next coming of Hakeem the dream. Now, we see more and more “Centers” that can hit the three, drive to the basket and play down low as good or better than Karl. I’m worried that he is more sizzle than steak and will get his max contract without a playoff game to show for it. Thibs needs to put the team in those two guys hands and demand that they make this team better by getting teammates open looks, including Jimmy Buckets when he gets back.

  4. Tom says:

    I think I was also nervous about getting Thibs when the NBA said he was the best available coach, yet we got him. It is the kiss of death when the NBA says ” The wolves got the most NBA ready SF in Wesley Johnson” ” The Timberwolves have the best young talent in the league” or ” Derrick Williams may be better than Kyrie Irving” or “Kris Dunne is the leader for ROY” etc., etc. etc.

  5. Dave G. says:

    Basic basketball is missing. A pick is set and the cutter/ball-handler doesn’t rub off his defender. Moving picks are not allowed. Coach said after the game that practice would begin with fundamentals. Good idea.
    In spring training years ago, I heard Twins manager Tom Kelly tell a young catcher, “Let it happen. If you make mistakes, at least make them going full speed.” Obviously, lacking confidence in his throws to second base, the catcher was “short arming” his throws resulting in the ball not getting to the target. Next time up, this catcher throw the ball hard, over the second baseman’s head and into center field, and Kelly hollers, “Way to go!”
    Wolves are playing tentative and uptight, probably symbolized best by Wiggins’ attempts to make free throws. Good news is that this can change quickly. What’s happening in the brain controls the muscles. Talent needs to connect with confidence — basic basketball, basic anything. Hustle tends to follow confidence. Jimmy Butler is a great example.

  6. gjk says:

    11, 15, 14: Those are the number of losses to non-playoff teams that the 6-8 seeds in the West had last season. Racking up 2 in the same week isn’t a good start (theoretically; I guess one of these teams could be the 8 seed?), but I’m not going to try big-picture analysis after every loss. Hopefully, there will be few weeks like this during the season, because the main appeal to me of having better players is just being able to see more competitive games.

  7. Tinker says:

    What a great write up. Seriously, this was awesome. The game was not, so thanks for bringing something enjoyable out of it.

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