The Wolves defeated the Golden State Warriors early Thursday morning, though only technically. The final score of the first of two NBA Global Games preseason games (a few regular season games will be played in Mexico City in early December and in London in January) ended up 111-95 in favor of the Wolves, but 1. the fourth quarter, in which the Wolves’ bench “destroyed” the Warriors rookies/cuts, was very preseason-y and, thusly, was played at 1.5x speed on my parent’s TiVo(!) and 2. the Wolves trailed by two after the three quarters that “mattered.”
In typical Warriors’ fashion, Golden State got off to a blistering start, frying the Wolves with a blitzkrieg of threes and back cuts. On the night (morning?), the Dubs starters combined to connect on nine of their 18 threes and Kevin Durant lead all scorers with 20 points. All things considered, the first three quarters where very Warriorsy with Golden State seemingly dominating from the word go, despite the score being relatively close, ready to crush the opponent’s windpipe once the fourth quarter begins.
The Wolves suffered many breakdowns in communication on defense throughout the game, but particularly early on, with many Warrior points coming off simple back cuts, not always with an accompanying screen. Warriors were left open and/or lost, rotations were a half-second late, help wasn’t provided; perhaps the Wolves will be able to get away with these lapses on many nights throughout the regular season, but against the upper echelon teams, especially in the West, the defensive effort they put forth tonight won’t fly. It’s only preseason and the Wolves are clearly still gelling (and the Warriors are the Warriors, so only so much can be done to stop them), but until the little things get cleaned up it’s fair to question how the Wolves will perform against the cream of the crop.
Similarly, the Wolves offense was…off. The ball seemed to stick in people’s hands and the off-ball players often moved as if they were in tar at the start of sets. How much of this was caused by the Wolves’ lack of experience playing with each other or by the Warriors playing actual NBA regular season defense is up for (a relatively pointless at this point) debate, but there were a few positives.
Overall, the Wolves shot 12/26 from three. Karl-Anthony Towns, who connected on two of his three attempts, continued to display an effortlessness from deep that is truly uncommon for a man his size. On one particular attempt, Towns pump-faked a charging Draymond Green causing him to fly arms and legs a-blazin’ towards the Warriors’ bench and then proceeded to cooly take a gather dribble and nail a corner three.
Jeff Teague looked like the point guard Tom Thibodeau was envisioning during the second half, hitting a couple of threes and utilizing his quickness to his advantage. Jimmy Butler finished with a cool 16/4/5 on only six field goal attempts in 26 minutes. Andrew Wiggins blew past Kevin Durant on a baseline drive for a thunderous dunk and looked more comfortable within the offense.
As for the negatives, many of Towns’ drives were simply out of control; Shabazz Muhammad, for better or worse, played like the black hole he often is; Jamal Crawford continued to struggle, connecting on only one of five shots. In short, the Wolves still have plenty of growing to do on both sides of the ball.
For the most part, Tom Thibodeau and his staff managed this game as if it were a regular season game. The lineup was limited to 10 players (the starters plus Crawford, Nemanja Bjelica, Gorgui Dieng, Muhammad, and Tyus Jones) and each starter logged at least 25 minutes. Had the Warriors played their starters in the fourth, I’d imagine Thibs would’ve thrown his main guys out there for a few more minutes. Perhaps of note, Jamal Crawford saw some minutes functioning as the point guard, both with bench units and with a majority of the starters on the court; don’t be surprised if this continues into the regular season.
Overall, this game was encouraging if only because it exposed where the Wolves need to continue developing in ways that could only be against a top-flight team. The defense still needs to tighten up, the players still need to figure out how to play with each other on offense, lineups still need to be determined. Luckily, there is still plenty of time.
- Taj Gibson took three more corner threes tonight: he made one, missed one, and was fouled on the other (and made two of three free throws). I won’t believe it until I see it on the regular come mid-October and beyond, but is it possible that Taj Gibson, #sniper, is here to stay?
- For the majority of the game, Thibs had Jimmy Butler on Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins on Kevin Durant. It’ll be interesting to see how the Wolves tackle these matchups when the games matter. Wiggins didn’t do terribly on KD, but you can only do so much when you’re defending one of the games’ premier scorers.
- The Wolves and Warriors got into two kerfuffles last night, one between Bazz and JaVale McGee and one between Dieng and David West. You can look at this in one of two ways: 1. The Wolves aren’t afraid to back down to a fight; they have a new found grit and won’t take anything from anybody; or 2. JaVale McGee and David West? That was incredibly dumb of them. I mean, McGee’s reach spans the galaxies and David West is David Freaking West! I don’t care how tough or quick you are with a 1-2 combo. You lose both of those fights 10 times out of 10.
- The Wolves play their third and final preseason game against the Warriors on Sunday, October 8th at 6 a.m. The game can be seen on NBATV.