The Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Miami Heat 125-122 in an overtime thriller Monday night, bringing their overall record to 4-3. The victory not only marks the first time that Tom Thibodeau has defeated the Heat since becoming the Wolves’ head coach, but also the first time they’ve lead.
The Heat came out of the gaits with a burst of energy that the Wolves were unable to (or didn’t even attempt to, depending on your disposition) match, dictating the pace of play and being the aggressors on both sides of the ball. Heat point guard Goran Dragic looked to push the ball early, snaking his way past Jeff Teague and putting the Wolves on their heals. Miami was able to take advantage in the first half, scoring 62 points on nearly 60% shooting.
Dion Waiters lead the way for the Heat scoring 33 points while adding five rebounds, four assists, and three steals (though he logged a +/- of -10 in 39 minutes of action). Bam Adebayo was also trouble for the Wolves, especially on the offensive glass, contributing 13 points and 13 rebounds (including 10 [ten!] offensive boards); Celtics transplant Kelly Olynyk added 23 points and six rebounds and Dragic 18 points, six rebounds, and five assists.
For the Wolves, this game was the story of two halves.
As previously inferred, the Wolves didn’t exactly begin the game with a ton of energy. You know the story by now. The rotations? Late. The off-ball defense? Unfocused. The overall composure of the team? Uninspired.
Teague struggled out of the gate, taking ill-advised shots, turning the ball over, and looking uncomfortable as he tried to figure out how to run the offense against the Heat. Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler struggled with efficiency. Karl-Anthony Towns continued his strong play on offense but reverted back to his pre-Oklahoma City game defense (read: not great, Bob).
The Wolves trailed 32-23 after one, but the game didn’t exactly feel all that close.
But then, something clicked a little bit. At least on offense.
The Wolves hung 37 on Miami in the second quarter. Teague’s play flipped 180-degrees, Butler’s efficiency and playmaking picked up, and Wiggins hit his free throws. Nemanja Bjelica once again excelled in his role, drilling a three and playing good defense. (Aside: Bjelica deserves to see more playing time. He’s only averaging a little over 15 minutes a game, but he has been easily one of the top five Wolves in terms of performance. He’s played really well within his role and the eye-test is saying that his defense has improved. The numbers don’t necessarily back up his performance as of yet, but it will be something to monitor as the season progresses.)
The Wolves clamped down on defense a bit in the second half, allowing the Heat to only score 60 points over the final three frames. Minnesota forced Miami to commit 28 turnovers on the night (to the Wolves 16) and simply made things ever-so-slightly more difficult for the Heat. Teague had a few crafty veteran steals and Towns was able to alter more shots at the rim (in the first half, it appeared Towns was helping too much around the rim, allow open space for the Heat to expose). Wiggins had a few possessions reminiscent of his famous one-on-one defense against James Harden during his rookie season and Jimmy Butler was strong as usual.
Teague ended up having himself a spectacular night; he led the Wolves with 23 points and added 11 assists, six steals, five rebounds, and was a team high +18. Towns (20 points, 12 rebounds) and Wiggins (22 points, 7 rebounds) also scored over 20 points and Jimmy Butler added 16 points, five rebounds, three assists, and three steals. Jamal Crawford with for 13 points in 22 minutes off the bench.
To this point, the Wolves have been a difficult team to peg because their effort and attitude often waxes and wanes greatly throughout the course of a single game; sometimes it changes as a response to the opponent’s effort and attitude, but sometimes it changes with no real explanation. One moment the Wolves will be struggling mightily (see: quarter, first) and then all of a sound they’ll be running like a well-oiled machine (see: quarter, two; game one against the Thunder). One moment the defense will be atrocious (see: half, first) and the next it will be much sharper (see: half, second).
The glass-half-full observer would be quick to point to the Wolves’ consistency ebs and flows being a good sign; “Just imagine when they figure out how to play with each other and round out the roster with a trade or two!” The glass-half-empty would say something along the lines of “well, why don’t they just play hard all the time?”
Due to the infancy of the season, both sides of the argument have merit and how the Wolves progress in the coming months will dictate whether or not they are a contender for a top or middle seed in the West or if they are simply a fringe playoff team. Are their struggles simply effort and comfort based? Or do they have more to do with team philosophy and roster construct?
The answer likely falls somewhere in the middle, but only time will tell how the Wolves grow and develop moving forward.
Oh. And Andrew Wiggins did this:
Good god, Andrew Wiggins pic.twitter.com/LwyMQYCSu2
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) October 31, 2017
The Wolves are next in action on Wednesday night against Boogie Cousins, Anthony Davis and the 3-4 New Orleans Pelicans. Tip is slated for 7 pm central.
- I just wanted to make sure this ended up in the recap somehow. He missed the dunk, but had he landed it, this would’ve easily been Wiggins’ craziest play of his career:
Wiggins almost slam on Winslow after what he did to Richardson… might have broken NBA twitter entirely pic.twitter.com/n7Hk0pEcuT
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) October 31, 2017