Timberwolves 104, Pelicans 98: Don’t look now but we have a winning streak
The Timberwolves beat the New Orleans Pelicans 104-98 Wednesday night at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.
The Wolves enjoyed a lead for most of the game, a lead which grew into double-digits in the 4th quarter. Because it’s the NBA, the Pelicans made a run. Starting in the middle of the 4th quarter, the Pels chipped away at the Wolves’ lead, with DeMarcus Cousins and Tony “@aa000G9“ Allen scoring 8 apiece.
New Orleans would eventually tie the game at 96 on an Anthony Davis dunk with 2:22 remaining. Andrew Wiggins gave the Wolves a two point lead with 2:02 to play on a nifty midrange floater. Cousins was difficult to stop all night, ending with 35 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 6 blocks, and 3 steals.
Things got dicier when Cousins drew a Taj Gibson foul to get to the line for two shots with 1:45 remaining and made both to tie the game at 98.
That would be New Orleans’ last point of the game, however.
The Wolves pulled away to a 104-98 advantage thanks to clutch shooting by Jimmy Butler, who made a three-point play with 34.7 to go and iced the game with three more free throws in the final seconds. Butler had 23 points on the night and again came through in the clutch. But Jimmy’s shot looks off, especially from distance (he was 0-3 on threes), and the Wolves would’ve been better served running more offensive sets through Butler to exploit his ability to set up teammates for good looks.
The game itself was odd: certain aspects were cool and fun to watch–DMC’s beast mode killer offensive assault, the improved performance of the Wolves’ backups, for two–while others were boring and hard on the eyes–the sluggish and sloppy play by both teams, and a general feeling that the Wolves are finally a much better team than the Pelicans and were able to control the game despite not turning in their best performance and not matching up well with New Orleans’ superstar bigs.
Here’s the tl;dr version:
Worst game of KAT’s career, bad Wiggins game, bad refs, hot Cousins game, Wolves still win at New Orleans. Positive signs.
— Punch-Drunk Wolves (@PDWolves) November 2, 2017
Don’t get me wrong. I’ll take a win any time. But this game wasn’t the kind of victory that affirms a team’s dominance and standing in the Western Conference. It was ugly. And one might characterize it as “low energy.” The Wolves coasted at times.
The starters were listless. They got nothing from star center Karl-Anthony Towns, whose two points on 1-7 shooting was a career low for KAT. (Editor’s Note: KAT’s previous career low was 6.) Towns really struggled with Cousins and Davis. KAT appeared rattled by BOOOGIE! and never got into a good rhythm. I expect a strong KAT revenge game the next time the two teams meet.
Meanwhile, the other starters played mediocre (aside from Butler in #WinningTime). Wig scored 18 on 9-21 shooting. Jeff Teague was quiet on offense, scoring on 5 points on 2-6 from the field and handing off 9 assists. Until New Orleans’ push late in the 4th quarter, the game had a feel of malaise that kind of felt like some players might’ve been out late on Bourbon Street last night.
Finally, this win will bring a special sense of satisfaction to hardcore Wolves fans. Before tonight, NOLA had ANNIHILATED the Wolves in recent matchups. Last season, the Pelicans meted out double-digit losses to the Wolves all three times the two teams met. Anthony Davis was the next coming of Wilt Chamberlain. The Wolves had the better team on paper. It didn’t matter. Nola had ‘Sota’s number. But not no mo’.
Improved Second-Unit Play
The Wolves’ second unit picked up the slack from the starters on Wednesday night. All five members of the second unit–Jones, Crawford, Dieng, Bjelica, and Muhammad–had positive +/- stats on the night. Of the starters, only Taj Gibson (+1) had a positive +/-. Some of this is because New Orleans simply lacks depth. Tony Allen was the only Pelicans reserve who scored in double-figures on Wednesday.
I want to call out three Wolves reserves for their contributions on Wednesday: Tyus Jones, Jamal Crawford, and Nemanja Bjelica.
Jones played a nice game backing up Teague. Tyus played only 12 minutes, but he had 5 assists, 4 points, and had a team-best +/- of 15.
Crawford hit a half-court three to end the 1st half, and finished the game with 11 points on 3-4 shooting and 3 steals. Equally important, Crawford displayed a veteran’s composure during his 16 minutes of burn.
— A Wolf Among Wolves (@AWAWBlog) November 2, 2017
#Analytics even reveal that J-Crossover is the most prolific from (very) deep.
— Jim Petersen (@JimPeteHoops) November 2, 2017
(Editor’s Note: If you haven’t yet read the recent Sports Illustrated feature on J-Crossover, stop reading this and check it out immediately. It’s outstanding.)
Meanwhile, Bjelica’s improvement this season has been impressive. The dude just looks more comfortable and confident. He is playing looser this year. He finally appears to be having fun playing basketball for the Timberwolves. (Editor’s Note: Maybe it’s the new ‘do.)
Regardless, Belly now makes the threes he passed up on last year. Going into Wednesday’s game, he ranked third in the league in three-point accuracy at 57.9% (11-for-19). Last season, Belly shot just 31.6% on threes. On Wednesday in New Orleans, Bjelica was 5-6 from the field and 2-3 on threes.
Overall, leaving New Orleans with a road win, breaking their bad-karma losing streak against the Pels, and quietly starting a nice little three-game winning streak–these are all positive factors for the Wolves. They will try to extend their winning streak to four games against Dallas Saturday at 7 PM at Target Center.
Here are some highlights in case you didn’t catch the game.