The story of this one is made obvious by the headline. The Minnesota Timberwolves fell to the Philadelphia 76ers in a slog of a game Tuesday night, 118-112. The Wolves now find themselves at 16-12 overall and in fourth place in the Western Conference.
At first, it appeared as if it might be the Wolves’ night. They jumped out to an early 10-4 lead and stifled the Sixers throughout the first quarter with active hands and suffocating defense(!). Minnesota accumulated four blocks and three steals in the opening frame en route to posting an 81.4 defensive rating (which is defined at points per 100 possessions). However, as the minutes passed and time of play began to rise, so too did the team’s defensive rating, reaching 97.7 by halftime and, ultimately, 106.7 by the end of the game.
The minutes played by the Wolves’ starters will yet again be the predominant talking point after this one and it’s really too bad; it was, by and large, a fun and enjoyable game between two up-and-coming teams featuring once-in-a-generation talents. Joel Embiid was fantastic, putting up 28 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists and Eurostepping his way all across the corn and/or bean fields of Minnesota.
Good lawd, Joel Embiid, you're too tall for this pic.twitter.com/191DPkpyW2
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) December 13, 2017
Dario Saric and Richaun Holmes had good games, combing for 29 points, 19 rebounds, and five assists. Saric hit a couple of clutch threes towards the end of the game and Holmes put down a few nice lob dunks. Ben Simmons was relatively quiet tonight – he was being hounded by Jimmy Butler all game – but finished with seven points, eight assists, and provided pretty tight defense for the majority of the night.
Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 19 points (on 6/16 from the field and 7/10 from the line), 16 rebounds, four steals, and three blocks. Although his overall defensive impact continued to wax and wane throughout the night, Towns did have some fantastic one-on-one possessions against Embiid which were worthy of praise. For as much as it’s become popular to rip incessantly on Towns’ defensive short-comings (most of it is warranted!), it’s only right to give credit when credit is due.
KAT blocks Joel Embiid, Jamal to Tyus for the layup +1 pic.twitter.com/p8pp6AGf0V
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) December 13, 2017
Andrew Wiggins remained cold for the vast majority of the game finishing with 20 points (on 24 field goals and five free throws), seven rebounds, two assists, two steals, and a block. Wiggins has struggled to find his shot over the last five games – he’s shooting 33.3% from the field and 10% on threes – but it’s not for a lack of good looks or an overtly noticeable hitch in his form. Ultimately, he’ll be fine, his shot will return, but right now it feels as though he’s in a rut and every time he sees his shot clank off the side of the rim, the rut only digs itself deeper and deeper.
But those minutes! The amount of minutes that Tom Thibodeau has been playing the Wolves’ starters has become a point of fixation for many both inside and outside of Wolves’ fandom and it’s not entirely unjustified. It’s become well-known (and backed by a non-insignificant amount of research) that fatigue plays a major role in decreasing athletic performance while also increasing a player’s risk for injury and there’s no way a player can average between 35-40 mpg and not experience fatigue. That can’t really be disputed. But the situation the Wolves are currently faced with runs much deeper than simply demanding that Thibodeau play his bench more minutes.
The bench hasn’t been good and lacks wing/point guard depth. Nemanja Bjelica remains injured with a left midfoot sprain (he’s now missed 10 games in a row). Shabazz Muhammad hasn’t been nearly as impactful as Thibodeau hoped. To put it bluntly: the Wolves’ starters are playing too many minutes, but I’m not sure coach Thibodeau has much of a choice right now. And that’s, largely, a self-inflicted wound. I’ve written before that GM (or President of Basketball Operations if you want to be technical) needs to step up and make roster moves to provide bench depth and he will eventually make some moves (last summer’s free agents can begin being traded on December 15th). But until that happens, expect the starters to continue to log 35-40 minutes a night. There’s been a lot of angst thrust Thibodeau’s direction by those on social media as of late, but it might be appropriate to hold off until the trade deadline. If Thibodeau and company don’t make any roster adjustments by then, then all of the criticisms will be justified.
The Wolves are next in action on Thursday as they face off against the 9-18 Sacramento Kings.
- It would be a crime to go this entire recap without mentioning how absurd Jimmy Butler was again. He carried the team, both offensively and defensively, for the entire game, putting up a line of 38 points, six rebounds, and three assists and holding Ben Simmons (future rookie of the year and possible [likely?] Eastern Conference All-Star) to the numbers stated above. Butler has been remarkable over the last five games, averaging 28.4/6.4/5.0 in…41.7 minutes per game. *sigh*
- The Wolves finished the night 44/108 (40.7%) from the field, 5/29 from 3, and 19/27 from the line. Had a couple of unlucky bounces gone they’re way, they would’ve won in regulation. But alas….