2017-18 Season

Wolves 112, Nuggets 104: “This is Personal.”

The Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Denver Nuggets 112-104 Wednesday night in what may be the start of a budding rivalry. The Wolves now find themselves with a record of 19-13, including a record of 16-6 against the Western Conference and 6-1 against the Northwest Division.

The Nuggets burst out of the gates, connecting on jumpers and drawing fouls, and built as much as a 10-point lead before the end of the first quarter. Jamal Murray, who wished to be drafted by the Wolves back in the summer of 2016 and had himself a revenge game of sorts, and Nikola Jokic were the driving forces behind Denver’s hot start. Murray connected on two quick three-pointers and Jokic forced both Karl-Anthony Towns, who had to be given a quick hook, and Gorgui Dieng into early foul trouble.

Taj Gibson, who ended up with a plus/minus of -8 in a rare bad game, single-handedly kept the Wolves within reach in the first quarter, connecting on all three of his field goal attempts and preventing what otherwise would have been two easy buckets for the Nuggets (one was via a blocked shot and the other due simply to hustling on the defensive end).

The majority of the game was a physical slog, with Jokic and Mason Plumlee going chest to chest with Towns. For three quarters, the Nuggets’ starters thoroughly outplayed the Wolves’, as evidenced by the plus/minus data, leaving the Wolves’ bench(!) to do most of the heavy lifting.

(Quick aside: Torrey Craig, one Denver’s two-way players, started for the Nuggets and played 37 minutes; he provided 10 points, six rebounds, and two assists. It just goes to see how valuable, when properly used, the two-way contract can be. The Wolves have a player in Anthony Brown who, I’m convinced, could be impactful off the bench for approximately 10 minutes per night. He’s got a sweet shooting stroke (he’s shooting 42.2% from three on six attempts per game) and the Wolves’ desperately need a consistent three-point shooting threat. I think Tom Thibodeau could get better use out of his two-way contracts, especially since one remains unused.)

The Nuggets lead the Wolves by four after three quarters and appeared to have the upper hand heading into the fourth.

However, it was Butler and Jamal Crawford who once again saved the day for the Wolves. Crawford’s hot second-half shooting continued as the 38-year-old vet poured in 12 of his 20 points in the third and fourth quarters on 4/6 from the field and 2/2 from the free throw line. Butler, who has been phenomenal in clutch situations (when the game is within five points with five or fewer minutes remaining in the game) scored 11 of the Wolves’ final 15 points.

Murray finished the evening with 30 points, four rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Jokic contributed 22 points, six rebounds, and four assists, while Plumlee added 13 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists.

Towns led the Wolves with 25 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, and three steals, but Butler wasn’t far behind contributing 25 points, two rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Crawford led the bench charge with 20 points and seven assists in 28 minutes(!). Dieng (21 minutes) and Tyus Jones (18 minutes) also provided valuable minutes off the bench, contributing a plus/minus of +13 and +10, respectively. Andrew Wiggins’ shooting woes continued but was able to contribute five rebounds and 35 minutes of +3 play.

After the game, Towns, when asked by FSNorth’s Marney Gellner about what drove him and the Wolves to play well against the Nuggets, stated, “This is personal…I’ve got a backstory.”

Towns neglected to elaborate on his comments, stating only that “everything has a backstory”, but it’s probably safe to assume that Towns was referring to an oft-rumored, but lacking physical evidence beyond what is seen on the court beef/rivalry with Jokic. The Wolves have lacked a true rival over the last handful of years as they mired in mediocrity, with only the 2013-14 Portland Trailblazers possibly coming close. It would be great for the Wolves, and the league, if Towns v. Jokic/Wolves v. Nuggets developed into one of the Western Conference’s best and most fun rivalries. If Wednesday night’s showdown is any indication, it’s already well on its way.

The Wolves are next in action on Saturday, December 23rd against….those pesky Phoenix Suns. Tip is set for 8 pm CT.

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5 thoughts on “Wolves 112, Nuggets 104: “This is Personal.”

  1. It’s hard to develop rivalries when you suck. But it is also hard to develop them when the nearest cities in your division are 787 and 915 miles away with the furthest city being 1,729 miles away. And divisions aren’t made to be very important in the NBA. Increasingly, even conferences seem pointless, as we see a lot of the east, and dividing the teams into conferences has caused some unfair things to happen. It’s a weakness of the NBA. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a Vikings Packers level rivalry for the Wolves? Frankly, the NBA isn’t designed for it. Still, I’ve long though we should be in the east, playing cities that are both closer and more like Minneapolis. I think we could have better rivalries if things were regional; if we played Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago… Denver comes sort of close to being a Minneapolis type city, but it is far away with more of a western feel.

    It sure was fun to watch Crawford work out there. He was having the time of his life! I will say that playing him so much and, even more to the point, relying on him so much is a fool’s errand. However, though Thibs has basically given me nothing to build faith in him, perhaps he’s using Crawford as a temporary spark plug to get the team snapped out of what he sees as a funk. This might be smart and just why we picked up Crawford. However, proceed with caution. Though Crawford is a shot maker, he’s also streaky and takes a ton of bad shots. Particularly at his age, playing like the last two games every night is completely unsustainable and relying on him to do so is trouble. That’s strictly from a results standpoint, but for health and age reasons, playing him 28 minutes all the time would be bad and likely result in us losing him late (or most of him if that makes sense). I think it’s great to play him 25-30 on select nights when he’s clicking or we really need it. These last two games were the luxury of starting 3 vets. It feels a little pathetic, though… Particularly leaning on Crawford… Feels a little… weird to me.

    Wiggins positivity and realism: I look at Wiggins like this. He’s not going to be as good as we are hoping. Part of that is consistency. He’s not going to be a highly consistent player. He’s not going to be an intense and energetic player. That said, he’s in a major scoring slump. Yes, it is annoying, but he won’t be in it forever. It continued horribly tonight–25 fg%, no 3’s, 7 pts. Yet how many games have we seen where Wiggins scores 26 and barely gets a rebound and an assist and plays horrible D. Lately, even during the slump, Wiggins has provided some useful D. In this game he had 5 rb 2 assists 2 steals and a block. That’s good for him (sad face). In other words, he’s doing SOMETHING other than scoring. That’s kinda what we should hope for from now on–a mediocre volume scorer who can help out a little bit some other ways. As bad the slump has been, in a way this is slight progress toward being the best player he can be (I’ve lowered the ceiling a lot long ago).

    Towns played hard. At one point, Crawford was like ‘come ON get down here!’ when he was dribbling the ball up and Towns was too slow for his liking getting down the court. But for him, he played hard, and his intensity was night and day compared to Wiggins, though a cardboard version compared to Butler.

    Funny to hear Jim Pete exclaim twice, “I really like how Denver plays! They are fun to watch!” The dirty secret is almost all teams play a more fun to watch version of basketball than we do. And they are playing like that because it is effective. We only won this due to our better talent and more established vets. But it was close because of Denver’s style versus ours. This is a dynamic which will come up in almost every game we play…

    We had more assists than Denver (which doesn’t speak so strongly for us as it shows how much work Denver has to do still as a unit). That really helped us win. They beat us from the 3 point line, but not badly. I guess that’s our 3 pt goal these days. I don’t know… These games feel like a blur. In recent years, there would be memorable plays sprinkled throughout the game like signposts that you could remember the game by, so that you WANTED to watch the highlights. This year that doesn’t seem to happen. The games melt into each other. We win and it’s a bit joyless. We lose and it is a bit frustrating, but sort of understandable based on how we approach games. It’s kind of sad. I love cheering for the Wolves. But I find so many other teams we play more likeable just based on how they do things on the court. And a lot of these teams aren’t that good (we’ve had a pretty easy schedule) but there is a joy there…

  2. Last night was a good win, but without Milsap and Harris playing, it seems a little hallow. Jeff Teague was once again proving that Darren Collison would have been a better and cheaper PG for this team. He is quicker, rebounds and shoots a much better percentage from three than Teague does. Heck, he still can’t hit a three, but Kris Dunn is probably a better player than Teague is at this point. Having him in at the end of a game is silly, since Crawford and Butler have primarily been running the show the last couple games and Teague seems like he isn’t sure what he should be doing for this offense. He hesitates on his three, but then shoots a more difficult shot seconds later. He dribbles with no idea what he is doing and he is hesitant on his passing, which actually makes them more defendable or turnover opportunities. About all he has to offer is the floater game, but it isn’t like he is capable of getting that off much either. Of course his defense is paper thin as usual.

    This game also kind of showed how irrelevant +/- is as an indicator of game impact. Ghorghi was a +13 and Jimmy Bulter was a -5. Wiggins a +5 and Towns was +0. Yes, Crawford was a +23 but that makes it look like he was the determining factor in this game and I would say Towns and Butler in the fourth were as important or more so. Wiggins did have some nice moves to the basket and his shot wasn’t as bad as it has been. He reallly didn’t take to many bad shots, so although he needs to find his stroke, he wasn’t forcing his shot as he has in past games.

    Luckily, Benz explained the TO situation at the end of the game. After seeing his team walk up the floor together, our coach wastes TWO timeouts that could have given them a breather and then it appeared he called one twenty seconds after that. FoxSN went to commercial, by which time, I was livid. Thankfully, it was a TV time out and we still had two left, but one of the ways Thibs can save his team is by using his TO to give the starters a blow. He seems oblivious to his team needs and wastes perfectly good options to give them a chance to rest.

    In addition to not using his two way option (why spend the money on a player he would never use). He also has two players on the bench that don’t play the minutes we expected them to play in Belly and Baz. One I think wants to play and could provide a spark of energy for a couple minutes a night, and the other I think wants to go back to Europe. I have been railing against Belly for two weeks now, but I think it is pretty obvious that he is off the team until they can trade him. Guys like Belly, who seem to never recover fully, are the type of player you want to unload before everyone thinks the same way. He was a hot three point shooter before going down with (what is it again?) and many teams would like to use him in the East for possibly a veteran shooter with a long contract. If Thibs isn’t going to use these guys, he needs to trade for ones he might.

  3. Even though they were missing Milsap and Harris, we flipped the script on our 4th quarter woes. We outscored them by 12. Bravo T-Wolves. Bravo.

    Only 1 starter was above 35 minutes and that was KAT.

    I think we should trade Teague and honestly, I’d love to see what people would offer for Wiggins.

    The MN curse continues. Players that leave MN go on and end up being really good players. Kris Dunn is going to be good. Lavine is probably going to be great. Except for Rubio. Watched him last night against the Thunder and he looked terrible. I missed him originally but after what I saw, I don’t.

  4. Also, Zach Lowe from ESPN noting the T-Wolves ugliness in games. We have the point differential of a .500 team. We’re winning through brute force. Yes we’re winning, but something is off and this season is going to come crashing down game 60.

  5. Re Rubio and Dunn: The NBA is a weird place. Context is very important. Long term it will be very interesting to see how Rubio’s career goes and what Dunn develops into. But it’s unlikely that Rubio is going to continue looking like steaming trash forever (we know first hand that he’s a good player) or that Dunn is going to continue looking like an all star. It’s been a weird trend, though. Very, very surprising. You can’t really tell what a prospect will be from one season, but still, from the look we got it seemed unlikely that Dunn would ever be as good as he’s been since he came back this season. Part of it is context–he’s getting so many minutes to do whatever he can to get stats and clearly the system he’s in is better for him (wow, a non-Thibs system better for players!?). Part of it is inexplicable.

    It’s the other side of the same coin for Rubio. He’s in a system that sort of ignores what he does for a team as far as passing and running offense. It’s actually a pretty good system, esp for a team without dominant scorers. But on some level it’s not a great system if your 2nd highest paid player, a guy who you made an effort to go out and get, is used poorly. The context in Utah has been surprisingly unforgiving to Rubio. Still, as with Dunn, how Rubio is doing is somewhat explained by context but not all the way. Rubio’s inability to find a way to play somewhat better in his circumstances has been very disappointing, even shocking. The way they move the ball and use point forward, and avoid a primary passer/creator is bad for Rubio, but he’s still routinely out-assisted by the likes of rookie SG Mitchell, Ingles, and bench guards. His turnover rate has been awful. In his defense, he’s chipped in alright as far as scoring goes, for him, and plays hard, adds to the Jazz tough D. But he has to be better. Why he’s not is a mystery to me. He’s a smart player… why he can’t figure out how to settle into this less than ideal system a little more is confusing to say the least. I’m not good enough at analyzing this stuff nor have I been able to see enough Jazz games to get any leads on why it is so extreme. Quinn is a smart guy and seems patient about the whole thing, so maybe better days are ahead. As a Rubio fan it is very disappointing and boring for the NBA in general to have him playing like this.

    It is pretty nuts to not use the 2 way. And it is likely true that any two way would never play under Thibs anyhow.

    As for Teague… In a lot of ways he’s exactly what I expected… his not very dazzling brand of competency, a minor scoring/shooting upgrade from Rubio, as thought that was a huge issue with this team. But what has surprised me is how Teague feeds into the worst aspects of our system. It’s easy to blame Thibs’ system totally on the way our offense operates, but when Tyus was in for the hurt Teague, it was clear we wasted less time and played with more pace instantly. The role Teague plays in our lack of manipulation of pace is significant. He’s also a man of bad habits, running down the clock, not adding creativity, dribbling without a goal or the vision to do something with it, encouraging iso ball, getting the ball to players in not ideal places. It’s true to say that even if you wanted to be done with Rubio there were so many better (or as good) cheaper options out there. I’d rather see Collison here.

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