Wolves 115, Suns 106: Good Stretches and Bad

There were stretches when the Wolves played well and there were stretches when the Suns played terribly. Those stretches explain the result of the game: on Saturday night at Phoenix, the Timberwolves beat the Suns, 115 to 106.

After the first 8 minutes of the game, it seemed as if the Suns had no ability to make a shot or prevent Jimmy Butler from making his. The Wolves led 22 to 6. That was a combined stretch of good Wolves/terrible Suns that, in the end, tilted the game in ‘Sota’s favor.

Another such stretch came in the first half of the second quarter. With Tyus Jones and Marcus Georges-Hunt teaming with staggered in Karl-Anthony Towns, the Wolves re-established the 20-point lead that had been cut to 9 by the end of the first quarter. MGH entered the game with an oversupply of defensive energy, getting whistled for a pair of off-the-ball fouls in short succession. While fouling can be bad, in and of itself — it puts the opponent in the bonus — this pair from MGH had an indirectly-good effect on the Wolves’ second quarter. That’s because the refs allowed some questionable physicality on a few subsequent plays that led to Suns turnovers and Wolves points in transition. Georges-Hunt only played 6 minutes against Phoenix, but he was a (+10). His defense substantially contributed to that swing of the game. That the Wolves ultimately won the game by 9 points suggests he was a key factor.

The final stretch of good (or in this case “decent”) Wolves play came in the final 13 minutes of the game, after the Suns cut the once-gigantic margin down to just 2 points. From this point on and throughout the entire fourth quarter, the Wolves were mostly in control of the game, and this was mostly because of Jimmy Butler. He scored 12 of his 32 points in the final period, manufacturing plays and buckets out of less-than-promising situations as he is increasingly becoming known to do in his Wolves uni. While the Suns cut the lead down to 5 with 1:44 to go in the game, the Wolves quickly scored twice in a row and ultimately won by nine.

As he is always sometimes known to do, Thibs heaped praise on Jimmy Buckets after the game:

The gaps between these stretches were not pretty. The plus-minus stats reflect how the starters had some trouble at times; especially in the disastrous third quarter:

Watching the game as a Wolves fan against the season backdrop of two Suns losses and a lot of bad fourth quarters made for an anxious experience. When the lead after the first quarter was “only” 9 points, it felt like a game they might regret the terrible defensive finish to that quarter. When the second half lead was quickly diminished and Suns reserve guards Isaiah Cannon and Troy Daniels were bombing without regard for anything, all a fan could do is hold their breath and see what happens. You go into these gotta-have-them games with a mind closed to the possibility that things could go wrong and the smallest signs that they might become amplified.

The point spread from Vegas had the Wolves by 8.

They won by 9.

It was an objectively solid performance.

Where are we now?

The win over Phoenix improved the Wolves record to 20-13, good for a winning percentage north of 60. They’re now on pace to win about 50 games right on the nose. In a Western Conference rife with uncertainty after spots 1 through 3 (Golden State, Houston, and San Antonio) the Timberwolves find themselves in the 4 spot; the best of the rest. I think most find a 4 seed and a home-court-advantage playoff series to be a best-case scenario for this year’s team.

The Wolves offensive and defensive ranks have remained steady for a few games now: they’re 5th on O, 25th on D, and now have a net rating (point differential per 100 possessions) of (+1.7), good for 10th in the NBA.

Tomorrow night, the Wolves play the last game on the NBA’s Christmas schedule. They play Lonzo Ball and the Lakers on TNT at 9:30 Central Time. We’ll have to see if they can win another winnable game and extend their current streak to 4 games.

Before wrapping this up, a random nugget courtesy of Jerry Zgoda after last night’s win

For the younger readers who may not remember J.R. Rider, here’s a sample to enjoy:

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4 thoughts on “Wolves 115, Suns 106: Good Stretches and Bad

  1. Maybe it’s the holiday, maybe it’s this game but I don’t have much to say about it. I’m getting the feeling of deja vu watching these games. You know, playing a far less talented and less healthy team, kinda going back and fourth, kinda playing down to their ability, hopefully still mostly having the game in hand, getting out shot from three, and finally getting bailed out by Jimmy and to a much lesser extent, Crawford. Butler is in rare form, although give me KG in his prime, just as a player to watch any day. Frankly put, we are way, way too reliant on Butler to finish games and provide pretty much everything that the young players refuse to. We are way too reliant on Crawford to give the bench life (and minutes). It’s like grafting quick fixes onto a flawed team. The basic causes of our problems have not been cured, they’ve just been covered up with a huge bandage and a smaller bandage. Ultimately, if we continue to lean on Butler and Crawford this hard we are susceptible to crashing from the vet sugar high. This isn’t even factoring in the possibility of injury to either. As for KAT, he’s a little young to be a Butler/KG in their prime type. So I’m not mad that he’s not yet. I’m a little worried–there are some bad signs/habits and progress on some important stuff has been slow. But there is a possibility. Wiggins has no chance of being ‘the guy’. Another worry is that Thibs doesn’t seem to give any weight to developing KAT into ‘the guy’ like he and Sam and Flip did with Wiggins. We’ve suddenly stopped all development and just hand the ball to Butler or Crawford at any important juncture. This will haunt us if we don’t vary our ways soon.

  2. Pyrrol, I am the ghost of Christmas 13 years past; Then you were watching a fabulous MVP type candidate who would make clutch shots, put the team on his back and have home court advantage in the playoffs because his coach rode his starters hard that year. He had a slow paced PG that could hit some fade away jumpers and a three once in a while. He was savvy, but not a great defender. His other new sidekick was an older wing player that the potential to be great again defensively, but he needed to be replaced by Trenton Hassell or Fred Hoiberg when his shot was going nowhere or needing more defensive help. The other wing was a big slower footed guy and three point specialist, that was not very good defensively, but if he got hot could score twenty points pretty quickly.

    In the low block, we had a #1 overall pick, who should have been an awesome low post player, but wasn’t. A couple tough defensive players that didn’t shoot very well, but rebounded and defended players bigger than them. The bench needed some help, after the first three subs, but did have some games where they contributed.

    Lastly, we had a coach that was supposed to be an offensive genius, who lived and breathed basketball and who had undisputed support from the POBO. Point being, that our best team to date was a flawed team that was pushed hard to get home court advantage in the playoffs, only to be beaten by a California team that had two of the greater players in that era.

  3. I forgot to give a shoutout to Michael Beasley who is playing well for NY. A very Wolvesy thing is for players to leave this team and do a lot better. Usually this happens quickly, but sometimes it is slow as with Wayne Ellington finally learning to shoot threes. And I almost always hate it. Even if I understand why guys didn’t learn, develop or thrive here given the circumstances we put them in, it is hard to not get annoyed by these players. Heck, it’s just a MN thing…. David Ortiz anyone?

    However, in the case of Beasley, I’ve always just been cheering for him. For one, he’s just really talented and I hate to see it go to waste. The Wayne Ellington’s of the world finding a niche… good for him but who cares? He’s not that talented. Also, Beasley seems like a legitimately cool guy. He seems really decent, fun loving and unlike a lot of high draft picks (and flops) he puts in a lot of effort. I recall seeing him at Wolves training camp scrimmage one year and he was diving for balls and interacting with fans in a really cool way.

    He’s had some things go against him. I think the NBA life is hard for him. He may have depression and or anxiety issues which he tired to self medicate. Also, in college he was a PF who was as big as other PF’s but more skilled. But in the NBA, he wasn’t really PF sized, but had a really hard time adjusting to SF. It was a tough tweener position for him. It seems a small issue given how he’s so skilled as a scorer, a decent athlete and very well built, but I think on top of all his other difficulties in adjustment it held him back, just one too many challenges to get it all together. But maybe he’s turned a corner. Either way it is really great to see him get some success (and under the bright NY lights!). I’ll be cheering for him.

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