Game Analysis

Brooklyn 98, Timberwolves 97: Sometimes You Lose

The Brooklyn Nets beat the Timberwolves 98–97 on Wednesday night in Brooklyn.

Unlike in recent previous games, the Wolves did not get off to a great start in the first half. They lacked the same kind of energy, on both ends of the floor, that got them off to hot starts en route to victories over the Pacers and Lakers in the road-home back-to-back on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

The Wolves were the better team tonight. That was clear. But they let a scrappy Nets team keep clawing to stay in the game and eventually to win it. The Nets played well enough to hang close. Spencer Dinwiddie ended up deciding the game. Dinwiddie played out of his mind down the stretch, making a couple of tough shots that even Jimmy “Always Be Closing” Butler wasn’t able to counter during #WinningTime #JimmyTime tonight.

Dinwiddie explains the key sequence and difference in this game pretty well. Here’s the man in his own words.

Dinwiddie just did a lot of random things for the Nets that helped the team win this game. He’s a funky player. The diversity of these highlights, and awkwardness of Dinwiddie’s swag, make it a recommended view.

How We Got There

The Wolves came out flat in the first half. They were down 24-22 at the end of the first quarter and 48-43 at halftime. The offense was miserable to watch at times, particularly in the second quarter. Fans and writers sometimes argue about the offense because despite the team’s high offensive rating (5th in the NBA), it is often a flaming dumpster fire to watch transpire.

Tweets like these captured the fun in terms of aesthetics.

Aside from Jimmy Butler’s typically unquenchable thirst, the Wolves just didn’t match Brooklyn’s level of grit. Taj Gibson, Butler’s main partner in grime, didn’t have his best game. And the youngsters didn’t respond well to Brooklyn’s physicality.

The Wolves were down 48-43 at halftime. Neither team had a rhythm. Dave Benz captured it well in his sign-off at halftime: “That was a weird first half.”
The Timberwolves got off to a bad start to the second half and found themselves down by 12 points early in the third quarter. Jerry Z wanted to know if, after holding on to leads the past two games, “now let’s see if they can get take one away”

Tonight they couldn’t. The Wolves went on a 23-7 run to take the lead back from the Nets late in the third. The attack was balanced in the third quarter: Butler scored eight points, Jones played well and scored seven, and Wig had six.

The fourth was an exercise of Extended #JimmyTime. That means Jimmy starts the offense. And that means Jimmy usually finishes the offense. Sometimes Jimmy reaches the gear when he doesn’t pass (see 0:21–0:53).

We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it many times again. But one wonders, is #PeakJimmyTime the new normal? If so, what does that say about his trust in Karl and Wig? (Eds. Note: Rhetorical.)

To be fair to Butler (and Thibs), the conditions for another #JimmyTime fourth quarter were ripe: the game was close the whole quarter, as neither team built greater than a five point lead; there were also three lead changes, and the score was tied four times.

Moreover, it isn’t like Jimmy didn’t carry a lot of water. After all, he did hang 11 on Brooklyn in the quarter, shooting 2-5 from the field and 7-7 from the line while grabbing difficult rebounds and even coming up with a big blocked shot to go with his typically stellar physical defense.

Still a Disappointment

Losing to the 14-23 Nets, who were missing their best player, D’Angelo Russell, is a disappointment for a Wolves team that arrived in Brooklyn on a hot streak, having won seven of their past eight games. At 24-14, the Wolves were 10–fuckin’ 10! games–over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2003-04 season. This team is fourth in the Western Conference and sits atop the Northwest Division by three games over the second-place Oklahoma City Thunder. The Nets came limping into Wednesday night’s tilt the loser of 8 of their past 10. The point is, Timberwolves fans have come to expect to win games like this. Whether or not it will cost the team in the playoff chase remains to be seen, but a few things besides Spencer Dinwiddie stood out in last night’s loss.

The Wolves have some obvious skills gaps on their roster, including defense and three-point shooting. Tonight, it was their lack of three-point shooting that was the most obvious deficit.

Shooting Themselves in the Paws?

A big issue in the Wolves loss was their three-point shooting, or more aptly, lack thereof. The Wolves shot an anemic 1-11 from distance. The Nets made 14 (14-30, 46.7%). The percentage of mid-range and long mid-range field goal attempts taken by the Wolves in this tilt would translate to the 98th or the 99th percentile in the NBA, according to cleaningtheglass.com. The Wolves shot decently from these distances—the 48.3% they shot from the “long mid-range” would put them in the 71st percentile in the league and the 45.7% they shot on “mid-range” attempts would have them in the 72nd percentile.

That’s pretty good on its own, but it is inefficient in comparison with how the Nets played. Kenny Atkinson’s team only took 11 percent of their shots from the long mid-range, again per Cleaning the Glass. At 38 percent of their field-goal attempts from three, the Nets would rank in the 84th percentile in frequency of three-point attempts. They made 44 percent of their treys, which would have them in the 80th percentile leaguewide. This comparison illustrates the disadvantage the Wolves are at in games like these.

This shot chart gets at it as well. You can see a nice linear fit to that precisely estimated fancy regression line I fit to the Wolves’ long mid-range shots. That isn’t going to work in games like this one. As great as Jimmy Butler’s heroics can be, losing games like this will happen from time-to-time, but perhaps not too often. Despite their inefficient shot selection, they played a nice third quarter especially and simply looked a bit gassed after playing a series of games throughout the holidays.

Miscellany

Here are a few random notes to end with.

(Talkin’ about) Practice?

This was an interesting tweet late Wednesday afternoon from Jerry Z. Forgoing shootaround in the gym to do work in hotel ballrooms doesn’t exactly sound like a Thibs thing. Something to keep an eye on, as people are still paying close attention to the big minutes he’s playing our starters.

Does Belly (Really) Suck?

Nemanja Bjelica continued his string of poor games since returning from his foot injury. Tonight Belly had zeroes across the board in 12:30 of playing time. (Eds. Note: For those who’re counting, Bjelica did record one personal foul, so not a true oh-fer.)

As bad as the numbers is the way he’s playing. We aren’t seeing the aggressive playmaker/scorer and confident three-point shooter we saw at the beginning of the season. We’re seeing the mopey, despondent-looking Belly we saw most of last season.

With a bench as thin as the current Wolves second-unit, patience with Belly is starting to wear thin.

Britt Robson upped the ante on Bjelly.

Jahlil Okafor Sighting

The Wolves almost took Okafor over KAT. But somehow, the correct choice was made. Okafor is washed. KAT is destined to win an MVP someday. Not that long ago, KAT vs. Okafor was a thing.

James Herbert reminded us of that in a tweet that brimmed with enthusiasm.

Jah did manage to get him self into the game. He played 11 minutes and scored 2 points. (YAWN ALERT!)

Skyus Jones Dunks

TYUS JONES DUNK! (!!)

This one-liner feels like sufficient appreciation of a dunk I didn’t know the little fella could execute. Jones unleashed a truly filthy dunk in transition in the middle of the third quarter.

Witness:

Injury Watch

It was a fairly physical game, and both Dieng and Jones (lip) got a bit banged up. Both injuries appeared minor, but let’s hope neither is anything serious.

Outro

The Wolves will hopefully build on this loss. They won’t have much time to reflect—their next game is tomorrow night at Boston. It will be televised nationally on ESPN at 7 P.M. Eastern/6 P.M. Central. And since I can’t mention a game against a Kyrie Irving team without including a gratuitous “Kyrie handles” video, here you go. You’re welcome. 😉

 

 

 

Till then, here’s a Brooklyn classic to pregame to.

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5 thoughts on “Brooklyn 98, Timberwolves 97: Sometimes You Lose

  1. I only caught the 4th quarter, but I don’t think the Wolves have looked worse all year. Everytime they brought the ball up on offense, it was slow and grimacing. It looked as if the players were not looking forward to running the offense and were dragging their feet to get there. It’s such a slow burn/hardworking offense that doesn’t pay off with good shots or good ball movement. We didn’t have any fast pace basketball at all in the 4th. This offense is just an absolute mess if it’s not working. We have a top 5 offense but that doesn’t seem like a sustainable thing with the way we run it. Thibs fingerprints are all over this loss tonight and especially the offense. He’s got a roster FULL of athletic and talented players. The fact that he’s not capitalizing on that should pour fuel on the fire for him to be removed from coaching this team. We don’t take enough 3’s which is killing us. You’re going to lose a lot of games when you make 1 3 the whole game and the other team makes 14.

    We held them to under 100 tonight, but there were a lot of lapses down the stretch that killed us. KAT is probably the dumbest defensive switcher in the league. He left his guy open at the 3 point line countless times while providing helpside defense for Butler. Butler doesn’t need any help defense. Towns needs to learn to stay on his man. This team relies on switching too much and there’s often confusion or a missed switch and someone’s getting an open 3. Thibs needs to change his structure to match his players talents and maximize them. He has not done that and it ticks me off more and more every game.

    Also, everytime I hear Thibs yell through the TV screen, I want to punch him in the face. Let your players play basketball. It’s hard to play when you have someone yelling in your ear the whole game.

    Also, did anyone catch Thibs pretending to play defense on Dimwiddie’s last shot? He was in a defensive stance and moving around as if he were actually defending on the court. That made me laugh out loud. It’s like he was playing defense for Gibson or Butler, whoever was guarding him.

    I’m very much against Towns and Butler playing the entire 4th quarter. You need those guys to be as fresh as possible in crunch time.

    I get it. A loss is a loss. They happen every once in a while. We’ll drop one to a bad team. But it’s games like tonight that just show how bad this team can really be and how easily we can be exposed. We are not a feared team. Teams don’t fear us like they do the Thunder, Warriors, Rockets, Spurs, Celtics, Cavs. We are firmly one of those bad good teams.

    Bad losses like this can be good though to help you realize that you can be beaten by anyone. I think the Wolves will come out ready to play against the Celtics and beat them and get their first legit win of the season. Our best win right now I guess would either be against a depleted San Antonio or the Thunder that were still figuring themselves out.

    1. Towns left his man that open cuz was part of the strategy.. The man was a terrible shooter and they wanted him to shoot, If i remember he didn’t score any

  2. Tyyyyusss dunk!

    We should beat this team. But games like this don’t bother me like they used to. Part of it is that I just feel less invested in this group of guys. And maybe I just don’t know how to not be an underdog. I think what made me the most angry about this loss is that Tyus and Jimmy played really hard and deserved to win. But no one else really did. Another thing about losses like this, why they don’t get under my skin, is that I expect them. This is not simply training from being a Wolves fan, but when I look at this team, I see a lot of flaws. We are starting to improve a few of the flaws in tiny baby steps. Overall, though, we are lucky to have the record we do and that we have not dropped more games like this one. We are vulnerable in ways I think our record covers.

    Tyus has been doing well. He pushes pace more and doesn’t waste the whole shot clock on nothing. However, he’s not a a magician. I get the feeling that under the best circumstances, Tyus wouldn’t stack up the easy box line that Teague almost seems to fall into. Our offense can look like a dying dinosaur and Teague gets 10 assists. We can look like suddenly D’Antoni is our coach and Tyus will get 4 assists. Stats can be really odd. But they can also be instructive. A fairly consistent worry is our lack of team assist numbers this season. And whether Tyus or Teague is the starting PG, whether Jimmy is dishing like a PG or more worried about scoring, we fall behind other teams in the assist category often. This has reverberations beyond simply having a few less shots going in directly after passes. But mostly it is a symptom of the poor offensive style we run. The issue was cartoonish in this one: we had 10 team assists (!) to 22 from Brooklyn. That’s kinda nuts.

    Patrick did a great job of talking about the three point issues. I like his chart: BAD, GOOD, ha! This is another constant, looming issue for this team, covered by wins and a good lookin’ offensive rating. But it leaves us vulnerable every night. We are in danger of getting outgunned from 3 by even the sisters of the poor of the league. Now, part of this is how we are built. We are a team of not very good three point shooters. And our main guys on offense bring issues to this—neither Butler nor Wiggins is a consistently good 3 point shooter, and Towns is an unconventional 3 point shooter in that he’s big and has to go out of positions (so to speak) and play a kind of stationary game to get his three point looks (as opposed to guards more actively finding their looks off the dribble etc.) We lack a pure specialist. Even Crawford is a streaky gunner type, not a super consistent 3 and D kinda guy. Even so, we have to take and make a certain amount of threes to compete and win, even as we might have other advantages over opponents. Generally, we can do this, though our 3 pt personnel is a large oversight when putting this roster together. That said, there is really no excuse for going 1-11 from 3 as an opponent went 14-30. How hard is it to call a TO and tell your team to take more threes and less long twos and if they say ‘how?’ run some plays for them to get looks? Seems easy. I didn’t see an effort to rectify this crazy discrepancy.

    Another weakness of this team is a mix of bad D (in relation to opponent fg%) and us taking too many bad, difficult and inefficient shots (this is tied to the 3 point issue, as 3’s are a fairly efficient shot we miss out on). Long twos are another famous contributing factor. The chart above looks like a cartoon drawn to exaggerate this concept, but it’s just the game shot chart. At this point I have to add that Butler actually is a contributor to this issue. He plays hard, scores a lot, is clutch, is a leader, is a tough smart defender. I loved that big rebound he had in this one. But behind all the praise is the hidden fact that he contributes to our weak style of offense. He takes a lot of long, contested twos, often when we could really use a bucket (and maybe an easier one). In this one he shot a pretty gross 41%. This is bad because he finished fairly well when he was close to the rim and shot only 2 threes (no makes). Covering up his true lack of elite scoring ability is his relentless march to the free throw line. In this game you might glance and think he dominated with 30 points on 17 shots, but this is mainly due to his 18 free throws (!). Otherwise it was an inefficient outing on offense. Jimmy attacks the basket and gets to the line (efficient) but otherwise has a fairly inefficient style on offense. Wiggins channeled Jimmy a bit in this one, taking it to the hole a lot. However, he did not channel Jimmy in that he took zero free throws. He continues to ballet dance through the paint (pirouette if possible). No power, no planting. Lots of arming and finger roll. He doesn’t use his vertical athleticism well at all, and at this point I don’t think he ever will. It is crazy annoying to me and does keep him from getting Butler calls and Butler finishes.

    I don’t think Bjelly sucks, but he’s just so easy to throw off his game and takes so long to get sorted out and confident. We don’t have the time it takes. We can’t wait on him for weeks every time something knocks him off his game. So I’m not sure he has much of a future. He isn’t getting better at getting on track.

    I was anti Okafor and beyond his ‘unmodern’ qualities his recent history and appearance tonight show why. He’s a loser (or at least not a winner). He doesn’t have a grown up NBA mentality at all. He makes Wiggins look like a tough, focused NBA guy. Okafor might be headed to China someday if he doesn’t turn it around.

    Is Brad Stevens THAT much of a genius? We’ll soon find out…

  3. Most unexpected loss this year. I thought they had stopped overlooking bad opponents and then they go out and lay this turd. Once again, KAT was rarely down low, which if Taj is hot I get, but it was definitely his worse game, so when you are playing undersized bigs, KAT should be posting up and going for 50. Or getting double teamed and hitting cutters or wide open teammates around the arc. Did not happen.

    Effort was condescendingly low, they were expecting this Nets team to roll over for them, so I found myself rooting for the Nets because they deserved to win. They don’t normally shoot well, but last night they got wide open threes and made them. If the wolves would force teams to shoot twos (why leave an open three to help defend a two is beyond me.) they would have blown out the Nets. They got guys in foul trouble, but didn’t go attack them. With six minutes left, the wolves were in the bonus and didn’t get to the FT line until under two minutes when Tyus got socked in the mouth. That is unprofessional and it is going to probably cost them because now they play the Celtics which will probably be a blowout loss, then have a tough home stand. You guys have been harping about the schedule getting tougher and tonight it does. If the Wolves were a stock, it would be time to sell.

    As for Bellycose, I couldn’t believe how inept he looked. It was like playground ball and the only guy you could get to fill out your team was the chess team captain. It was four on five when he was in there. I know Baz is toast to Thibs, but how could he not give you more than that stiff provided? Here is another game that will need an unexpected win to offset.

  4. I’m still sick of Bjellycose. He was good at the start of the season because he hit three pointers. Now, he is trying to drive to the basket, which is good once you hit three pointers, but only adds to the lanes getting clogged for KAT and Taj when you don’t. In Brooklyn, it got so bad, that Butler sees him open for a three and still passes to another player that was guarded. I think it was Wiggins, who promptly shot one of his long miss twos. If you are supposed to be the team sniper and your leader doesn’t trust you to do your job, you aren’t worth much.

    In a game where you only hit one three pointer as a TEAM, you needed Nemanje to step up and at least try to get a three point stroke going. As much time as he was in the game, you could see that Thibs was hoping he would at least hoist up a couple of them, but no luck. During one time out, after Bjelly was completely useless defensively and I think threw the ball away, Thibs lowered the boom on Bjelly and that was the end of that experiment for the night.

    As much as I believe Thibs needs to look in the mirror when it comes to his shooting woes and lack of bench, this was a win-able game if Bjelly could have hit a couple of threes. Wiggins gets hot once in a while, as does Crawford, but Bjelly and Teague were supposed to be guys that gave us a little spacing with their three point shooting. Teague or Bjelly has been hurt since early in the season and so we haven’t had that stretch where we could have both of them spacing the floor for Jimmy, Wiggins, Crawford and KAT to go into the lane where they operate best. The team was hoping that Bjelly would be past the “deer in the headlights” part of his career and start playing like a NBA professional. No one is expecting him to be a complete player, and yet it seems like he has no clear understanding of what his role is. He needs to think like Fred Hoiberg and focus solely on hitting three pointers OR we should get rid of him and trade him for a guy that does play like that.

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