Game Analysis

Timberwolves 111, Nets 97: Not Yet Tired of Winning

The Wolves got back to their winning ways on Saturday night in Minneapolis, defeating the Brooklyn Nets 111-97 in a game that was never really close.

After losing two straight to Portland and Golden State, the big news before Saturday night’s game was that Jimmy Butler was going to come back from a knee injury that had sidelined him for the previous four games. Butler came back and looked like his old self. And, equally importantly, the Wolves immediately looked like the top-5-ish in the league team they have been this season, albeit against a shorthanded Nets team that was missing its best player, DeAngelo Russell, as well as another starter, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

The Wolves got off to a huge start, winning the first quarter 30-11. The Wolves then lost the second quarter 31-24 and gave up some unacceptably easy buckets. The Nets made a couple of runs in the third, at one point cutting the game to five, but ultimately came up short. During each Brooklyn run, the Wolves countered by making a big shot or two that put the Nets on their heels, which was ultimately enough to secure a double-digit victory.

Jimmy Butler played 35 minutes in his return, putting up 21/6/5/2 and a +10 in the boxscore. He made the right plays, getting easy shots for teammates like Taj Gibson and getting himself to the line 14 times on a night (Butler converted 12) when he shot only 4-14 from the field.

Taj Gibson was solid as usual. He took what the defense gave him, including a bunch of lazy jumpers in the midrange that he easily makes. He also made his usual hustle plays and continues to demonstrate his value as a lunch-pail guy and rock in the Wolves starting lineup.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 16 and 19. He played like an All-Star in this one, coming up with big plays when it mattered. It is amazing how much more poised, and therefore effective, KAT looks now than he did in the first six weeks of the season.

The Wolves bench played well too. Jamal Crawford scored 16 points and Tyus Jones added 13, as the Wolves were able to push the ball and give the Nets some looks that were different from the ones they saw when Jeff Teague was running the offense. Teague was one of the few drags on the Timberwolves in Saturday night’s game. He scored just 2 points in a quiet 24 minutes. The team’s ceiling with him running the point remains a question mark.

Miscellany

JAH OKAFOR SIGHTING!: Former number-three overall draft pick and rival of Karl Towns and current journeyman Jahlil Okafor managed to get on the court for Brooklyn. He was a non-factor in the game despite putting up 21 points. But man, does Okafor have an arsenal of polished post moves. He can still help a team if put in the right situation in a system like San Antonio’s or Golden State’s.

Kenny Atkinson needed to be gone: Nets coach Kenny Atkinson looks like a troubled man. Like a man who believes his job security is in question. Like a man whose excessive sweating and palpitations on the sidelines belie the cool demeanor his slick duds and haircut suggest at first glance. Midway through the 4th quarter, Atkinson lost his shit and got a quick EJECTION whilst being held back as he tried to get into the ref’s face directly. I didn’t get a good look at what happened, but the moral of the story is that Atkinson had the look of a ticking time bomb. Sure enough, it exploded.

The Wolves next game is on Monday at Atlanta. We’ll see if they can give Atkinson’s mentor, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, the same kind of fits they gave Kenny tonight.

Till then.

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14 thoughts on “Timberwolves 111, Nets 97: Not Yet Tired of Winning

  1. The Wolves took care of business. It felt like we were GS toying with us the other night, but this time we were doing it to Brooklyn. I guess that’s a nice feeling. Doesn’t result in the most exciting game, though. Sometimes the Nets got within 8 or so, but we just sort of let them and then proceeded to step on their neck. Honestly, that’s what we should do to this team. Not to sound dismissive, but how do you even gauge meaning from playing a roster like this? I don’t mean to be cruel–those guys played hard and have some talent and skill to get to the NBA. But their starters were Spencer Dinwiddle, Allen Crabbe, Tyler Zeller, Quincy Acy, and DeMare Carroll (!) with such bench juggernauts as Jarrett Allen, Nick Stauskus and of course Okafor. It’s amazing that an NBA team is currently fielding a roster like this.

    Great to have Jimmy back. He looked healthy out there, and not rusty, though his shot isn’t there yet.

    Why do people always say (esp Jim Pete) what a great human Jamal Crawford is? I mean, he seems like a good guy, but aren’t there other good guys on the team? Jimmy seems like a great guy, and so does Towns…

    I was sort of in and out during this one. Why did Tyus play so many minutes? I like, I like! But I was wondering if there was a hidden reason I missed. He only played on minute less than Teague and soundly outplayed him.

    It would be fun if Okafor could get back on track a bit. He showed what he can do in this game. Funny as it might sound, he reminds me a bit or Wiggins. Okafor is a bit more of a… malcontent, but like Wiggins he doesn’t act super motivated most of the time. The on court work ethic and intensity isn’t there with either. Wiggins is getting a little better, and maybe Okafor can too. Wiggins also was coddled much more by his team. The 76ers didn’t have time or need to spend a lot of time trying to coax Okafor. It was easier to trade him, and probably good for the locker room at some point.

    Favorite Benz line ever: “He shot that one from Mankato!”

    Decent minutes balance, though I’d like to see Hunt get more in a game like this just for practice. Pretty good shot mix, though to nitpick, I don’t think Wiggins should often lead the team in fg attempts and he seems to every night lately (and again tonight).

    We completely steamrolled Brooklyn with our talent. Lost in that is some hidden red flags. We shot 44% but Brooklyn actually shot 46%. We are still allowing teams to score with too much ease. Also, as I’ve discussed at length, we don’t take enough threes, and we need to improve our 3 pt %. We were only 4 of 21 (3 of those were Crawford) to the Nets’ 9 or 30. It a game like this, it didn’t mater, but it will soon.

    I can’t remember the last time I saw coach lose it that hard. I felt bad. Usually, when coaches run at a ref and get held back, it’s kinda a pro wrestling thing for show… maybe akin to a baseball manager kicking dirt toward an ump. But Atkinson was legit going to attack that ref if he didn’t get held back by his player. It was strange. I was wondering what set him off. Butler shooting 14 free throws while all of Brooklyn only shot 15 might have has something to do with it. It must be a hard place to coach. The players play hard, but that’s not really an NBA roster at the moment. At least they have a herringbone floor…

    1. @pyrrol: The Nets’ starting unit is something else. When I see those names, it makes me even more thankful for what we’ve got (even if it’s imperfect).

      1. I feel bad for them, but at the same time it makes Kenny look impressive. In the darkest Wolves days we put out some pretty bad rosters and may of them looked worse than this one on the court. And a lot of those Wolves rosters had at least one starting level on a decent team player, such as Al Jefferson.

        1. Kenny has done a good job with that dumpster fire of a roster. You’d think they’d have won maybe 10 games at this point but they’re almost at 20. Good for him.

        2. The Nets’ style of play is inherently threatening, which is why they managed to beat us the previous time we played them. That Atkinson has enough fiber to make a terrible Nets team minimally competitive against teams much more talented than his squad is pretty impressive. It doesn’t tell me that he’s a great coach overall, but that he’s quick to adapt his squad’s play to what works, even when it doesn’t have the most talent with which to do that.

  2. I was shocked that Thibs pulled Teague and let Tyus get a longer run with the starters. I would love to see Teague get more run with second unit and see if Crawford and 0 could be effective together. Of course, we weren’t playing a good team, so I probably shouldn’t hope this is permanent, but it did look like the team ran well with a 50-50 split of minutes for the PG.

    I also liked KAT down low last night. It is where he belongs and why he can be special in this league. Yes, he can shoot from outside, but when he is a beast down low, we are better. I don’t mind Wiggins taking shots as long as they are within the flow of the play. It is that ISO, take the air out of the ball shooting crap that drives me nuts. Young Andrew may never be a great shooter, but if he is getting shots off the motion of the offense, he is a very good player.

    Must win in Atlanta and with the sad injuries the West endured (poor NOLA and OKC) the Wolves should be able to separate themselves from the bottom playoff teams and focus on getting ahead of he Spurs.

    1. @Tom: I’d like to see more of 0 with the second-unit also. Fully agreed re: KAT. To my eye test, he’s picking and choosing his places to spot up (often trailing in secondary transition) and post up on the block a lot better, and it leads to a lot less standing around, bad spacing, and poor ball movement. That’s not to say our offense couldn’t run better–quite the contrary–but Towns, a critical piece, is finally fitting in well. Fingers crossed for a W against ATL.

      1. Agree with you guys on Tyus and Teague. Also, agree with you on KAT. The one thing I would add is that this team is really strapped for 3 point shooting. Sadly, KAT may be our best 3 point shooter, seeing as how Crawford relies on volume so much. So even though I’m a really old school, post up kinda guy and I think KAT is most dangerous down there, I feel that it’s good for KAT to take a certain amount of threes. But I think he can do both–be primarily a post player who now and again switches things up and goes out and takes a three. What gets me is all the possessions he trails the offense and just stands out on the perimeter the whole clock (until someone shoots). I’m skeptical of any possession where he spends most of it on the perimeter. This is because, even when you want a 3 from him, starting him in the post keeps the D guessing and creates opportunities to twist the D out of position. This also keeps him in position for O rebounds, which he’s good at getting and converting. Just standing outside the 3 point line in no way strains the D. The way KAT was used was better in this one, even though he could still use more shots. Hopefully this trend keeps getting better.

  3. Good to have Jimmy back. He’s got to shake off the rust a bit, but he’ll be fine.

    The Wolves are 30th in the league in opponent field goal percentage. Yikes!

    1. If we keep winning at this clip, with the polarizing splits we continue to have, it’ll make for quite a bit of interesting off-season analysis/post-mortem. Even though it doesn’t look like it, we also score extremely efficiently. That’s the abiding feature of the season so far. Yikes indeed.

  4. That is the Achilles heal of this team. It is rarely the case that we play great D, but more often the opponent is cold that night. Especially at the arc. We seem to have a team of long players that are mobile enough to switch and not get burned with a mismatch or allow open threes off pick and roll, yet that is often what happens. Last night, the team was bad, but they did have lots of nice shots that they missed. It is a problem, that Thibs defense was supposed to address. Obviously, it still needs work.

    1. I wonder if going towards a more switch heavy D would help. That takes so much awareness and communication, though. Could we handle it? We also have smallish PG’s who would have trouble with switches. Wiggins is built to switch, move fast and have great length on D, but he’s really not a good defender. When he does switch he gets beat with speed by smaller players so easily and bigger players (close to his height or larger) easily overpower him. KAT is pretty good on switches, at least shows promise. But guys that big always have speed weakness to be exposed in these situations. KAT less than a lot of C’s but it’s still there. Either way, we have to cut down on op fg %, and 3 %.

    2. Good points. We’re improving, but this is going to be something to watch closely all season–it is something we need to improve when building up for next season.

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