The Timberwolves ended 2017 on a dominant note, defeating the Indiana Pacers by 17 points. It was a game that they were expected to win, not only because the Wolves are a better team than the Pacers, but because Indy’s best player (Victor Oladipo) was out with an injury. This Wolves team is unpredictable, however, so nothing can ever be taken for granted. Especially on the road, against a team with a winning record (Indiana was 19-17 entering Sunday’s contest), and playing without starting point guard, Jeff Teague.
Plus-Minus stats pretty much tell the story of how the game went.
The starters rolled in this one. They opened the game on a 17-0 run and led by 10 after the first quarter. The Aaron Brooks-involved second unit looked pretty shaky after that, but they managed to bring an 11-point lead into halftime. From there, the starters put the game away in the third quarter, outscoring the Pacers 38 to 20 and building a huge enough lead to rest for the duration; a nice little perk, knowing that they had another game (at home, today, versus the LA Lakers) in 24 hours.
Karl-Anthony Towns has been playing better defense and smarter offense. Yesterday he had 6 blocks and managed to score 18 points on just 11 shot attempts. He had 13 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals. In the last couple of weeks, Towns has seemed to settle into his role on this team. Adjusting to Butler and a winning context meant a priority shift from offense to defense. And within offense specifically, it meant from shooting to passing — and passing quickly, without holding the ball too long. Month by month this season, KAT’s defense has improved, and December was great offensively as well.
KAT played a tremendous all-around game against the Pacers.
— A Wolf Among Wolves (@AWAWBlog) January 1, 2018
There isn’t a whole lot else to say about an easy win that reinforced a lot of what we already know, or have already discussed on this page. Jimmy Butler is amazing and racked up another big stat line: 26 points, 6 boards, 5 assists, 3 steals, (+31). Taj Gibson is sneaky-good at finishing around the hoop and made 8 of 10 shots. Wiggins continues to struggle a bit with his shooting, but did hit 2 of 4 from downtown (14 points in total) which continues better long-range accuracy of late. Tyus Jones seems to mesh well with the starters. He was (+30) and the starting lineup has never been as dominant as it was yesterday. I wrote more about Tyus yesterday.
And when the starters come off the floor, we just hold our breath. Aaron Brooks is not an NBA-caliber guard, and he doesn’t have any bigtime second unit player to alleviate pressure off of him. Jamal Crawford can get his own buckets, but he isn’t making anyone else’s job easier. Nemanja Bjelica has struggled since returning from his foot injury — he was 2-11 from the field, yesterday. Gorgui Dieng does his job, for the most part, but is what he is — and that is nothing dynamic. In the Pacers game, you could sense that Cory Joseph was trying to dominate the second unit stretches because the opportunity was there for the taking. Joseph had some success — 10 points and 4 assists in 26 minutes — but had a few possessions go awry on him (4 turnovers) and the Wolves bench was able to be not-terrible enough to allow for an easy win when the starters won by 30 points.
This will be the story until Teague returns or until Thibs-Layden, LLC signs another point guard to help out in a crisis.
Another game tonight, this time at home versus the Lakers.
Happy New Year!