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Cavs 140, Wolves 138: A Three-Point Explosion Spoiled

The Cavs beat the Wolves in overtime, in an action-packed, three-pointer heavy, devoid-of-defense affair that unfortunately ended like this:

Before LeBron broke the 138-138 tie, lots of stuff happened. Lots of “stuff” is required for teams to combine for 276 points.

From the outset of the game, nobody was playing defense. Facing the worst defensive team in the league, which also has the most tumultuous locker room at the moment, the Timberwolves decided to play down to their competition. This meant JR Smith was able to get hot from three in the first half and Kyle Korver was able to get hot from three in the second half. It meant role players like Jeff Green had wide open dunks. It meant that the Wolves threw away one of their best shooting performances… ever? and lost to a team that played (and lost by 18 to Orlando!) the night before the game when the Wolves were on extended rest.

This primetime game on ESPN was great for fans looking for excitement. It was also a pretty bad Timberwolves performance.

What went right?  The Wolves did score 138 points, after all.

They shot 58.1 percent as a team. More significantly (and definitely more UNUSUALLY) they were 19-33 from three-point range. Wiggins (19 points) was 4-8 from three. KAT was 6 for 6! Butler was 4 for 5. Teague was 2 for 4. Jamal was 2 for 5. Shots were going in.

Jimmy Butler was the star for the Wolves and he was the most frustrating player on the game’s key possessions. He had 35 points on 14-21 shooting to go along with 5 rebounds and 6 assists. He guarded LeBron better than anyone else. However, it seemed like every time Jimmy would do something great in the overtimes, he would then take it upon himself to dominate the ball for the next, entire possession, and throw away every opportunity for a dagger basket. His alpha dog leadership sometimes morphs into raw selfishness, and that’s what we saw at key times in the game. Most notably, and embarrassingly, was this shot — one that should’ve been the last shot either team took in the overtime:

Jimmy’s a great player, one of the best 10 or 15 in the entire league. But he’s also an imperfect one and his false sense of offensive superpowers can be hard to watch. Put simply, with better decisionmaking from Butler in the overtimes, the Wolves probably win this game. Also: without Butler in the game, the Wolves would’ve lost by double digits.

A few bullets to bring this home:

  • Hubie Brown called tonight’s game on ESPN. The former Kentucky Colonels coach was probably having ABA flashbacks when watching each team run down the floor and score easily.

  • This was a classic Jamal Crawford game. He shot the ball frequently, he shot the ball well, and the horrific defense played with him on the floor meant that all of that good shooting led to the team being outscored by 12 in his 20 minutes of action. In this Wolves team’s regular rotation, Jamal is the weakest link.

  • Bjelica was involved in some of the uglier defensive breakdowns. He was (-6) in 17 minutes of action. When LeBron was on the bench the Cavs outscored the Wolves by 3 points. The Wolves benched failed them in this game.

  • Oh, one more thing about LeBron: He had 37 points, 15 assists, and 10 rebounds. I guess that’s 62 things.

  • KAT had 30 points and 10 rebounds. He had just 12 shots. If you’re one of the “KAT should shoot more!” zealots, you hate the 12 shots. If you’re in my camp — the one where we’re not sure if more KAT shots = more Timberwolves points (I mean, they scored 138 in this game!) you’re less worked up. Either way, he played a great offensive game. His threes from the top of the key are wonderful and he needs to keep trying those, whatever else the offense does around him.

  • With this loss, the Wolves fall to 34-23. They have an easy upcoming schedule, but strength of their opponent has not seemed to matter much to this team, this year. Who knows what comes next.

[An earlier version of this post said the game went to double overtime. It did not. That was an error — “fake news” if you will.]

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9 thoughts on “Cavs 140, Wolves 138: A Three-Point Explosion Spoiled

  1. I’ll just comment on what I was able to catch tonight. The 4th quarter and OT.

    -That was one heck of an exciting/frustrating game. Lots of O, no D.

    – KAT is an amazing talent. He can literally score from everywhere. I don’t think he touched the ball or shot the ball in OT which was extremely frustrating. How do you not feed a guy that is 10-12 and 6-6 from 3 in clutch offensive situations? Poor ball movement by Butler and just a terrible offensive philosophy from Thibs to have Jimmy play hero ball every OT possession. I don’t think KAT even touched the ball on an offensive possession in OT. Just doesn’t make sense.

    – Agree with you on Butler being selfish in clutch offensive situations. It’s so predictable what’s going to happen. He missed Wiggins for a wide open jump shot that could’ve made it a 2 possession game with under a minute left. I also saw the Lebron block coming from a mile away. The problem is Thibs lets Jimmy be all alpha dog whenever he wants instead of being a coach and drawing up a good play to get an open shot for one of the Big 3. Every guy out on our last offensive possession is a threat to score, yet Thibs and Butler don’t take advantage of that. That’s a huge problem. I would be ok with Wiggins, Towns, Butler, or Crawford taking the last shot. How is that not being utilized? Bad coaching and selfish playing by Butler.

    – The defense we employed on the Lebron buzzer beater made no sense. Why were Gibson and Teague playing tight man to man on Cavs players that were on the opposite 3 point line? How is there not a double team on Lebron when he’s on the flipping free throw line or at least some help close by? Jimmy is a great defender, but use some common sense Thibs. I’d much rather allow a wide open 3/4 court shot than Lebron one on one from the free throw line. I don’t care who’s guarding him. He’s the best player in the league. You have to double team him in that situation. Bad coaching. Lebron did get away with a bit of a push though.

    – I like Wiggins only taking about 12-13 shots a game. He’s more efficient. He had a quiet 19 points but it allowed KAT and Butler to explode who are better offensive players.

    – I guess we just need to give up on this team ever playing good defensive basketball. It’s not happening. 140 points with OT is ridiculous.

    – Wasted our best 3 point effort of the season. Classic Wolves.

    – Belly is garbage. Trade him.

    – The Cavs were desperate for this win tonight. They needed it badly. But, this is a game we should’ve won. They have no Kevin Love. Besides Love, the only thing different tonight lineup wise was Jeff Teague starting. Yep, I’m really blaming it on Teague tonight for our team allowing 140 points. I’m not saying it’s all soley his fault and he allowed every point. But when he is starting, our defense plummets and he is a liability. If Tyus is starting tonight, we win this game by double digits.

  2. Unlike DemBluez, I watched the whole game and was happy, we hit threes and tied the game when we should have lost in regulation, but I hated the amazing lack of defense, the below average officiating and inability to close out up 5 in OT. The worst was our game plan from Thibs on the last :01. I can’t believe he allowed LeBron to sit at the FT line with a single player (even if it is Butler) behind him. Why wouldn’t he front him with KAT and Jimmy behind and have anyone else try to beat us? It was stupid coaching. You had two guys pulled away from half court when one could have covered both. If they make a half court or longer shot to beat you without LeBron touching the ball, so be it. Why guard the inbound player when he has no chance of getting a re-pass? Any HS coach could have designed a better play than that. Also, you converge on the ball like a Hail Mary with the other two defenders in the area because LeBron should not get a shot in that situation and with one second, they don’t have time to make another pass.

    Thibs has the talent, but he will be the anchor around the teams neck in the playoffs.

  3. What the hell was THAT!?

    Even though Dembluez only saw the end of the game I really like what he has to say tonight. More on that in a minute…

    I just have to go off here for a second.. my apologies. Come on, zealots!? I mean, if you are going to argue against people who think Towns should get more shots at least come up with a counterargument. ‘We score a lot so it doesn’t matter if Towns takes shots or not’ isn’t really an argument for why it’s not important. Just in the most basic sense, the dude had 30 points on 12 shots! That’s nuts! He was 6 of 6 from three, 83% from the field! But lets have him take the same amount of shots as Jeff Teague. Yes, I actually do think if KAT gets more shots we score even more points on average than we do now. And most points scored in a game wins! But there are other reasons. One is efficiency. He’s our most efficient player, so more shots by him means more or the same amount of points with less misses. It also means working less hard for our points as a team in games. We have a lot of talent and should spread it around, but having a guy who is shooting 54% and 41% from 3 and who can get high percent shots in the post as well as put backs of his own misses is an advantage any remotely smart team would take full advantage of. (For comp, Butler is 47% and 36%) Not sure 12 shots is ‘full advantage’ from this All Star. A few more shots for KAT also helps make us more unpredictable in crunch time. It helps keep KAT happy as well. He was amazing in this game with only 12 shots, so we don’t need to feed him to keep his interest, as it the case with Wiggins at times. But he’s an All Star, a guy getting attention around the league. He looks at himself as a Giannas, Anthony Davis, Porzingis, type young star. If we don’t treat him like that, it’s going to be harder to sign him long term. Also, if KAT was fed more, shooting similar %’s but getting more PPG due to more usage, other teams would fear him more (although not necessarily able to stop him) which would open up our offense more and create more ideal spacing, as for 3’s. It’s more complex than simply trying to score more points, although that’s a good goal. I’ve yet to hear a good counter against more shots for KAT beyond ‘No biggie!’ and ‘We already score lots!’ Uhhhhh…

    OK, sorry. Certain things just drive me out-of-proportion nuts …

    I hate to spend so much effort on the KAT attempts thing (which is kind of stupid, I mean we have an All Star who is shooting 54% from the field who is taking 13.7 attempts per game–Wiggins gets 15.9) when our D is just bizarrely ineffective. Now, it would be easy to write this game off as a standalone, no D, shootout, which it was. It was zany. But, I can’t totally, because we’ve had a season long problem letting teams shoot the three well against us. Most of the best teams focus on 3’s and at the rim shots, and that’s just what we happen to be terrible at defending. Cleveland is hardly the, sleek, modern 3 ‘n’ dunk type team even though they do take a lot of threes. But we made them look close to a 3 ‘n’ dunk team because of our strange weaknesses. Honestly, this game took me off guard, but this kind of affair against these two teams isn’t too hard to predict (although maybe not to this cartoonish degree). Both teams are bad at D, but have offensive weapons. We have to get better at this. We can blame personnel, and that is fair to a degree, (Teague!) but when you have such important, and specific defensive issues–allowing tons of threes at great % and lots of points in the paint, with zero improvement over a long stretch, I begin to suspect coaching and sets as a factor.

    Andy is right to critique the often put on a pedestal Jimmy Butler. We were playing against the greatest player of our time in this one, LeBron, and he went all Finals on us. The phrase ‘poor man’s LeBron’ kept echoing in my head about Jimmy. Really just to be compared in any serious way to LeBron is a huge compliment. Jimmy, like LBJ brings so much to help his team. Leadership, go-to on offense, D, passing, rebounding… and energy. While the rest of the Cavs have been looking pretty lethargic, James has continued to play intense. They have a lot in common. But Jimmy is just going on so much less talent, both physical and skill-wise. Being aware of limitations is important. That’s one of Jimmy’s few weaknesses. He wants to be toe to toe with LeBron, but that’s not necessarily good for the team.

    Andy also makes a good point about Crawford. I’m through the looking glass with him. I’ve never been a fan, but when he came here it was cool to get that live wire scorer, maker of difficult shots. It was impressive, something we don’t get up here. But behind that flash and professionalism is a player who rarely is not hurting the team when he’s out there. He was a team high -12 out there. We get a small upgrade on that, we win this and other games. (hint hint Thursday!)

    Bluez brings up end of game coaching, and that seemed to bite us again. “Jimmy just go out there and throw up a shot” isn’t really coaching in this situation, in the traditional sense… Again, this is a consistent problem not just a tonight thing. And in general, our predictability as a team is a disadvantage, one that crops up strongest at the most important moments. I’m no coach myself, so I’m not sure how to better set up the D on that last second James shot in overtime, but I’m convinced there is a way. That was too easy for too good a look.

    Wiggins had a quiet game, but I like it that way. He scored, made some important shots, hit threes, didn’t hog the ball. This kind of solid 3rd banana (hopefully with better D someday) is what I hope for from the guy. It makes us a dangerous team. And he can go off and have a big game at any time. But we need not expect it. We should expect games like this one from him.

    Man, Thomas on the Cavs isn’t a good look. This team is in trouble. We’ll we kinda played the same, so are we, too? The difference is that people only expect us to break our playoff drought, while the Cavs are supposed to be a finals team. They also have the best player, which means they can be a sleeping giant in a way we aren’t. But their write in Eastern Conference Champ days may be over.

    1. Agreed. I don’t understand how you don’t want Towns taking more shots or are ok with him just taking 12. He takes and creates more higher percentage shots than anyone on the team. He’s the team’s best 3 point shooter. He’s a beast in the post. He’s almost unguardable. Yet you guys are ok with Teague taking contested floaters and bad fadeaways. Makes no sense at all. If Teague took more 3s and was better at it, I wouldn’t be as upset. But he doesn’t and takes bad shots more often than not.

      Also, if Teague isn’t starting, Towns gets more shots because Tyus Jones knows how to run an offense as a point guard. Also, our defense improves. A LOT.

      I’m not a coach either, but I definitely know enough that you don’t play Lebron 1 on 1 on the free throw line nor play tight man to man on guys that are on the opposing 3 point line.

  4. Forgot to add this: Though this game was an outlier, it may be important to us. We hit a ton of threes. We aren’t going to be able to replicate this. However, it shows this group can hit threes more than Thibs would have us believe, if given good looks. In this case, we got good looks because Cleveland is bad defensively (it didn’t hurt that we were on crazy fire). But in theory, we can do better at generating more decent 3 looks even against better defensive teams than the Cavs. This needs to be a focus going forward. But this game gives us hope in this regard. We need to cut the 3 differential and we have to do it mostly with this personnel for the near future. There aren’t minutes to give a shooter unless we get someone who would challenge Crawford for minutes on Thurs. But even a move like that would be minor. The mass of our minutes are set with guys who aren’t great 3 point shooters (excepting maybe KAT) but who can hit some. We have to work on getting more of their 3 pt potential out, or face post season embarrassment. Our margin for error is very narrow due to our broken D.

  5. Pyrrol: It would be good to have more balance between twos and threes. It would also be better if KAT didn’t get in foul trouble against star teams and could add even more offense and rebounding early. He needs to recognize that he is getting no love from the refs and stop berating them on the floor. He got hacked three times with no call, but he gets a wimpy call for trying to wall off LeBron. A flagrant one for Teague, but not for the rookie who hits Teague in the face? We hit threes last night, but what we didn’t get was foul shots. Twelve for us is almost impossible. given how much we drive to the basket and play ISO ball, but the Cavs got 23? They barely shot 60% from the line, but made more than we got to shoot. Come on NBA, when is this favoritism for certain players going to end? I’m not talking about LeBron, who gets Jordan treatment most nights, but guys like JR Smith and Tristan Thompson. Why do they get preferential treatment over Wiggins and KAT?

    Lastly, this team, most nights outscores the opposition starters, but loses to the bench. Tonight was about the same. Guys that have been below average shooting from behind the arc, got really healthy against us. If shooting a high percentage of threes comes with very little movement on offense, terrible defense and no FT shooting, I’d rather stick to playing for old fashioned three point plays.

    Why isn’t anyone calling out Thibs for setting up a defense that allows James to catch and shoot from the FT line area? I’m sure the Cavs were shocked to see LBJ open for a shot. I wonder what they really had for a play, since I’m sure they assumed we would try to take King James away?

  6. Dear lord, Thibs. Not a good look, dude.

    On the other hand, good for Cleveland for having the courage to dump IT for good return.

  7. Wolves will try to claim Joakim Noah if he gets waived and bought out. This is quite the reunion tour. Thibs, come on man. This is why you don’t let a coach be POBO unless he’s won multiple titles and knows what he’s doing.

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