The Super Bowl is taking over Minneapolis. Technically, it set up shop last weekend and has controlled Nicollet Mall all week, but today was the first day that — as someone who lives and works in the area — it felt like the Super Bowl was really in our face. This held true at Target Center on Thursday night, when big football names such as Orlando Pace, Antonio Brown, and Bill Belichick could be seen courtside, taking in the Wolves-Bucks game. Brown is friends with Jimmy Butler and Belichick is friends with Thibs. That they and the rest of the team came out and crushed a quality Bucks team that was riding a 4-game winning streak suggests that any distraction caused by celebrity-friend fans was channeled positively.
For the Wolves, the best offensive basketball was played by Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns. When those two are on their games, this team will not lose often. Butler led the team with 28 points on 8-15 shooting to go along with 4 rebounds and 6 assists.
Early on, a Bucks reserve named Sterling Brown did this:
Sterling Brown threw it DOWN! 🔨 pic.twitter.com/9c9s3DXMiL
— NBA TV (@NBATV) February 2, 2018
Butler did not forget that taunting later in the game, when he followed some of his own highlights with woofing in Brown’s general direction. It seems like Butler is always willing to engage in trash talk, but he prefers to let his opponent start it before he finishes it on his terms. (This happened earlier this season when Jamal Murray of the Nuggets got to talking before losing to Butler heroics in overtime.)
Towns was great in this game as well, scoring 24 points on 10-13 shooting. He pulled down 11 rebounds and dished 3 assists. A recent source of Wolves-fan angst is KAT’s lack of shots and the lack of plays specifically run for him to get the ball in the post. I really can’t make myself care about this issue because I love the action that has the ball moving and the wing players slashing to the rim with KAT roaming around looking for offensive rebounds. In today’s NBA, a lot of shot clock can go to waste while trying to force the ball in the post. The Wolves do this frequently. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. On this team with so many scorers, however, I tend to prefer that they focus less on isolated matchups and more on attacking where the gaps and seams are. When Towns is locked into his rebounding and defense, he’s at his best.
During that Raptors game, I charted KAT’s “offensive rating” in individual games versus his number of field goal attempts per minute played in those games. The blob of dots does not seem to show any meaningful correlation, for whatever that’s worth. I don’t think it’s clear that “more KAT shots” = “better Wolves offense.” If any statisticians out there are reading this and interpret the blob differently, feel free to weigh in:
okay I did it. pic.twitter.com/eUHJ4FMyl6
— Punch-Drunk Wolves (@PDWolves) January 31, 2018
I tweet half-jokingly that the best post feed for KAT is a missed shot, but it isn’t really a joke. A big chunk of the Wolves offensive greatness (now 3rd in the NBA in offensive efficiency) is the continuous threat of offensive rebounds and second-chance points. Start fretting about the number of shots KAT takes when the offensive performance starts to slide. Until then, his role seems to be pretty great as far as I can tell. I just wish he’d shoot an additional three-pointer or two per game. He was 1-2 from downtown in this game and his hitting slightly higher than 40 percent of his attempts this year.
The Bucks struggled offensively in this game, as their 89-point outfit suggests. They were without Eric Bledsoe and then lost Malcolm Brogdon to a possibly-terrible knee injury in the first half. Giannis looked unbelievably imposing whenever guarded by… well, anyone, but he was contained to just 17 points, 15 rebounds, and 6 assists. Butler and Taj Gibson shared the load of that responsibility and each did admirable work to keep the Greek Freak in check. Off the ball, Andrew Wiggins played an outstanding defensive game, deflecting and stealing (3) a number of balls throughout the game. Thibs went out of his way to praise Wig’s performance after the game.
Thibs was open about his Patriots fandom after the game, admitting that he cheers them on while watching all of their games. He talked about growing up in New England and never thinking that Patriots could win a Super Bowl. He contrasted his experience with his nephews’, who expect a title every single season.
The hope here is that he can transform this basketball franchise a fraction of how his friend changed the Pats. Tonight’s win upped the Wolves record to 33-22 for a clean .600 winning percentage.
They host the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night in a game that promises to host an even more star-studded audience of spectators.