April 21, 2018, 5:16 pm
It doesn’t feel quite right that the Wolves have been among the worst offensive teams this postseason, after ranking near the top all season long in most offensive categories. With an offensive rating of just 95.5 (95.5 points per 100 possessions), the Wolves are dead last among the 16 playoff teams.
In the regular season the Wolves’ offensive rating was fourth best at 110.8, per NBA.com. No team had an offensive rating below 100 this season, a feat that’s only happened two other times since they’ve started tracking it in the 90s. Those happened in 2006-07, and last season. Offense is up across the league (shocking, I know) and the Wolves are among the best in the league.
Making things even more perplexing is the Wolves’ defense that’s holding the Rockets to just 103 points per game. The Wolves defensive rating of 103.9 is significantly stronger in the playoffs than it was in the regular season, where their 108.4 mark was 22nd worst in the league.
The Rockets were among the strongest offenses in the NBA this season and a Wolves’ defense that struggled all season long has found a gear we didn’t know they had. Suffice to say the path through this series hasn’t exactly gone to plan, but it has still ended up where most expected to be.
The Rockets carry a 2-0 series lead on the Wolves as the teams head to Minneapolis, a city that’s hosting the first NBA playoff basketball game since 2004. The fans aren’t unaccustomed to playoff basketball, though. The city is still celebrating the deep playoff run from the Minnesota Lynx that resulted in a WNBA Championship, their fourth in the last decade.
Minnesota fans know playoff basketball as the Lynx have made seven consecutive playoff appearances, and they’ll be eager to show the Wolves what they’re expectations are.
The Wolves aren’t nearly ready to compete with the dynastic history of the Lynx just yet, but they’ll look to salvage their series with the Rockets, or at least pull off a victory for the home crowd and send this series back to Houston.
As of now the biggest hurdle is the offense, so for a team that powered through the regular season with a top-four offense it should be a simple turnaround (ideally). Nothing will be that simple, though.
In Game 1 the problem was the Wolves weren’t able to feature Karl-Anthony Towns enough, for a mixture of reasons. The Wolves didn’t adjust much for Game 2, but made a concerted effort to involved Towns more often. Perhaps they focused on him too much and telegraphed their intentions.
The Wolves typically don’t have an offense that flows in any sort of consistent manner. In fact it’s typically disjointed and gets by on pure talent and will, but there is a semblance of a plan there through all of the junk. In Game 2 it seemed the Wolves were too focused on one part of the plan.
The Rockets were forcing the ball away from Jimmy Butler and pushing Towns away from his spots, but took too much time in trying to get them the ball instead of moving on and running a play or a pick-and-roll or some last-second offense. They came out of the first quarter strong with nice set plays, but seemingly lost cause after the Rockets adjusted (or ran out of plays).
After shying away from the things they did so well in the regular season, they tried to force them too much. The truth always lied somewhere in the middle, a balance between the two. Adjusting to the adjustments, while avoiding the desire to over-correct.
The Wolves have also been uncharacteristically sloppy in areas they are normally strong in. Their shots to the rim haven’t been falling, shooting just 57.7 percent (a mark that would rank dead last in the regular season) compared to the 66 percent mark they hit over their first 82 games. They’re also shooting just 36.6 percent in the paint, compared to 44.8 in the regular season.
On top of that, they’re turning the ball over 15 times per game which has led to 15 points per game off of turnovers (compared to just 5.5 points for the Rockets). In the regular season the Wolves were among the best in taking care of the ball, which was necessary to give their defense a chance, but also fueled their offensive success.
Credit is certainly due to the Rockets. They have responded to the Wolves’ every attack with their own counter, and they host a talented (overlooked) defense. The Wolves, and Tom Thibodeau specifically, are notoriously slow to make adjustments, though, and that has to change here in Game 3.
That means getting KAT, who averaged nine shots in the first two games, going on offense, but sticking to the strengths as a team. Attacking the paint and getting to the free throw line. Avoiding the sloppiness that has plagued the team through two games.
Back on the home floor, where the Wolves’ offense in the regular season was even more potent and in front of a full crowd of hyped up fans ready to cheer away 14 years of waiting, the team is seeking for answers on offense. Their best course may be to look back, remember what made them so effective in the regular season. Their offense is what got them to this point, and it’s what will give them a win against Houston.
Jeff Teague – PG
Jimmy Butler – SG
Andrew Wiggins – SF
Taj Gibson – PF
Karl-Anthony Towns – C
Chris Paul – PG
James Harden – SG
Trevor Ariza – SF
P.J. Tucker – PF
Jimmy Butler (wrist) – PROBABLE
Justin Patton (foot) – OUT
Ryan Anderson (ankle) – PROBABLE
Luc Mbah a Moute (shoulder) – OUT
Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN
When: 6:30 CT
How: Fox Sports North and ESPN