April 26, 2018, 1:52 am
No one can say the Wolves just laid over in this series and let the top-seeded Rockets run all over them.
Even in a series that Houston took 4-1, and won three games by double digits, Minnesota certainly gave them a run for their money. If nothing else, they did the Rockets’ next opponent a huge favor by showing them some key vulnerable areas they can take advantage of.
The series went about as expected, though. The Wolves, in some ways, aren’t a typical eighth-seed in the Western Conference, but in other ways are about exactly what you would expect.
Armed with two superstars in Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler, the Wolves have the talent that can matchup with many of the top teams in the NBA. The Wolves have a higher caliber than an eighth-seed, but an injury to Butler and inconsistent play saw them fall significantly in the standings.
Certainly the Wolves showed they could hang in there with the 65-win Rockets, and it was a bit unlucky on both sides that they were pitted against one another, but in the end the Wolves showed they have a number of things to work on before they can be considered one of the big dogs.
In the end it just looked like the Wolves ran out of gas. Andrew Wiggins’ play steadily declined as the series progressed, Butler never once looked healthy and Towns was playing with the deer in the headlights look too often. A lot needed to go right for the Wolves to win this series, and a perfect storm of factors played into their Game 3 win, but other than that, there just wasn’t enough left in the tank.
The Wolves have the talent for a top-four seed, but the execution of a team that is new to the playoff atmosphere. Looking back at the season in it’s entirety, the writing was on the wall all along. While it ended up being a moderately successful year, it was plagued by inconsistency and a lack of distinct growth.
So often the Wolves were able to get by on talent alone. It rarely looked pretty, but some incredible individual talents were able to carry the team for long stretches at a time, and when examining this playoff series the same vibe applies. The Wolves struggled to put together a cohesive gameplan and it ultimately cost them versus a team that stuck to theirs.
Houston took a bit of time to find their groove, but in the end found it when it mattered most with the series on the line. They never backed away from their identity, despite shooting 30 percent from beyond the arc in the first 3.5 games. They stuck to what works for them and it paid off in the end, shooting 43 percent from the arc since the second half of Game 4.
The Wolves still lack that identity. Are they led by gritty, hard nosed Butler? Is Towns the focal point? Where does Wiggins fit? Is the team better off playing big or small, fast or slow?
Unfortunately with this group of players it’s tough to say what approach the team wants to take. The most obvious direction is rolling the dice on former Bulls and seeing which can still contribute, but the future of the Wolves was always tied to Karl-Anthony Towns. Featuring and surrounding him with complementary players to his style should be the key.
Looking back on the predictions for this series, we got two of the six correct. The Rockets came out on top 4-1, and the Wolves were able to snag that third game. Much like the rest of the series, nothing quite went according to the road map.
Butler did not have a triple-double, in fact he didn’t even get a double-double. Towns averaged 15 points and 13 rebounds, in a fairly disappointing series. Harden averaged 29 points, seven assists and nearly five rebounds. Finally, the bench exceeded the minutes by the early stages of Game 3, mostly thanks to Derrick Rose’s stellar play.
Enough looking back, for now it’s about what’s to come. It’s still early in this building process, but the team needs to set a direction and stick to it. They need to establish that particular style of play and build off of it. There were a lot of changes between coming into this season and more change is likely on the horizon as the team prepares for next year.
At this time who knows what they will all be, but everything will be found right here. The basketball season is over for the players, but the NBA never truly sleeps. Expect plenty of Wolves coverage to continue throughout the summer, including draft coverage, salary breakdown, free agency, summer league and everything in between.
Thanks for a great season and be on the lookout for more stories ahead.
April 22, 2019, 12:42 amRussell Westbrook - G - Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook went 5-for-21 from the field to finish with 14 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two treys in Sunday's 98-111 Game 4 loss to the Blazers.
Time and again in this series, it's been evident that Damian Lillard has been playing at a higher level than Westbrook and tonight was a fine example. Lillard was able to shake off his early shooting struggles and come up big in the second half, but Westbrook was still forcing shots and appeared to be on the back foot for most of the game. He's best when he's the one taking it to his opponents. A reactive Westbrook is simply not the star the Thunder need right now, if they want to salvage any hopes of coming back in this first-round series.
April 22, 2019, 12:36 amDennis Schroder - G - Oklahoma City Thunder
Dennis Schroder mirrored his 17-point performance from Friday with another 17-point game in Sunday's loss to the Blazers.
Schroder shot 6-of-12 from the field and added three rebounds, three assists, two 3s and one steal to the box score tonight. Aside from him though, the Thunder's bench was deafeningly quiet. He cannot carry the load of the second unit's scoring output by his lonesome, especially when they're faced up against a team with multiple weapons like the Blazers. For now, the Thunder can only hope he keeps this up and that the other reserves will follow suit.
April 22, 2019, 12:32 amJerami Grant - F - Oklahoma City Thunder
Jerami Grant made just 4-of-10 shots from the field on Sunday to finish with 11 points, nine rebounds, two assists, three triples and two steals in 34 minutes.
Grant's impact on the defensive end has been invaluable to the Thunder in this series and it was nice to see him active on the glass tonight, especially with Steven Adams being relatively quiet on that front with seven boards while adding six points, one assist, one steal and one block. Unfortunately for the Thunder, Portland's forwards, Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu outplayed and out-hustled them on both ends of the floor.
April 22, 2019, 12:27 amPaul George - F - Oklahoma City Thunder
Despite being slowed down by turnovers and foul trouble, Paul George still managed to light up the box score in Sunday's loss to the Blazers with 32 points on 8-of-21 shooting, 10 rebounds, six assists, four 3s, one steal and one block.
George has been banged up as early as March and he's been such a trooper, powering through a bothersome shoulder to lead the Thunder in this first-round playoff series. Unfortunately, Damian Lillard and company have been far too much for OKC to handle and George's big nights have come and gone with a lack of ample support to properly contest for the win.
April 22, 2019, 12:23 amMaurice Harkless - F - Trail Blazers
Maurice Harkless had a swell two-way performance in the Blazers' 111-98 Game 4 win over the Thunder on Sunday, posting 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting, adding 10 rebounds, one triple, two steals and three blocks in 34 minutes.
Harkless was mostly a non-factor in fantasy during the regular season due to injuries. He's clearly feeling much better now and is delivering for the Blazers at the right time. If he can keep up posting performances like this, the Blazers could emerge as a dark horse to upset favorites in the west.
April 22, 2019, 12:18 amAl-Farouq Aminu - F - Trail Blazers
Al-Farouq Aminu was feeling it on Sunday, hitting 4-of-9 shots from downtown to help secure a Game 4 win over the Thunder via his 19 points (7-of-16 shooting), nine rebounds, one steal and one block.
The Blazers found an extra kick from Aminu tonight thanks to his hot hand. He's capable of explosions like this from time to time but they're not very consistent, making him a tough player to bank on in playoff DFS. Enes Kanter was relatively quiet as he put up eight points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block.
April 22, 2019, 12:15 amCJ McCollum - G - Trail Blazers
CJ McCollum kept his foot on the gas pedal on Sunday, raining down five 3s on the Thunder en route to his team-high 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting, while adding four rebounds, three assists, one steal and two blocks.
McCollum is heating up at just the right time for the Blazers and he picked up some of the slack while Damian Lillard was struggling early in the first half. When he and multiple Blazers are able to put up full lines like this, Portland becomes a devastating opponent, even if the opposing team has name-brand superstars in the form of Russell Westbrook and Paul George.
April 22, 2019, 12:09 amDamian Lillard - G - Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard overcame a rough start in Sunday's game vs. the Thunder, found his game in the second half and was able to wind up finishing with 24 points on 7-of-19 shooting from the field and 6-of-6 shooting from the line.
Lillard has proven to be a true superstar in this series, managing to shake off a slow start to be able to deliver when his team needed the jolt on offense. He added four 3s, three rebounds, eight dimes and one steal to round out his line for the night. Despite Oklahoma City's best efforts, Lillard would not be denied. His ability to turn on a switch and take over a game makes him one of the Western Conference's most dangerous players.
April 21, 2019, 10:15 pmTerrence Ross - G/F - Orlando Magic
Terrence Ross could not get it going offensively in Sunday's 85-107 Game 4 loss to the Raptors on Sunday, recording just five points on 1-of-5 shooting (1-of-4 from deep) with two rebounds, three assists and one steal in 31 minutes.
This was a big blow for both the Magic and Ross' owners in DFS. He was coming off a solid 24-point gem on Friday, so this dud came as a bit of a surprise. In the end, costly turnovers and ill-timed fouls helped keep Ross from exploding like he's done in the past. Evan Fournier helped pick up the slack with 19 points (8-of-16 shooting), four rebounds, two 3s, two dimes and one steal in 35 minutes, but it still was not enough to go toe-to-toe with Kawhi Leonard and company in this crucial Game 4.
April 21, 2019, 10:10 pmAaron Gordon - F - Orlando Magic
Aaron Gordon shot 10-of-17 from the field to finish with 25 points, seven rebounds, five dimes, two 3s and one steal in Sunday's Game 4 loss to the Raptors.
Gordon was limited in the first half but turned up the heat in the third quarter where he scored 16 of his team-high 25 points. Unfortunately, his spirited play was not enough to mount a serious enough rally to challenge the Raptor's control over the game. The 23-year-old Gordon has displayed a fresh level of maturity in this series and finally looks prepared to make a significant leap forward in 2019-20.