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.