November 23, 2017, 12:08 am
Coming into this game, it was expected to be a high scoring affair. In the preview the bar was set at 250 points. These teams almost got there as the Wolves topped the Magic 124-118. The game wasn’t as close as the score would indicate, but at the same time it was.
Neither team played much defense in the first half and it was tightly contested with Minnesota winning by three points at the break. After the half, each team basically went on an extended run. The Wolves dominated the third quarter, outscoring the Magic 41-18. It was incredible to watch, Wolves’ basketball at it’s finest.
The Magic dominated the fourth though, outscoring the Wolves 38-18. It was the complete opposite, Wolves basketball at it’s lowest. They opened the quarter 1-of-17, mostly with the bench crew out there. When the starter came in, it still took them some time to stop the bleeding.
Eventually, the clock became the Wolves’ best friend because their 3-point defense evaporated and didn’t look to be coming back.
It makes it tough to extract much from this game. On one hand we saw what this Wolves’ team can become at their peak. Wiggins was flying all over the court as a force defensively and naturally flowing in the offense. He’s improved in nearly all areas this season, which a terrific sign for the Wolves going forward.
On the other hand, the same old problems continue to plague this team. The Magic shot 63 percent from inside the arc, and that is with their terrible third quarter. Where Wiggins has taken the small steps forward, Towns has taken steps sideways, or even backwards, defensively.
It’s easy to forget that Towns is only 22 years old and is just in his third year, so it’s tough to be too hard on him. Big man defense is typically the most difficult learning curve in the NBA, especially in the modern era of endless pick-and-rolls where big men typically are asked to guard well out of the paint.
It doesn’t detract from the fact that the Wolves will only go as far as Wiggins and Towns can take them. The big step, the light-bulb moment from these guys wasn’t going to happen in a single night, but with Wiggins’ light getting a little brighter tonight the prospects ahead are exciting.
The conundrum here is what steps need to be taken for Towns to improve. It’s the same mistakes over and over again. It seems like Thibs has reigned in Towns’ offensive role in an effort to get him to focus on defense (whether as a wake-up call, or as a mental break, who knows).
Towns has taken the fewest or second-fewest shots among the starters in the last four games now, including tonight where he tied for the fewest. He went 7-of-11 with 18 points (fewest among starters), 13 rebounds and two assists.
Ideally if his role is decreased on offense he puts more thought and energy into defense, but it seems like it’s had the opposite effect on him. A number of possessions when Towns doesn’t get involved in the offense, he’s slower to get back on defense. When he gets a dunk, on the other hand, he’s running back.
For Towns, it seems like the offense carries over into his defense. It’s not unusual for players, though not ideal in a team-building sense.
In either case, the Wolves continue to have little issues scoring the ball whether Towns is involved or not. Tonight it was Gibson who dominated for the Wolves, scoring 24 points with nine rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block. He shot 8-of-11 and 8-of-10 from the line.
There were a few times he lost Gordon defensively in a rare lapse of defense, but overall he was the team MVP. The Magic allow the most points in the paint and Gibson took full advantage of that.
Butler led all scorers with 26 points and has now scored 20 or more in 5-of-7 games. He was serious about getting more engaged in the offense (and perhaps was in agreement with Thibs to limit KAT on offense for a little while).
All starters scored at least 18 points and generally looked fairly smooth on offense. The bench, on the other hand, was a huge let down. This group is going to be inconsistent all season and could really use some help on the wing.
Going forward the Wolves take on the Heat on Friday. Miami ended the Celtics 16-game winning streak tonight and will come in with some….. fire.