December 21, 2017, 12:02 am
A win is a win. That could be the motto for the Wolves this season. It’s never pretty with Minnesota. They don’t run a coherent, nor consistent, offense and their defense comes and goes (mostly goes). There are numerous mishaps both by the players and the coaching staff. Their top players are flawed and inconsistent.
Yet here the Wolves sit at 19-13, fourth in the Western Conference holding the tie-breaker over the four teams behind them, with a winning road record, the most wins versus the Western Conference and the best divisional record.
They might be the most confusing team in the NBA.
Undoubtedly they have immense talent and get away with it on most nights. In Denver it was no different. After trailing the majority of the game, Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jamal Crawford all stepped up huge on the offensive end, taking over the Wolves and closing the door on the Nuggets.
Towns finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, three steals and two 3-pointers on 11-of-16 shooting. He dominated the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, scoring the first 11 points for the Wolves.
Then it was Crawford who took over, who scored eight of the next 11 points for the Wolves, making every shot. Crawford finished with 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting, with seven assists, four 3-pointers and one rebound.
It was Jimmy G Buckets that closed the game out and made the biggest shots of the game. He scored 11 of the last 15 points for the Wolves, including eight straight to put the Nuggets down for good. His final step-back jumper with 41 seconds left lit up the Wolves’ bench and sent them into a frenzy.
Butler finished the game with 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting and 8-of-8 from the line. He chipped in four assists, two rebounds and two steals.
Gorgui Dieng won’t stand out in the box score as much, but he was a huge factor in the victory as well. He only scored five points, with nine rebounds, one assist and two steals, but he was excellent when guarding Nikola Jokic.
Dieng was getting real physical with Jokic, but was also anticipating his passes really well and deflected a number of them, or cut off his passing lane. Though he picked up five fouls in the process, they were meaningful in keeping Jokic off balance all night.
The fact that Jokic still put up 22 points, six rebounds, four assists and two blocks on 6-of-12 shooting, 2-of-6 on 3-pointers and 8-of-9 at the line and have it be considered a bad game is a testament to his immense talent.
Of course Jokic’s 10 turnovers, an NBA season high, were a huge reason why it was bad in the first place. Dieng played a role in that, cutting off Jokic’s vision or anticipating his moves.
With Gary Harris out, the main man on the perimeter for Denver was Jamal Murray, who finished with 30 points on 10-of-17 shooting and 5-of-6 on 3-pointers. He was attacking Jeff Teague early and often.
The most impressive aspect of this victory for the Wolves was their fourth quarter performance. Normally a terrible fourth quarter team (dead last in the NBA in net rating in the fourth), the past two games they’ve been positive, and tonight especially was noteworthy as away teams in Denver normally fade late in the game thanks to the altitude difference.
There has been a slight change the last two games in the fourth quarter, namely Crawford stealing some late minutes from Andrew Wiggins. Wigs was terrible again, scoring seven points on 3-of-12 shooting.
It’s arguable that Crawford fits the role Wiggins needs to be better, at least offensively, as a spot up gunner and passer. The ball tends to stop in Wiggins’ hands and after that it’s an adventure whether he takes a good shot or makes Thibs regret having him out there.
The past two games he’s leaned Crawford, and whether it’s because Crawford asked for more minutes or because he’s simply been hitting his shots the last two games remains to be seen. It will be interesting to note going forward.
Overall though the team looked more energized in the fourth than normal, and the minutes distribution were anything but normal for a Thibs’ coached team. Butler played a reasonable 35 minutes, while Teague played 32. Wigs saw 35 minutes to Crawford’s 28. Gibson played 30 minutes to Dieng’s 21. Only KAT had major minutes at 38.
Perhaps Thibs gave his guys a little bit more rest because of the altitude, or possibly just as a result of the game script. Those two things, the minutes and fourth quarter rotations, will be things to look out for going forward.
Next up the Wolves once again take on the Suns this Saturday.