December 7, 2017, 2:08 am
From the beginning this game had a different feel to it than many others over the previous couple of weeks. The Wolves’ were all over the court on defense challenging every shot, rotating correctly, fighting through screens and finishing off possessions with rebounds. It was one of the more fun openings to watch in quite some time.
It also helped that the team was hitting nearly every shot. The Wolves shot 72 percent in the opening quarter, scoring 29 points and owning a seven-point lead. By halftime they maintained a 66 percent clip with 62 points.
Most notable was Karl-Anthony Towns’ activity level in this game. He had a slow start at the very beginning, getting called for two offensive three-second calls that weren’t entirely his fault. He had mismatches both times but the Wolves didn’t get him the ball quickly either time. Towns could have done a better job sealing off the defender.
After that Towns was money. He led the team in shots by halftime and was torching whoever they threw on him, normally Gallinari. The Wolves got him the ball in the post and on the perimeter and he excelled in both areas. On the game he finished with 21 points to lead the team, with 12 rebounds, four assists, two steals and four blocks.
His defensive stats tonight were no fluke either. It was the most active he’s been on defense likely all season, and he wasn’t always gambling for cheap one either. He generally found himself in the right place on a consistent basis.
It’s debatable whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, or whether it’s right or wrong, but either way it’s clear that Towns is more engaged on defense when he’s getting involved in the offense.
Towns wasn’t perfect by any means. There were plenty of moments he didn’t get back on defense right away. He still doesn’t get into a defensive stance until his man has the ball, which by that point is far too late. He still showed bad footwork and too much eagerness to leave his feet. Overall though he was better defensively in this matchup.
Jeff Teague and Jimmy Butler tied for second in scoring tonight with 19 apiece. Butler added eight assists and eight rebounds, while Teague chipped in seven assists, three rebounds and a steal. Teague also made 4-of-7 3-pointers, which was huge when the Clippers attacked Towns and Butler with double teams.
In the last matchup between these teams, Teague played pretty effortless defense against Rivers which was a major factor in allowing the Clippers to have a fighting chance late in that game. Teague lazily went underneath screens and Rivers used the extra space to hit seven 3-pointers.
Tonight Teague fought through screens and kept closer to Rivers and held him to a fair 2-of-6 shooting on 3-pointers. He still dropped 23 points on the night though.
Taj Gibson had another incredible game, scoring 16 points with 14 rebounds, two assists and three blocks. He was 7-of-7 inside the arc at halftime.
The minutes for the Wolves were, once again, strange though unsurprising coming from Thibs. Each starter played at least 36 minutes, with Towns played 39 and Butler playing 42. Since the Wolves don’t play again until Sunday it’s not a huge issue but this is nothing new to the team, or any team coached by Thibs.
The Wolves are missing a key reserve in Nemanja Bjelica which explains the shortened rotation. Crawford getting 17 minutes is just about perfect. 21 for Dieng is a bit low and could steal a couple minutes from Towns per game, but it’s still above his season average of 17.
However there is minimal reason Tyus Jones should be seeing only 11 minutes this game. It’s tough to explain to a young player, who did nearly everything perfect while their veteran counterpart was out, why they can’t earn extra minutes. Unfortunately for Tyus this has been the norm since Teague’s return, seeing 13 minutes per game.
Butler jested after the game that he’ll need to speak with Thibs because “these 40 minutes are starting to add up”. Even though he was joking around he has a point. If there is anyone on this team that will be able to get Thibs to listen though, it’s Butler. So while Butler may have been joking for the camera it’s probable he drops some hints to the coach anyway.
The Wolves have a long break before their next game on Sunday, where they’ll begin a five-game homestand. This is basically the first true homestand of the season for the Wolves. They’ve had a number of one to two game homestands with back-to-backs.
This will be a good time for the team to rest up, get some practice time in and be ready to take on the Dallas Mavericks this weekend.