In the end talent, as it does, won out.
The Wolves hung around for two and a half quarters because the Cavs were as disinterested in playing defense as the Wolves were unable to. But a spurt of defensive energy, a few fast breaks, and a hot stretch from three put an end to the Wolves hopes over the last few minutes of the third quarter.
Let's start with the bad stuff:
The Wolves defense is terrible. One or two passes, a quick screen, and the entire team is scrambling out of position, trying to catch up with the play. On a rare occasion, they actually manage to do so, and they tip a pass, force a turnover, or Gorgui Dieng gets a block (4 tonight). But most of the time, it leads to wide open shots either from 3 (Cavs went 12-24 from downtown), or at the rim (52 points in the paint).
The Wolves were also outscored 16-4 in transition tonight, which encompasses two ugly aspects of their play. Their fast break offense is just terrible. Hard to watch. They had 13 steals tonight, and 4 fast break points. The spacing is terrible, nobody knows how to pick a pass, and the finishing is worse than spotty. Really, everyone is a culprit here, though Thad Young, who is not playing good basketball right now, had several eye-poppingly bad plays in transition. Shabazz Muhammad doesn't like to pass it, and, well, it's everyone.
The defensive transition is just as bad, and it's not a function of effort. I think the Wolves are so focused on crashing the offensive glass that there is no floor balance, and 3 on 1s are common place. Good teams actually convert those. This is the downside of Muhammad's aggression on the offensive glass, but it isn't by any means all his fault. He's actually a good offensive rebounder. The problem is nobody rotates back, and the Wolves wind up with 4 guys hanging around the paint on shots, and if the opponent grabs a board, off to the races.
Well coached, well organized teams actually have a system for who crashes the offensive boards and who rotates back depending on where the shot goes up from and who takes it. The Wolves are another kind of team.
The egregiously bad player of the night could easily go to Thad Young (6-18 on the night with a bunch of really poor shots), but I already mentioned him and he got the award against Boston. Instead we'll go with Anthony Bennett, whose appearance on the floor sparked the Cavs decisive third quarter run. Bennett managed to post an astounding -27 in 11 minutes of playing time. That requires...something. In this case, terrible play. Turnovers, missed shots, no idea where to be on defense. It was an all around disaster tonight for AB, who failed to score on 4 shot attempts, turned it over twice and committed five fouls in his 11 minutes. Things are not looking great for the 2nd year player.
OK. Now the good stuff. Here's the good stuff:
Someone should print it out and pin several copies to Andrew Wiggins' locker, and one to Flip Saunders' forehead.
Cause THAT'S the shot chart we want to see. It isn't even that he made 9-16 including all three of his 3 point attempts. It's that of his 16 shots, 8 were at the rim and another three were behind the arc. He also got to the line for 8 free throw attempts, and wound up with 27 points on the night. (Also a missed dunk in transition because the Wolves cannot succeed on fast breaks).
He was aggressive taking the ball to the basket, he was confident taking threes, and except for a couple of occasions, he didn't settle for the long two pointer that has been a staple for him through most of the early season. Thank the FSM that he got rewarded with results; hopefully this will lead to more consistent outings of this nature.
Offensively, it was probably the best game of his career, from a process and results standpoint. Defensively, he did a creditable job on LeBron James, and had a monster block to take away an easy one in the third quarter. Still would like to see him learn to rebound, but it was a terrific performance coming on the heels of several poor games.
Repeat. That. Shot. Chart.
- Teams are beginning to pay attention to Shabazz Muhammad. He was guarded tonight be LeBron James and Shawn Marion, two of the best wing-post defenders of this generation. The Cavs took him seriously. As a result, he struggled to get good looks, but still finished with 18 points, though it took him 17 FGAs to get there.
- The Wolves grabbed 16 offensive boards tonight, a mixed blessing as discussed above. It's remarkable how good they are on the offensive glass but how poor they are on the defensive glass. That really hurts them.
- Gorgui Dieng had one of his most productive games of the season,with a 20 and 11, 4 blocks, 3 steals, and 2 assists. We discussed earlier today how bad he is defensively, and there were plenty of breakdowns tonight, but a lot of good stuff as well.
- The Wolves had no chance of stopping Kyrie Irving from going wherever he wanted, usually the basket. He finished with 29 on 12-18 from the floor.