Let's start with the bottom line: The Wolves went into the building of a 7-1 ball club that won 60 last season and walk out with a win to move their season record to 4-2, including 4-0 on the road.
That is a terrific start to the season no matter how you slice it, and given that this one was won down the stretch with what appears to be the developing core of Ricky Rubio, Andrew, Wiggins, Nemanja Bjelica, and Karl-Anthony Towns, it's all the sweeter.
This game played out in unexpected ways.
The Wolves got off to a fantastic start and dominated the first half, taking a 30 point lead into the break. Yes, 30. It was a matter of everybody playing well and everything going right, as both the starters and the bench unit played fantastic basketball, moving the ball, getting and making good shots, playing terrific defense in forcing the Hawks into congested situations, and dominating the glass. It was as comprehensive a half of basketball as the Wolves are capable of playing.
Of particular note in the first half was the play of Zach LaVine. His 11 minutes in the first half represented perhaps the best 11 minutes he has played in his entire career, as he not only made baskets--we've seen that before--but also made fantastic decisions with the basketball and executed extremely well. He read the defense well, passed it when someone was open, and made the Hawks pay for giving him lanes to the basket. It was the finest overall performance I can remember seeing from him.
The second half was, of course, an entirely different animal. The Wolves stretched the lead to 34 early in the third quarter, but then the Hawks turned up the defensive pressure and began finding a rhythm off Wolves turnovers. When Sam Mitchell went to the bench midway through the third, things really fell apart, as the bench unit could not get into any sort of offensive sets, Jeff Teague was torching them, and the Hawks clawed back to within nine at the end of three. '
The fourth started much the same, even as Mitchell went to the little used Andre Miller in place of LaVine at the point. Things were no better as the Hawks forced turnover after turnover, ultimately scoring 30 points off turnovers in the second half.
With the Hawks creeping ever closer, Mitchell made a mistake he seems prone to, having done it before this season. Instead of subbing Rubio and Towns back in at the under nine timeout, he tried to ride the bench unit another couple of minutes for reasons that are unclear. It did not work as the Hawks crept closer.
Ultimately, even with the starters back on the floor, the Hawks actually managed to take a one point lead on a Millsap basket following Andrew Wiggins making 1 of 2 from the line.
After that, Wiggins took over the offense. He drove for a strong three point play. He made a 20 footer. He got fouled and made a 16 footer to put the Wolves up six with a minute and a half left. The Wolves hung on from there with some tenacious defense, as Karl-Anthony Towns blocked three shots late, Ricky Rubio took a huge charge on Kent Bazemore, and the Hawks missed their final seven shots.
Obviously seeing a 30+ point lead vanish was not a lot of fun, but overall it was a good night for the Wolves. A win on the road against a very good team that refused to give up. The Wolves found the poise to make the plays they needed to make down the stretch, and played tremendous basketball for the entire first half. There is a lot to be happy about.
Let's bullet point some stuff:
- Terrific game from Wiggins, who finished with 33-5-4 and shot 15-22 from the field. Got to the rim a lot, and as noted was the go-to guy late in the game. Well deserved kudos.
- Karl-Anthony Towns just another double-double, 17-12 (5-7 from field), plus 3 huge late blocks. S-T-A-R.
- Rubio only played 27 minutes tonight, I'm not sure why as he was his usual self. This is a bit worrying overall, because I think it will lose them some games at some point. He doesn't need to go 38 a night, but there is a happ(ier) medium in there somewhere that Mitchell needs to find.
- The Wolves really dominated the glass tonight, giving up only 4 offensive rebounds all night. Big.
- Bjelica continues to impress, making a couple of huge threes and really getting on the defensive glass. He comes up with some big, big rebounds. He also drew a technical on Al Horford after a hard but clean foul. Also, what happened with Teague late when Teague just started beating on Bjelica?