The Wolves losing never makes me happy, but I have to say this is about as close to a moral victory as a team is going to get. On the road against a much better team that desperately needed to win, the Wolves stood their ground and forced the Cavs to play the full 48 in a 114-107 loss.
Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first:
The Wolves were hurt badly on the glass tonight, especially by Tristan Thompson who grabbed seven offensive rebounds on his own, and finished with 19 and 12 on 8-10 from the field. They simply couldn't deal with his physicality and athleticism, and Gorgui Dieng especially struggled to keep up with a much more athletic front line.
The Cavs took 31 threes (making 11) to the Wolves 16 (4 makes), and a couple of the Wolves' attempts were desperation shots in the last 30 seconds of the game. 11-31 isn't very good, but it still conveys an advantage that hurt the Wolves, especially late in the third and early in the 4th when the Cavs stretched a four point lead to 15, which turned out to be a bridge too far for the Wolves valiant comeback attempt.
In truth, the Wolves defense struggled for much of the night. The Cavs shot 58% on their two pointers, in large part because they have so many guys who can stretch the floor that their spacing was too much for the Wolves still naive defensive rotations, and they got a lot of easy ones at the rim as a result.
Offensively, however, the Wolves played very well, albeit aided by a surprising number of makes on their long twos. Still, they hung in there in the paint, made their free throws, and got out in transition for 15 fast break points, largely thanks to Zach LaVine's aggressiveness in the open floor (more on Zach later).
Karl-Anthony Towns was the big star on the night, finishing with 26 points on 11-16 from the field. For reasons that we pedestrians couldn't possibly understand, he only played 30 minutes, thanks mostly to an excessively conservative approach after he picked up his 2nd foul 10 minutes into the game. He only played 2 minutes in the 2nd quarter, and thus was limited to 30 overall despite not picking up his 3rd foul until late in the 4th quarter.
At any rate, he had his perimeter shot working tonight, which opened up some drives for him later in the game, as well as one or two impressive moves in the post. His touch and body control around the basket remain one of the most impressive things about him at 20 years old. His ability to finish in traffic, and through contact, and avoid offensive fouls, is truly magnificent. His awareness is excellent, as evidenced by the And-1 finish off a Rubio PnR dish late for a big 3 point play, where he caught it half turned away from the basket and turned, took a hit, and layed it in softly for the bucket.
I could go on, but suffice it to say that it's beyond obvious at this point that Towns is going to be a huge star in the NBA. Whatever else, good or bad, has happened or will happen this season, and there is plenty of bad, the absolute biggest thing is that Towns is a superstar in the making.
Andrew Wiggins finally had a more normal game against the Cavs, which is not a criticism. He finished with 20 on 14 shots, and made several impressive plays. He struggled some when asked to guard LeBron, but then who doesn't? One rebound in 39 minutes is disappointing, but Wiggins was engaged especially later in the game after he seemed to be settling early.
Zach LaVine broke out of a scoring slump tonight with 21 points on 8-15 from the field. He also contributed six assists and four boards in his 30 minutes, though was also a major culprit in some poor team defense during both stretches of second unit play.
He made a comment at halftime that Britt Robson mentioned:
Excellent revealing answer from LaVine. "Last 4 games was trying to be a PG, not being aggressive."— brittrobson (@brittrobson) January 26, 2016
LaVine just acknowledged he has trouble being aggressive at PG. Cosign this times a thousand. Overwhelmed facilitating as priority.— brittrobson (@brittrobson) January 26, 2016
This is the essential issue. It's not that LaVine can't pass the ball, it's that he has a scorer's mentality and when he tries to suppress that it leads to bad shots and poor play.
In truth, some of his early shots in this game were of the "no no yes" variety, but they happened to go in. You can see his confidence blossom when he makes some early, and while that led to some dubious misses later, it also led to his best game in quite a while. He had several transition attacks that very few other guys can make work, and got to the line twice (once an And-1) late to help keep the Wolves alive.
At any rate, the hope is that his shooting, which has not looked good for quite a while, comes back following this excellent performance.
That's enough for tonight, though there are plenty of other things to discuss, which I'm sure will come up in comments. Next up for the Wolves: The Thunder at home on Wednesday.