The Timberwolves walk away with a road victory tonight in Phoenix, and improve their overall record to 5-10. It would be an understatement to call this a “much needed” win, following three consecutive losses and four out of the last five games (with the only victory in that cluster coming against the perpetually lackluster Sixers at home).
I have had this stretch of games (Boston, @ NOLA, @ Phoenix, and the forthcoming @ GSW) circled on my calendar since before the season, as it was in my opinion the first real “test” for the young Timberwolves. The Wolves have not performed to expectations up to this point, but the principal of being able to grind out wins during a road trip that sandwiched a holiday is still a big deal.
Given the struggles of both the Wolves and the Suns and the previous day’s holiday, I was expecting a somewhat ugly game, and ugly was an apt descriptor early and often. For the first three quarters, neither team seemed too interested in protecting possessions, particularly in the first half where the Wolves had 10 turnovers and Phoenix coughed it up 11 times. There were also about a half dozen sequences of back-to-back turnovers. Phoenix turned it over three times on inbounds plays after a made basket in the first half. However, the Timberwolves seemed to figure it out with the turnovers, and only gave it away 7 more times in the second half, while Phoenix just kept leaking oil and turned it over 14 more times in the final two quarters.
Adding to the ugliness was the pitiful shooting from both teams, with the Wolves and Suns finishing at just 40 and 40.5 percent from the floor, respectively. It was actually pretty impressive that Minnesota was able to get up to 40 percent after shooting just 34 percent in the first half. Again, this was not exactly an aesthetically pleasing game. Good news though - they don’t put any pictures in the wins column, so hang your hat on that.
In regards to individual performances, Andrew Wiggins finished with a team high 25 points, although he had another overall poor shooting night, finishing just 7-18 from the field, mostly on ill-advised long twos. Of those 18 shots, ten came from between 15 feet and the three point line, of which he only made four. On the bright side, Wiggins continues to force his way to the free throw line, finishing the game 10-11 at the stripe.
Karl Anthony Towns finished second in the scoring column with 22 points, although he also had a rough shooting night going just 8-19 from the field. He was very “quiet” on the floor, despite stuffing the box score with 10 rebounds, four assists, one steal, one block, and two made three-pointers. It says a lot about Towns as a player that a 22/10/4/1/1 stat line doesn’t get any eyes blinking.
Ricky Rubio had a fantastic first half with nine points, three assists, and four steals. He was very disruptive on the defensive end, forcing a lot of Phoenix’s bajillion turnovers. On the other hand, Rubio also had five turnovers of his own in just 25 minutes of playing time. He picked up his fourth foul with just under four minutes to go in the third quarter, and would not return to the floor.
In place of Rubio, coach Thibodeau decided to run with combinations of Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones, and relied heavily on Jones down the stretch. Tyus played remarkably well as the game manager, and was the engine that drove the Wolves on a 26-6 run to close out the game and get the win. Jones finished with six points, three assists, two steals, a team high +22, and ZERO turnovers. Jones also got the nod over Kris Dunn in terms of minutes, seeing 19 minutes of floor time to Dunn’s 11. This is something to keep an eye on. In my view, Tyus has absolutely been the better player so far out of the bench point guards, and deserves to continue seeing a lot of burn.
No need to go into any further nitty-gritty on the details of this one. In the end, the Wolves were finally able to find a way to shake the second half monkey off their backs and get a win. Smile your biggest shit-eating grin while you can - we get the Warriors at Oracle Arena tomorrow night.
Oh yeah, almost forgot - LaVine is real good at dunking.