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Film Studies, Vol. 1: In Atlanta, Wolves Step up in Crunch Time

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The Wolves’ closing statement in Atlanta showed growth.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Dennis Schröder made Karl-Anthony Towns look completely lost after Ricky Rubio tries to ice the screen as the Hawks went to the pick-and-roll late in Wednesday night’s game. KAT did not do his job defensively.

Instead, he got caught in no-man’s land after letting Schröder easily turn the corner after Rubio goes over the Millsap screen. Towns essentially did nothing on the play and his abysmal execution resulted in an easy layup that cut the Wolves’ lead to four points with 1:05 remaining.

Towns took a terrible angle and doesn't move or react well at all in this instance. He has to force the ball-handler away from the lane or bait them into a pull-up midrange jumper by sinking deeper into the paint, rather than rolling out the red carpet to the rim.

Yet again this season, the Wolves were confronted with a familiar question after Schröder’s bucket: Can they close out a game in crunch time or will they fold under pressure? Minnesota currently ranks 23rd in crunch time net rating at -10.3 with an offensive rating of 99.2 and defensive rating of 109.5, per NBA.com.

I wanted to start with the Schröder layup because this was the point where the Hawks put the pressure back on and the Wolves needed to respond on the next possession.

With Andrew Wiggins as the primarily ball-handler at the top of the key—something Tom Thibodeau has decided he’s going to live and die with in the name of unlocking the next level of Wiggins offensively—the Wolves indeed responded. They ran one of the best sets of their season in a highly intense moment.

The ball movement and execution was gorgeous. Towns is the only one who doesn’t touch the rock in a matter of five seconds, and the Wolves put Atlanta on full tilt with this crisp set. Gorgui Dieng hits the midrange jumper to put the pressure right back on the Hawks.

Down six points with 42.3 seconds left, the Hawks call a timeout and it’s obvious they are going to try to run something for a quick three to cut it to a one possession game.

What happens next might be alarming in case you missed out last night. Zach LaVine steals Kyle Korver’s pocket pass to Paul Millsap to put the game on ice. Atlanta quickly fouls him and he hits both free throws to seal the victory, 92-84.

With excellent late-game execution in Atlanta—a clear sign of progress in my eyes—the Wolves finally won consecutive games this season. The team kept its composure down the stretch and executed flawlessly with the game hanging in the balance.

For a team that has found numerous ways to blow games this season, this was extremely promising to see.

“We just feel more confident in ourselves,” Towns told reporters after the game. “I told you after we won in Chicago, we have a different swagger, a different walk, a different talk. That’s a sign we’re growing.”

For those people looking for another sign of growth from the young Wolves, their closing statement in Atlanta should do for now.