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Wolves Fall to Thunder 112-100: Another Defensive Collapse

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One step forward two steps back. It’s getting tough.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Bah humbug.

Tonight revealed just how far the Wolves have to go to consistently compete, and it’s a depressingly long way. After looking like a fairly good team over a four game stretch, things have, as they always seem to do, regressed for the Wolves first in their home loss to the Kings, and then tonight in what became a rout at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

In their first ever appearance on the Christmas Day NBA showcase, the Wolves were competitive for a half, trailing by four at the break after a Thunder buzzer-beating three, but the deeper, more talented and experienced Thunder took control in the third quarter, and the Wolves never responded, ultimately falling 112-100, a score that doesn’t really do justice to how much the Thunder controlled the game after halftime.

We’ve seen this game a bunch of times over the years and at some point it gets tiring saying the other team is just better. In fact, we saw it earlier this season against this same Thunder team; feel free to go read Naylor’s recap as it more or less covers things.

There are specifics we could talk about: Jordan Hill playing off the bench instead of Cole Aldrich in a (failed) attempt to slow Enes Kanter (20 points on ten shots.) How horrific the bench play was while the game was still competitive. The Wolves inability to find open three point looks (three attempts in the first half, 12 for the game with four makes.)

And, as usual, it was the defense that failed them. After scrapping in the first half, forcing Russell Westbrook into a bunch of missed shots (6-16 at halftime) but struggling inside against Kanter and Steven Adams, as well as getting burned by Alex Abrines and Joffrey Louvergne from the perimeter, the Wolves defense completely fell apart in the second half.

For reasons unclear to me, the Wolves switched Andrew Wiggins onto Westbrook to start the third quarter, and the Thunder immediately got rolling with Russ driving and dishing at will. Things didn’t get any better when they switched back to Rubio on Westbrook after five minutes, as the Thunder were in full flight. Soon the transition defense completely collapsed, and the Thunder ran out to an insurmountable lead.

As is becoming the norm this season, Karl-Anthony Towns struggled terribly with team defensive concepts, at turns being slow to rotate and then over-rotating. It’s tough with a guy like Westbrook who puts immense pressure on the defense, but their weakness in the paint is nothing new; rather it’s a festering sore for which they apparently have no ointment. Tonight Thibs went to the break glass in case of emergency option-Jordan Hill-presumably on the theory that it couldn’t get any worse. It certainly didn’t get better. Kanter, Louvergne, and Adams combined to shoot a mind-boggling 20-26 from the field.

For a few games there, it looked like maybe there was some progress. Now it feels like they are back at square one. They are back at it tomorrow night against the Hawks at Target Center.

Notes

  • Towns led the way offensively with 26, though 16 were in the first half.
  • Shabazz Muhammad made some garbage time buckets to score 15 on the night, his best output in a while.
  • Don’t be fooled by the +/- though; the bench stints were terrible outside of the last few minutes when the game was out of reach.
  • Nemanja Bjelica continues to disappoint.
  • Sigh. I hate this recap. I’m done. Merry Christmas.