The struggle is real. As I spew angry characters on Twitter about third quarter woes and pick and roll defensive failures, I often forget that these players are just as frustrated as any fan.
Fan starts screaming at Rubio as team heads to sideline. Angry LaVine looks up at him: "Shut the fuck up."— brittrobson (@brittrobson) December 7, 2016
After hearing this remark from LaVine, I immediately went back into that scary place of my mind that includes Michael Olawakandi. In the not so distant past, Wolves games were disappointments that didn’t seem to disappoint the players on the actual roster. Yes, of course, the players should care. But as I dig for positives in another 14-point drubbing, I think about this outburst from LaVine. Caring matters.
The losing ways continued Tuesday night at Target Center where the Wolves fell to the San Antonio Spurs, 105-91. San Antonio came to town on a road back-to-back which led Gregg Popovich to rest Manu Ginobili and a banged-up Tony Parker.
Seeing a Spurs team without Parker, Ginobili, and Tim Duncan was a foreign sight, but for the Wolves, the narrative was, again, all too familiar. After entering halftime with a three-point lead, the Wolves again blew a lead in the third quarter.
“Against them [the Spurs] you have to maintain your discipline, so, in the first half I thought our pick-and-roll defense was very good,” Tom Thibodeau said.
“I thought that our shell was tight, I thought we challenged shots well, I thought we got back in transition well. And then in the third quarter, a combination of things—I thought we just got outplayed, 29-18 (in the third quarter), in every aspect. Sixty-two points in the second half. They were in the low forties the first half, they were in the twenties most of the first quarter. I thought we got off to a good start but they didn’t maintain it. In the second half, you have to have discipline, you have to stick with your scheme, you have to understand what your job is then you have to do your job and when we randomly make it up the results aren’t going to be good.”
The second half was indeed brutal as the Spurs eventually figured out the Wolves, and the defense collapsed. But the game did start on a bright note.
The Wolves jumped out to an early lead in a start that reminded fans of the season opener against Memphis. They were controlling the game and the Spurs could not put up an effective resistance. After the Wolves took a 12-3 lead, Popovich did his usual voodoo pulling all five starters with 7:30 to play in the quarter. The bench unit of Patty Mills, Kyle Anderson, Dewayne Dedmon, David Lee and Jonathon Simmons responded with a 14-3 run to get them back in the game.
San Antonio, still, shot just 29 percent and scored a season-low 19 points in the first quarter. The window seemed open to establish a bigger lead, but the Wolves couldn’t take advantage and led by only three after the first.
This was in part due to the poor performances from their primary scorers. Karl-Anthony Towns made only 2 of 10 shots in the first half and ended the game with 11 points on 3 of 16 shooting.
His performance was an argument counter to those calling for Towns to stop relying on the three-point shot and to get into the paint, because KAT did just that and still struggled. Unfortunately, at least for this game, his attempts felt brutally forced. To win, the Wolves would have needed more from both Towns and Wiggins. The two often traded off possessions in isolation combining for just 22 points as Wiggins also had a mere 11 points on 5 of 12 shooting.
Kawhi Leonard on having the “green light” to perform how he wants offensively:
“I’m still trying to get my teammates involved more, having a ‘green light’ doesn’t mean you just shoot every possession. You just get the defense drawn to you, two guys, and pass it to the open man.”
While Leonard was speaking about his own decision-making, the hope is that this mentality eventually resonates with the Wolves’ young players who often operate in a fashion, offensively, that individually green lights one player per possession. Hero ball has been stated many times this season.
Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine Lead the Way
The brightest spot for the Wolves was the energizing performance from rookie point guard, Kris Dunn. Look at this nasty crossover he put on Mills in the third quarter.
Countering poor shooting performances from Towns and Wiggins, Dunn missed only one shot in 16 minutes. He finished with 15 points on 6-7 shooting. Zach LaVine also played well contributing a team-high 25 points, going 4-8 from three-point range.
In the fourth quarter, the offense ran through dribble handoffs to LaVine and he continues to drive and shoot fearlessly when called upon. And that is absolutely a compliment.
All-in-all, the Spurs sans Parker and Ginobili were too much for the Wolves. In what should be no surprise, Kawhi Leonard was a robot cheat code. Leonard scored 31 points on only 15 shot attempts. He dealt this dagger to the Wolves in the fourth quarter as the shot clock expired.
“They’re good, they know what they’re doing. They execute plays. There were times we played good defense for 22 seconds, then they made that boom, boom pass and someone was wide open. They’re a good team.”
The Wolves are now 6-15. Somehow the season is more than a quarter in the books and the young roster remains void of a general direction. Losses to teams who have veteran leadership and execute on both ends maybe should not be a surprise for a Wolves team that does not effectively execute and does not have that type of leader.
We all may have expected too much too soon with a team featuring, and heavily reliant on, the Bounce Bros and KAT; that they would be much improved simply because they were one year older.
Hope, however, still glimmers in every cutting loss. Not because LaVine blew off a fan in the crowd for talking junk to Rubio, but because each loss is clearly killing the players as much as it is devastating every fan that white knuckles their remote.