Wins make me happy.
That was a super fun, contested win for the Wolves in which they outplayed the Clippers down the stretch for a 108-102 win to close their four game road trip.
Lots of stuff we can talk about with this one, but I'll start here: although the Clippers would eventually get back and tie the game, I thought the key sequence occurred after an Andrew Wiggins turnover led to a Jamal Crawford layup that gave the Clips an 87-86 lead midway through the 4th quarter.
On the next possession, Zach LaVine got open and buried a catch-and-shoot three pointer off a Ricky Rubio dish, and then Rubio made the play of the night by recording his 5th steal, going into the front row to save the ball to Towns, who got fouled while Rubio was getting a bucket of popcorn on his head. Towns made both free throws and the Wolves led by four.
The Wolves would eventually stretch it to eight (on another nice LaVine bucket, this one in the paint) before the Clippers charged back into it. However, Andrew Wiggins made a huge turnaround jumper, Rubio chased down a rebound and got fouled, and the Wolves were able to put the game away late at the free throw line.
It was really quite enjoyable.
The first half was a strange affair, with the Wolves managing to hang in despite early foul trouble for both Towns and Rubio. Towns failed to score in the first half and Rubio had only two assists, but Wiggins was a major factor with 21 (of his eventual 31) in the first two quarters and the Wolves trailed by two at the break. Sam Mitchell went with Damjan Rudez instead of either Nemanja Bjelica or Adreian Payne on a night when neither Kevin Garnett nor Nikola Pekovic was available. It paid off some, as Rudez hit all three of his shots including two three pointers. Along with Wiggins' three 3s, the Wolves actually made 8 of their 17 attempts tonight, while the Clippers struggled to an 11-32 night from beyond the arc. Their relatively poor shooting was a major factor (as was the Lakers hot shooting last night. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don't).
The third quarter belonged to the Wolves most of the way. Towns came alive following a dunk off a beautiful assist from Rubio, and proceeded to start draining jumpers. Rubio was in complete control of proceedings, dominating defensively and facilitating an offense that was humming. Eventually, the Clips found the range from three and were able to close what had been a 10 point Wolves lead to two at the end of the quarter.
And now it's time for a brief Sam Mitchell rant. Does he not understand that he's allowed to substitute at the under nine timeout in the fourth quarter? I can only assume he doesn't, since he never actually does so. Tonight, the Wolves reserves managed to push the two point lead to nine early in the 4th, but following four straight points by the Clippers, Gorgui Dieng traveled to send the teams to the benches for the mandated timeout. Wiggins, Rubio,and Towns, the latter two having played only 22 and 23 minutes to that point, were all sitting there, and it was clear the momentum was shifting to the Clippers. The Wolves lineup was Andre Miller, LaVine, Rudez, Shabazz Muhammad, and Dieng. Those same five came out of the timeout. I mean...really? I cannot understand that, especially since not only are those three your most important and probably best three players, but they were all having good games.
Of course, the Clippers scored four more quick points following an offensive rebound and a LaVine turnover, Mitchell was forced to call another timeout less than a minute later to get his main guys back in the game. Ugh. Such a consistent frustration. End rant.
Overall it was a terrific performance, with the Wolves main cogs all playing significant roles in the victory. It was Wiggins' second straight 30+ point outing. KAT, after a horrific first half in which he didn't score and his shot looked terrible, had a monster second half with 17 points (and finished with 12 boards as well). Rubio I thought was magisterial, especially in the 2nd half, at both ends despite shooting 1-6, and finished with 7 points, 5 boards, 7 assists, and 5 steals for the quad nickel. Zach LaVine made several big shots in the 4th quarter and finished with 17 on 7-14 from the field.
Some bullet points:
- When they go in, Wiggins' threes look so nice. Amazing how poorly he's shot them this year; his form looks good to me, unlike, say, Ricky, who when they go in you're just happy, but they don't really look good.
- LaVine played all but 4 of his 34 minutes tonight at off-guard, which I do think helps him, and he made two of the biggest shots of the night--mentioned above. Overall a fine outing I thought. Still, and I'll probably get called a hater for this, but he takes some god awful shots.
- The Clippers have no power forwards. It's glaring. I thought the Wolves should try to stay big as much as possible to take advantage, and during the 3rd quarter stretch especially they did, with Gorgui Dieng doing some work against smaller guys in the post while KAT took DeAndre Jordan outside and put him in the chamber a few times. But the Wolves also went small quite a bit, including their closing lineup of Rubio-LaVine-Wiggins-Prince-Towns.
- The Wolves shot over 50% from the field, a rare and happy occurrence.
- I thought coming in that the Wolves would have to win the battle of the benches to have a chance since the Cippers bench is so weak, but it turned out that the Wolves won the battle of the starting units instead.
- Wolves snap a 14 game losing streak against the Clippers, and I don't remember their last win on the back end of a back to back.
- Should mention Tayshaun Prince, who was a major factor in shutting down J.J. Redick.
- Seeing Wes Johnson make three pointers against the Wolves hurts my soul.