When the Minnesota Timberwolves were announced as the lowest possible seed in the Las Vegas Summer League tournament stage, it was pretty easy to assume what their schedule would be for the remainder of the week: lose to the San Antonio Spurs today, then have a miserable game on Friday against the pathetic Sacramento Kings. Instead, several Wolves had their best games of the week and the team secured their first win in Vegas, 80-71.
First among those Wolves was Adreian Payne, who had his best game in quite a while. It wasn't so much the game-high 20 points and team-high seven rebounds that were the impressive part, although those were quite helpful. It was more the single turnover, and even more the single personal foul. After seven fouls against Cleveland and six against Toronto, this was a huge change.
Ryan Saunders addressed the work Payne has put in to improve his performance after the game.
"He's worked really hard the last couple of days. He's watched a lot of film and he's worked great in the gym, so credit to AP," Saunders said after the game. It was easy to see the difference in his decision making, which was the best it has been in a long while.
It wasn't just Payne either. Canis favorite Coty Clarke had far and away his best game of the week with 16 points on 6-11 shooting and four rebounds. Clarke faded a bit in the second half, but his 11 first-half points were a huge key to the Wolves building a 48-37 lead at halftime. He made smart decisions with the ball in his hands, diving aggressively to the rim and seeking out easy scoring opportunities. One Summer League game does not make a prospect, but in this game he showed some new wrinkles compared to previous performances.
Question posed to Saunders afterwards: What did you like about Clarke's game today? That was the best game he's probably had all tournament...
"That right there, I loved it. Taking it to the rim, shooting the ball, he was engaged, he competed, he guarded better. You could go down the list. Everything with Coty Clarke was really good today, so hopefully we get another one out of him."
Tyus Jones continued his solid performance, and his continued efficient running of the Wolves' offense was finally rewarded with other players making their shots. Jones continued to shoot well from beyond the arc, now up to 9-20 over the four games from three, and had 15 points to go with nine assists, nearly hitting his second double-double of the tournament (which would have been vastly different than his 12 points and 10 rebounds against Denver).
Jones was glad to get his first win of the summer under his belt. "It was great. We've just been working every day, watching film every day, and trying to get better every day," Jones said after the game.
"Last game we laid an egg, I mean, it was easy to see that. But we knew that wasn't us and we knew that wasn't what we've working for and preparing for and we knew that's not how we play. That's not Timberwolves basketball. We got back in the gym yesterday, watched film, and we knew we'd come out with a different mindset and intensity today."
A continued focus of at least this Summer League roster has been their emphasis on increasing the pace of the offense, and today those transition opportunities clicked.
"Our big focus was to try to get the ball over halfcourt by 22 seconds today," said Saunders. "Just to give them a number, a solid goal. We thought we could score better in the flow of the offense as opposed to against a set defense, especially without a guy like Kris."
The Wolves are now truly in tournament mode: they'll play until they lose and have reached the Vegas Sweet Sixteen. Their next opponent will be the Memphis Grizzlies, tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 pm (CT) in the Thomas and Mack Center. The Grizzlies finished 2-1 in the first stage of the tournaments, with wins over the D-League Select team and the Bucks and a blowout loss to the Nuggets. If the Wolves can keep shooting and working together like they did today, they could actually do something in the tournament. Why not?
Ryan Saunders on Tyus Jones' performance:
"We challenged him that he needed to have his best game today. When you get in tournament time, if you want to keep playing you got to win. I mean, bottom line. That's one thing Tyus has always done: play well in tournaments."
On what was different in this game compared to the first three:
"I think we just competed better. Bottom line, we just competed better."
Jones on hitting three treys today and working on his 3-pointer this summer:
Yeah, it's been a focus of mine. Last year I was able to get a number of open 3-point shots just with the talent that's on our team. I mean, Andrew, KAT, and Zach ... there's a number of guys that demand a lot of attention, so I get a number of good looks from outside so I just got to be able to knock it down at a higher rate. That's something I've been focusing on and obviously in Summer League I want to be able to knock it down."