With a thrilling buzzer-beater, Andrew Wiggins finished carrying the Wolves to a win in Phoenix. His game winner was hard-won: as is customary, the officials let the defender, PJ Tucker, grab and hold, and though Wiggins almost fell down, he rose to the occasion, hitting a step-back, pull-up, long two-pointer for the win. It is a shot that my fellow Canis Hoopus writers and commentators often hate to see Andrew take, but in moments like these, you have to love having a tough-shot-taker-and-maker. I love that he knew it was good the moment it left his hand.
Andrew fills an important role for this team. Sure, we love the offensive efficiency that Towns can provide, and when he had the opportunity to, he bullied Marquese Chriss for easy baskets, but when the Suns pulled young Chriss, and put feisty veterans like P.J. Tucker and Tyson Chandler on Towns, KAT was a bit flustered:
As Jim Petersen put it, “The scouting report is out on Towns,” and opposing teams know that when matched up against physically stronger players, such as Tyson Chandler, Towns is going to get the ball on the perimeter, face up, and drive to the basket. Knowing this, opposing teams bring a second defender waiting to take the charge or otherwise frustrate Karl. He has to play under control and take what the defense gives him, whether that means moving the ball, shooting a three pointer in rythmn, or even *gasp* a long two or fadeaway.
This is pure speculation, of course, but perhaps coach Tom Thibodeau’s decision to ride Andrew Wiggins’ hot hand may have also stemmed from a frustration with Towns’ performance in other areas. Whether it is Karl’s, Gorgui’s, or the whole team’s fault, it is undeniable that opposing centers have been feasting on the Timberwolves’ poor pick-and-roll defense and inability to box out. Tyson Chandler, who is averaging 8.5 points per game, tied his season-high with 22 points, along with 17 rebounds, on 9-9 shooting. Also, in the following documentation of his dominance, notice him wall Rubio off with a screen to get Booker a wide open shot late in the game:
Only two games ago, DeAndre Jordan, who is averaging 12.5 ppg, set his season high with 29 points on 12-15 shooting, along with 16 rebounds. Just over two weeks ago, Marcin Gortat had 19 and 10 on 9-9 shooting. He is averaging 11.5 and hasn’t had a game without a miss, or as many as 19 points since then. These performances aren’t coincidental. Opposing big men are out-muscling and out-hustling the Wolves’, as Clyde Frazier might say. Hey Tommy T, was KAT out-hustled and out-muscled tonight?
I thought so, too. It’s not just a matter of being pushed around, either. The Wolves have been making mental mistakes on defense, playing out of position and failing to communicate. Particularly frustrating for me of late has been what I perceive as half-assed help defense. When a player makes it past the initial defender, if the next line of defense is going to help, they have to bring that help defense with 100% commitment and intensity, and when they recover, it can’t be a step slow. The Canis community has been discussing Towns’ and Zach LaVine’s defensive deficiencies as of late, and tonight they were glaring:
I’m sure Thibs was thinking:
And it wouldn’t be a Timberpups game without egregious mental lapses and attempts to give the game away. Kris Dunn racked up 5 turnovers in only 14 minutes, along with 1-7 shooting, and Zach Lavine’s box score might not look completely atrocious, but something is clearly wrong with his focus and confidence. Jim Petersen called it, “a case of the yips.” Good ol’ Jim Pete was in rare form as his temper started to rise and his frustrations with the young Wolves started to boil over. I’m pretty sure he said, “What is that shit?!?” as Zach Lavine, being bereft of a left, horribly missed a junky right-handed shot. I hope the Wolves don’t play this sloppily for a while, but angry Jim Pete is comedy gold!
But it certainly wasn’t all bad. I was worried early, when the Wolves blew a 14-5 lead and were outscored 27-23 in the first quarter. None of the starters came out with obvious fire and desire. Luckily, Shabazz came to the rescue in the first half, scoring 15 points in 16 minutes on 6-7 shooting, including 2-2 from 3. He certainly seems to know and relish his role off the bench, and there is no way the team could have won without him:
I would also be remiss if I failed to mention Gorgui Dieng’s excellent performance. I have been down on his positioning and awareness as of late, and I have to give credit to Ray Williams and John Meyer, who stood up for him. On offense, he was excellent, setting a strong screen and rolling hard in the horns set with Rubio, spotting-up in the midrange as a trailer, and hitting a clutch robo-trebuchet-bank special. On defense, he took a charge and played help defense the way it’s meant to be played, moving with shocking speed to terrify Devin Booker into a crucial turnover late in the game:
Speaking of good defense, Andrew Wiggins also forced a crucial turnover in the 4th quarter, which Jim Peterson deemed “a brilliant read.”
Andrew was engaged and played with confidence, relishing his role as the go-to player down the stretch and rewarding Tom Thibodeau’s order to:
‘Drew finished the 4th quarter with 14 points on 4-7 shooting from the field, hitting the only 3-pointer he attempted, and he made his way to line 6 times by driving, only missing one free throw. For the game, Wiggins finished with 31 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals, which is absolutely stuffing the stat sheet, as far as he is concerned. He rewarded both Tom Thibodeau’s faith in his hot hand and die-hard Timberwolves fans around the world with a thrilling last second victory. Despite it’s flaws, let’s celebrate the Wolves’ victory over Phoenix, Canis Hoopus, for our pack is still in the hunt!
And just because I know you want it:
I love how the bench gets almost as excited for Cole’s jam as they did for the game-winner!