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Pacers 109, Wolves 103: Twists and Turns

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It has been a season of twists and turns and wasted opportunities.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — When I was in college, one of my professors told me the most effective writers express their messages in as few words as possible.

I often think about that advice when writing recaps, or when people ask me how I feel about this season. Am I disappointed? Hopeful? Do I believe in the future? Is Thibs the right leader? Will the young core grow into fantastic beasts—capable of running through the rugged West and sustaining their dominance over an entire decade—or will the bright future stay frozen in time as we continue waiting for better days?

How does one effectively describe the Wolves and summarize one game on a cold Thursday night in Minneapolis without falling off a cliff into an ocean of explanations?

I guess what I’m saying is finding the right words to succinctly recap another loss is never easy when it feels like there’s twenty different things to discuss.

It’s tough to find the best way to write about disappointment over and over again while still keeping the words fresh. The characters and specific details always change, but the outline often remains the same. The losses have piled-up so heavily they begin to blend together. Thus, sharing delicious recipes instead of delving into the details of more letdown on the hardwood became a tradition like none other.

But enough of the contemplative stuff.

It has been a season of twists and turns and wasted opportunities under first-year POBO-HC, Tom Thibodeau (that stands for President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach). I suppose that’s the best way I can currently describe this iteration of the Wolves. Every time the team appears to have turned the proverbial corner, all it takes is one game to bring them back around the bend. Plenty of times, all it has taken is a terrible five minute stretch in the third to ruin an otherwise positive performance.

One step forward, two steps back, and vice versa. Perhaps inconsistent is the easiest word to lean on, though it certainly doesn’t capture what we have witnessed. It’s been a roller coaster season. The Wolves’ play often swings wildly between good, great, bad, and downright awful during the course of most games. Any possession can bring eye-opening and jaw-dropping sequences or disconcerting, sloppy execution. You never know what you’re going to get.

I suppose it’s about time to actually talk about last night’s game.

After winning 6 of their last 8 to stay in the mix for the 8th spot in the Western Conference—and the right to get whooped by Golden State’s super team—the Wolves squandered another opportunity to keep the positive momentum going after Andrew Wiggins’ buzzer beating jumper on the road in Phoenix two nights ago.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Indiana Pacers entered the night sitting at 22-22, led by their superstar wing, Paul George. They walked into Target Center and seemingly hit every single tough shot late in the possession with the clock ticking down. An old friend known as Medium Dog (Glenn Robinson III) hit two highly difficult shots, CJ Miles nailed a critical three-pointer over LaVine, and PG13 hit an array of contested jumpers over Wiggins.

“Yeah, G-Rob (Glenn Robinson III) hit some really tough shots,” said Karl-Anthony Towns. “We were just talking about that. Those kind of shots really ignite the team, when you hit some shots like that. They were hitting shots. They were just hitting shots. Paul George was great tonight and Wiggins played absolute fabulous defense on him. Don’t let the numbers fool you, he was contested the whole night. When your All-Star is hitting shots like that, it’s a hard night to stop him.”

After being named an Eastern Conference All-Star earlier in the evening, George went to work. He finished with 32 points, five assists, and four rebounds in his seventh 30-point game of the season. In short, George is one the best players in the league and no matter how well Wiggins defended him, it simply wasn’t enough. This stuff happens. George is a superstar who can carry his team to wins.

“He’s a tough cover,” Wiggins admitted after the loss. “You have to stop his first move, his second move, his third move. He can really shoot the ball. He’s a good player.”

The Wolves came out sluggish and looked sloppy in the first quarter at home when they needed to jump on a struggling team. The rebounding was poor and too many open three’s were bricked.

Myles Turner scored 23 points on 10-14 shooting while Jeff Teague finished with 20 points, 13 assists, and eight rebounds. He finished the night 7-13 from the floor, including connecting on 3-5 from three-point range.

“We were just playing with a good pace as a team,” Teague said. “I think Paul [George] did a good job of attacking early, getting to his sweet shots and making shots. And I opened up the floor for everybody else.”

Indiana shot 51.9 percent from the floor (10-18 from deep) and move to 12-2 when shooting 50 percent or better.

Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 33 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. It was his eighth 30-point performance of the season (third in his last four games) and 35th double-double of the season. But Towns needed to assert himself early in the game on the block with the much smaller Thad Young defending him, and that didn’t really happen. He was incredible late in the contest, hitting multiple threes to keep them alive, but he struggled to get good post position throughout the night and that hurt them in the first three quarters. 10 rebounds was also pretty light against Indiana’s smaller frontcourt.

“We looked flat,” said Towns. “It started with me too, looked flat. It’s too late to turn on the gas, five minutes left in the game. It makes it very hard to win a game. We almost pulled it off, but almost isn’t good enough.”

Towns took responsibility for the Pacers’ 44-34 rebounding advantage, saying it’s on him to control the glass. Thibodeau said rebounding was an issue he talked to the team about afterwards. “That’s been one of our strengths all year,” he said.

“It’s one of the few times I felt like we were slow reacting to the ball. We were flat. Some days when you are like that, you have to work your way through it. You have to be mentally tough to continue to battle, fight, scrap, get yourself going, get each other going.” Eventually Thibodeau said, “It felt like we were a step behind tonight.”

Zach LaVine has been struggling in the new year and most of that has to do with a left hip contusion he suffered against the Dallas Mavericks, but he got back on track a little bit last night with 23 points, including three three-pointers, in his highest scoring output since he dropped 24 vs. Utah on Jan. 7. This was LaVine’s 20th 20-point game of the season, surpassing his total (19) from last season, and perhaps it can help turn things around after a tough month. His 14.0 points on 41.3/33.3/71.4 shooting splits in January are way down from his season averages.

I enjoyed this block by Zach:

Andrew Wiggins scored 21 points and grabbed five rebounds. fourth consecutive 20-point outing and 26th of the season. Wiggins is now averaging 25.8 points, on 48.1% (37-of- 77) shooting, over his last four games. Ricky Rubio reached double-digit assists for the seventh time in his last eight games and 13th time overall this season. He added four steals, his seventh game this season with 4+ takeaways.

“Tonight, playing against Wiggins, he can play,” George said. “He’s really, really good. He’s special. I had to go take it to him early, try to get him out of the game or try to make it as tough for him as possible. Watching their games, he gets a lot of action. Lot of plays for him. Last thing I wanted to do was for him to feel himself early and he’s getting 20-25 play calls and I’m in for a long night. I tried to take their aggression out of them early and I feel like the team picked up on that and the intensity was there tonight.”

NOTES

  • Ricky Rubio reached double-digit assists for the seventh time in his last eight games. He added four steals, his seventh game this season with 4+ takeaways. But Teague absolutely won the head-to-head matchup and Rubio struggled mightily in defending the Pacers pick-and-roll game. His full-court heave to KAT was lovely though.

  • Kris Dunn had a really nice 8 minute stretch to start the second quarter, giving the Wolves a big spark when they were looking really sluggish, but he only logged seven additional minutes after that. He’s an incredible defender for a rookie.
  • This was the 12th game this season with 10+ made three-pointers, first since Dec. 30 vs. Milwaukee. The Timberwolves are now 6-6 in such games.
  • Wiggins on whether or not the emotional win in Phoenix impacted the game: “If anything, that should have lifted us up rather than let us down.”
  • George on his team’s mentality entering the night: “Nate wanted this one, as we all did. But it started with Nate. Nate pretty much broke it down to us that we have to be pissed off. It wasn’t a feeling in our locker room that anyone was pissed that we were in the predicament that we were in and he was the one that really brought it to light. Which, we were. Nobody wants to lose. Nobody wants to be a losing streak, but it took that little bit for us to kind of understand where we’re at and where he’s coming from and the expectations.”
  • Gorgui Dieng (eight points, nine rebounds, two steals, and two blocks) left the game and headed to the locker room for a brief period of time but eventually returned and started riding the bike behind the bench to stay loose. It’s unclear what happened but he was walking gingerly in the locker room afterwards. G is always been an iron man and he’s probably fine, though it’s something to keep an eye on moving forward. He’s been very good this season after signing that (BARGAIN) 4-year, $64 million deal.

UP NEXT: Brooklyn comes to Target Center tomorrow night and Orlando is here for a game on Monday. They need to win both.

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