For a brief moment in the fourth quarter, it appeared that perhaps Jimmy Butler wasn’t joking when he said they keep the games close for the fans. The Mavericks had trimmed the Wolves huge lead down a bit early in the period, and the murmurs started. But the Wolves regained control and won 112-99 in a game that really was not as close as the final score indicates.
Finally the Wolves got a win that didn’t have fans biting their nails down the stretch. The Mavericks have been woeful this season, coming in at 1-9, and we saw why during this game. They lack firepower on the offensive end, and their lack of size hinders their defensive efforts, leaving them with little to hang their hat on.
A slow start for both teams was finally broken when Andrew Wiggins, who had been in a bit of a shooting slump coming in, got hot early. A couple of jumpers went in for Wiggins, and he was off to the races, scoring 16 first half points on 7-8 from the field. It was the spark the Wolves needed offensively as they pushed out to a ten point halftime lead. Wiggins was joined by Karl-Anthony Towns who had 14 in the first half and dominated the paint offensively, and the bench which scored 21 first half points. The Mavs were pretty much Harrison Barnes or bust early.
(Aside: Someone on Twitter pointed out how similar Barnes’ and Wiggins’ games look. It was a good point as they went back and forth in the first half, getting into the paint and scoring. Unfortunately I cannot find the tweet to properly cite it, but I’m pretty sure it was from a Canis regular. Please announce yourself in comments.)
The Wolves really broke the game open in the third quarter, behind a monster stretch from Towns. He found his three point shot in addition to his work inside, and he and Taj Gibson started dominating the offensive glass as the Wolves lead ballooned to as much as 28 points. It was by far their biggest lead in a game so far this season, and while the Mavs got hot in the fourth, with rookie Dennis Smith Jr. and Devin Harris making some threes to close the gap, it never got into single digits and the Wolves, for the first time this season, cruised to a win.
It was a solid game offensively for the Wolves, who shot 54 percent from the field, made 10-24 threes, and assisted on 33 of their 43 baskets. I thought the ball movement was crisper than we’ve seen it for much of the year, though some of that is a result of the Mavs defense. Still, they were making the extra pass, and there appeared to be significantly more off-ball movement than I’m used to seeing.
Defensively there were some good things. I thought Karl-Anthony Towns, who wound up with three blocks, looked significantly better. Did a nice job walling up on several occasions and not taking himself out of the play. The Mavs really don’t have anyone who is going to hurt you inside consistently, so that makes things easier, but only a late flurry from the Mavs made their shooting numbers respectable. Harrison Barnes, who had it going in the first half, was taken out of the game completely in the second, mostly by Jimmy Butler though Wiggins played a part as well.
In the end, the Wolves came out and executed against a team who does not have their level of talent. They didn’t take it for granted, they took control of the game and never ceded it. They did what they had to do and were supposed to do against an inferior opponent. That’s a great thing to see.
Lets hit some notes:
- Three Wolves with double-doubles tonight: KAT with 31-12, Gibson with 12 and 10, and Jeff Teague with 11 and 10 assists. I thought Teague looked out of sorts most of the night, passing up good looks and getting into trouble. He didn’t shoot well (5-13) and did turn it over five times, but was also a team leading +16 on the night, so it all worked out.
- The bench had a great stint in the first half, growing the lead and burying shots (Tyus Jones and Nemanja Bjelica both hit two threes in the first half,) but struggled in the second half as things were just a little off, and guys started forcing things.
- Speaking of Bjelica, ignoring the minutes for now, it’s amazing how little they look for him. So frequently Crawford or Teague or someone will shake and bake and try to go one on one while the hottest shooter in the league stands there waiting. He made both his three point attempts tonight. I mentioned on twitter at half time that he has abandoned his drive game. He then had a sweet one with an incredible dish to a cutting Crawford for the layup in the fourth quarter. (An earlier terrific look was mishandled by Bazz.)
- Jimmy Butler had five rebounds and seven assists, but only four points in this one. He’s really not looking to score much at all right now, taking only seven shots in 34 minutes (and making only one.) It’s a nice luxury to have a guy with his talent just filling the gaps and being the smart, do-shit player he is without relying on him to score as well. Presumably he’ll find his shots along the way.
- Smith Jr. looks like he’s going to be a player. Beyond that, not a ton to get excited about for Mavs fans. Who hopefully are enjoying what I have to assume will be Dirk Nowitzki’s last season.
- This is the Wolves first four game winning streak since December of 2012, and with other results, leaves them tied with the Grizzlies, a half game behind the Rockets and Warriors at the top of the Western Conference. It feels good to write that.
- Wolves have a back to back, with the Charlotte Hornets in town tomorrow. Big test as the Wolves look for their first five game winning streak since 2009.