The first quarter of the season has not been kind to the Los Angeles Clippers, but for the most part they were able to put that behind them tonight when they visited the Wolves at the Target Center. Down three starters and one backup, the Clippers have been struck with the injury bug early this year and it’s done some damage to their record thus far. But all things considered, they came out ready to play and hung with the Wolves throughout the night.
While Taj Gibson got off to a quick start for the Wolves tonight — scoring eight points in the first quarter — Austin Rivers held the hot hand for the Clips early on and well into the second half, finishing with 30 points, five rebounds and five assists.
The majority of the first half had the Wolves on top, but the Clippers were never too far behind. Despite being cold in recent games, Rivers put on a first-half show, scoring 20 points and going 5-6 from deep. Rivers is such a peculiar player who I have a hard time figuring out. There are games where I’m convinced he’ll be no better than a somewhat reliable backup in the league, and there are games like tonight where he completely throws all expectations for a loop and slings shots from deep like his last name is Curry.
Even with Rivers going unconscious from three, the Wolves maintained their lead in the first half by only committing one turnover and scoring 26 points in the paint, which came thanks to second chance points and by outscoring Los Angeles 13-0 on fastbreak points. They also grabbed seven offensive boards in the first half — three of which came from Taj Gibson — which helped keep them in the lead while most of the Wolves’ shots from deep weren’t falling.
To start the second half, however, the Clippers managed to catch the Wolves sleeping. One sloppy turnover quickly turned into three, and the Clippers started taking advantage of those opportunities while continuing to knock down threes (they were 15-34 on the night). Los Angeles would have easily taken the lead early in the third quarter and built upon it if it weren’t for a couple of clutch hustle plays from Jimmy Butler to stop the Clippers in transition.
Meanwhile, Gibson continued hustling and working the glass in the second half too — he finished with 20 points and six (!) offensive rebounds (and 11 total). Granted, he was going up against Jamil Wilson and Montrezl Harrell most of the night, but he still managed to steal some offensive rebounds away from the beast that is DeAndre Jordan. It would be great to see the kind of hustle Butler and Gibson bring to the table from Towns and Andrew Wiggins. The young guys show flashes every once in a while, but it’s not nearly as evident or consistent as it is from the other two, and that kind of stuff makes a difference.
Heading into the fourth quarter, Minnesota was up just two points, but that lead didn’t last long as the Clippers’ second unit somehow managed to get a few consecutive open looks underneath the basket and sneak away with the lead early on in the quarter. The fact that the Clippers hung on for so long in this game was bad enough, but their second unit stealing the lead late in the game is completely unacceptable. The starters all played serious minutes again tonight, so it’s likely they were gassed toward the end of the game, which opened up the opportunity for Los Angeles to creep back in it. It’ll be interesting to see how the starters handle tomorrow night in Memphis after playing such heavy minutes tonight.
Jimmy Butler came alive late in the fourth when the Wolves needed him most by doing what he does best: getting hustle points and creating opportunities. He got to the free throw line, grabbed a couple offensive rebounds and hit an open three to take back the lead. He also continued attacking the rim and converted on a crucial and-one late in the fourth. From there, the ball was in his hands coming down the court for the rest of the game. He scored 20 of the last 24 points for the Wolves and ended up with 33/8/4, securing the win for the Wolves almost single-handedly.
This game was up in the air for most of it, but tonight we saw what Jimmy Butler can do on offense and how he’s capable of taking over a game when he finds his groove. He really is a spectacular player all around.
- Thibs sat Shabazz Muhammad for the entire game, so he stuck with just an eight-guy rotation all night. All of the starters played more than 35 minutes.
- Again tonight, Tyus Jones subbed in early during the game and things just seemed to fall into place. Tyus has definitely taken some positive strides so far this season, which we saw during that four-game stretch where he filled in for Jeff Teague. But it’s his anticipation on offense (his passing in particular, where he somehow seems to know where each of his teammates is on the floor at all times) as well as his defense that he’s really taken to the next level. The energy he brings to this team is contagious and very valuable at the moment, and it’s a shame he isn’t getting more minutes. He finished with just 12 minutes tonight, which seems pretty absurd when you realize Thibs only played eight players.
- The refs made some questionable calls throughout the night, but they made them on both ends of the court, so it sort of evened out.
- Wiggins was 0-5 on catch-and-shoot threes tonight. He’s shooting just 33% from beyond the arc so far this season, which has got to change soon. It’s been great to see some of the strides he’s taken elsewhere in his game, but the Wolves need him to be more reliable with his open looks.