If you had offered me a split of this two game trip to Milwaukee and Indiana, I would have taken it, and that’s exactly what the Wolves got, once again building a big lead, but this time hanging on to it in a 107-90 win over the Pacers in Indianapolis.
The Pacers played without star Victor Oladipo, and he was clearly missed as they simply did not have anywhere to go for baskets through most of the night. This was a turnabout from the game earlier in the season at Target Center, when the Pacers embarrassed the Wolves who were playing without Jimmy Butler.
Coming in to the game today, I was concerned whether the Wolves would be ready to play on the road at a strange starting time. But it was the Pacers who came out entirely flat, and the Wolves took advantage. They ran out to a 17-0 lead, forcing turnovers, blocking shots, and getting in the open floor, before the Pacers managed to score a bucket.
Although the Pacers would make a couple of pushes in the first half, the Wolves, despite poor shooting, were able to maintain control of the game thanks to Pacers turnovers and feasting at the free throw line, primarily in the person of Jimmy Butler who went to the line nine times in the first half. It added up to an 11 point halftime lead, even though the Wolves failed to make a three pointer in the half.
It was the third quarter when the Wolves exploded, outscoring the Pacers 38-20, behind two threes each from Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, and multiple transition buckets stemming from more Pacers turnovers. The Wolves opened up a lead as big as 29 points, rendering the fourth quarter academic.
In the end, the Pacers finished with 16 turnovers to only seven for the Wolves, something they’ve been terrific at all season. The Wolves also made 21-25 free throws to only 14 makes for the Pacers, which helped them overcome a 10-4 disadvantage in made threes.
It was one of the better defensive efforts of the season. The Wolves held the Pacers to 38 percent from the field, and were incredibly active especially early in the first and throughout the third quarter. Towns, whose defense has been noticeably better over the past few weeks, absolutely dominated inside, blocking six shots (matching a career high) and grabbing a couple of steals as well. He fell one assist shy of a quad nickel, and after a quiet first half scoring, got it rolling in the second to finish with 18 and 14 boards.
He and Taj Gibson commanded the paint, with Taj finishing with 17 and nine, and a couple of blocks of his own. It was complete domination in the paint for the Timberwolves.
But as usual, it was Jimmy Butler who was the main catalyst for the Wolves. His 26 led the team, and he added six boards, five assists and three steals as he more or less did everything for the Timberwolves, as he has throughout the month of December. It was an incredible month for Butler who took this team by the scruff of the neck and established himself as the driving force as the Wolves turn things around.
It was his activity in the third quarter that was key in breaking open the ball game, as he along with Tyus Jones forced several turnovers that resulted in transition points for the Wolves. He’s simply a menace on both ends of the floor, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Kevin Garnett was here in his prime. It is absolutely fantastic to watch him take things over in myriad ways.
A satisfying win to end 2017 sends the Wolves into the new year with a 23-14 record, good for fourth in the Western Conference. They play again tomorrow at home against the Lakers on the back end of a back-to-back before heading out on the road again.
- The bench was disappointing in the first half, giving up a big part of the Wolves lead. Aaron Brooks is not a capable back up point guard, and Nemanja Bjelica’s struggles returning from injury continue. They need to figure that out, especially in the absence of Jeff Teague.
- The Wolves finished with 11 steals. They were very active anticipating passes and being ready with their hands. It was a huge part of this win.
- Andrew Wiggins looked like he was going back in the deep freeze early, but made a couple of threes in the third quarter. His free throw struggles continue (2-4) and it’s now becoming a thing.
- Lance Stephenson was assessed a flagrant one for elbowing Towns on a screen in the third quarter.
- Darren Collison, who has hurt the Wolves in the past, was held to five points and two assists, as the Pacers starters were horrible tonight.