At the end of the first quarter in tonight’s game, the Wolves were winning 40 to 28. Karl-Anthony Towns led the way with 19 points, shooting seven of nine from the field. Ricky Rubio chipped in with eight points of his own while Andrew Wiggins had seven points. The Wolves were red-hot, shooting 68 percent from the floor.
However, the Pelicans weren’t doing too bad on offense either, shooting 58 percent from the floor and enjoying a bevy of open looks from the threepoint line. There was also this guy named Anthony Davis who put up 13 points of his own in the first quarter while shooting five of six from the field.
The Wolves then proceeded to lose the game, being outscored 94 to 66 for the rest of the game.
The problem with the opening quarter is that it masked the Timberwolves’ terrible defense. In the last month or so, we have been celebrating the Wolves “turning the corner” on defense, as since the December 13th cut-off point, the Wolves have been a relatively good defensive team. At one point, after December 13th, the Wolves were 5th in the league in defensive rating.
As of today, using that same cut-off date, the Wolves have slipped to 20th in the league in defensive rating.
The usual problems were abound in the match-up versus the Pelicans. The Wolves could do absolutely nothing to stop Anthony Davis as he cruised to a final stat line of 42 points on 16 of 22 shooting. Gorgui Dieng was primarily tasked with guarding Davis and Dieng had one of his worst games of the season. Davis did not even look like he had to try very hard for his baskets, as he was getting easy dump-off passes or kick outs as the Wolves struggled to contain the pick-and-roll throughout the entire game.
Jrue Holiday, just a few games after Goran Dragic carved up the Wolves, finished with 25 points on 10 of 14 from the field with 12 assists to boot. He got easy basket after easy basket in the pick-and-roll, as the Wolves secondary line would just melt away.
Once dribble penetration happened, the Pelicans would be standing wide open for threepointers, often before even a single rotation happened. The Pelicans ended up shooting 48 percent from the threepoint range and the Wolves have allowed the highest threepoint percentage in the NBA in February. Overall, the Pelicans shot 60 percent from the field.
To go with their terrible defense, the Wolves played some pretty bad offense, especially in the second half. The Wolves bench finished with nine total points. Shabazz Muhammad was off, shooting two of eight and missing all three of his threepoint attempts. Nemanja Bjelica was invisible. Lance Stephenson looked a whole lot like the Lance Stephenson that has played his way down in the league to resorting to 10-day contracts. Cole Aldrich made an appearance for three minutes and Kris Dunn was rusty in his first game back from injury, as Dunn’s highest counting stat was player fouls, of which he was able to garner four in just nine minutes.
The Wolves finished with an abysmal 22.2 percent from the threepoint range, showing how much they miss Zach LaVine, as Brandon Rush has not been able to replicate his brief stretch of relevancy from earlier in the year.
The Wolves did play a few funky lineups in this game, partially due to Thibodeau changing up his rotations now that LaVine is out for the year and due to the fact that Towns and Dieng were in foul trouble in the third quarter.
At one point, the Wolves went super small (the Pelicans were playing small ball all game) with Tyus Jones, Dunn, Lance, Bazz, and Towns. I can’t say the lineup led to any new results, but it is at least somewhat heartening to see Thibs mix things up a bit when things aren’t going the Wolves way.
Wiggins had a pretty quiet but decent game on offense, finishing with a nice stat line of 29 points on 11 of 17 shooting, four rebounds, two assists, and three steals. However, it still is hard not to get somewhat discouraged during stretches where the Wolves are simply relying upon Wiggins isolation basketball, such as the last four minutes or so of the third quarter. The Wolves had a small-ball lineup in and Wiggins took about four to five tough isolation shots in a row, draining three of them, but all the other players simply stood around and watched as he went to work.
Towns, after his amazing first quarter, ended up with 36 points on 13 of 22 shooting, while making all eleven of his free throw attempts. He was clearly laboring throughout the entire game and at one point had a frustration Flagrant One call against him due to an offensive foul where he simply smacked Anthony Davis in the face as Towns was driving into the lane.
Perhaps the most telling stretch of this game came towards the end of the fourth quarter when Gorgui Dieng missed what is probably the easiest shot in his career. A wide open layup with no one within 10 feet of him that he simply bungled at the rim. The following possession on defense, Towns and Wiggins fought over a defensive rebound, which led to the Pelicans recovering the ball and then making a wide-open threepoint shot.
Oh well. There isn’t too much more to say about this game. The Wolves were reliant upon hot shooting to make up for their terrible defense and the problems we saw this game have manifested themselves throughout the entire year. However, these games will always be frustrating as they often come against opponents who the Wolves should be either beating or keeping even with, not getting blown out by. All these games do is serve as a reminder of just how far the Wolves still have to travel.