The Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers came into the night as two teams going in very different directions as of late. Prior to their matchup, the red-hot Wolves had won eight of their last eleven games and were the closest they’ve been to a playoff spot since early November. Meanwhile, the Cavs were just 4-7 during that same stretch, were without two starters due to injuries, and had to recently deal with their leader (and de facto GM) questioning ownership and the front office for not adding another playmaker to the roster.
So how did the Wolves, riding a wave of momentum into a nationally televised game, respond to the challenge of facing the struggling defending champions? Well, um...not great.
Led by Khloe Kardashian’s latest prey, the Cavs outworked and outplayed the Wolves on the way to a 125-97 victory, resulting in the Wolves’ worst loss of the 2016-2017 season. Thompson finished with eighteen points and fourteen rebounds, including eight on the offensive glass. The eighteen points were one shy of his season high, and the 64% shooting was in large part due to plays like this:
In regards to the issue of playmaking, LeBron and Kyrie Irving took matters into their own hands, dishing out a combined 26 assists (including a career-high 14 assists for Irving in only three quarters). The recipe for most of those 26 assists was 1⁄3 cup of excellent playmaking and 6 pints of terrible defense. For example:
See the trend here? Three Cavs highlights, three alley-oop dunks. The Cavs ended the night shooting 53.9%, including 40.% from deep (15 of 37). To properly ice the victory cake, Cleveland clamped down on the defensive end, resulting in ten steals and ten blocks.
In the Wolves defense (#irony), they played tonight with much of the same energy and spirit that helped them secure back-to-back wins against the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic. The only problem was...well...the Cavs are slightly (#irony) more talented than either of those teams (or even both of them put together).
Karl-Anthony Towns led the semi-enthusiastic charge tonight, racking up 26 points on 58% shooting, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks. Attempting to keep Thompson off the offensive glass took it’s toll on the 21-year old big man from Edison, NJ, as he appeared to run out of gas midway through the third quarter (15 straight games of 36+ minutes doesn't help but let’s save that rant for another day). Regardless, watching Mr. Towns play basketball is a privilege and I urge that you check out these highlights if you (fortunately) missed the game:
As for other starters, Zach LaVine was downright terrible, shooting 4 of 18, including 0-for-6 from deep and failed to attempt one FT. Zach is another player who appears a half-step slow as of late, possibly because of that nagging hip injury, or possibly because he’s leading the league in distance traveled (in miles) per night! The overexertion of the Wolves three young stars is becoming a bigger and bigger issue in my opinion, and is something that needs to be monitored closely as the next few weeks unfold.
Finally, the only other “bright spot” of the night was Ricard ‘Ricky’ Rubio, who scored 14 points on 45% shooting and dished out 13 of the team’s 26 assists. Over his last 11 games played (excusing the Denver game for personal reasons), Rubio is averaging 11.2 assists and shooting 40%. The young Wolves are 7-4 during that span. If you think that’s a coincidence, we need to have a serious heart-to-heart in the comment’s section.
Regardless of the sad performance tonight, shouts to my guy John Meyer for keeping my optimism extremely high:
- Shabazz Muhammad continued his “Contract Year: Who Wants to Pay Me” tour, pouring in 16 points on 44% shooting, and was once again the only pulse off the bench.
- Speaking of that bench! “Players not named Shabazz Muhammad” combined for 39 total on-court minutes and only 8 points (thanks, Belly). In a 28-point blowout, only seven guys played 11 or more minutes. This. Is. An. Issue. And. I. Am. Very. Concerned.
- Kris Dunn is a rookie. Rookie’s have bad games. But tonight, Dunn had his absolute worst game of the season, playing all of ten minutes and failing to record any stat other than three turnovers. Again, rookie’s have bad games, but the talent gap between 26-year old Ricky Rubio and 23-year old Kris Dunn is currently Pek-size. While Dunn will always be the first drafted player under President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau, Head Coach Tom Thibodeau knows who the best PG on the roster is. I know it, too. So do you. This issue is only going to get blurrier before it gets clearer.
- Finally, Adreian Payne played the last three minutes of the game tonight. In hindsight, maybe that’s all you really needed to know...