In a tale of two halves, the Timberwolves weren’t able to keep pace with the Celtics throughout the third and fourth quarter (as well as the last two minutes of the second). Hoping to buck the trend of 10 previous losses against the Celtics, the Timberwolves came out firing in the first, hitting 62% of their shots from the field. They held a two point lead at the half and looked like they were going to make it a close game. KAT was nearly perfect, Rubio was conducting the offense and hitting shots, and the defense was collectively doing as well as they could against Isaiah Thomas. Plus, this...
It was flowing, dear reader, I promise. We looked good. KAT was on a 20-points-in-21-games streak, the chip on Rubio’s shoulder continued to whisper sweet nothings into his ear, and Wiggins actually passed out of a shooting opportunity (video evidence above). So what happened? Where did this blowout begin?
Fouls - The game ended with a 21 to 16 foul disparity, but there was a stretch of the third quarter where it felt like every possession, both offensively and defensively, led to a Timberwolves call. Some of them were warranted. By all means, give the refs and the Celtics credit. I’m going to do my best to avoid being too Clippery throughout this talking point, but there were times where I had to get up and walk off my ref rage.
Al Horford, who had an excellent game, got aggressively handsy on KAT at several points, like a curious three year old with an actual cat, yet it was Towns that was called for the foul. “Oh my God” declarations from KAT (and from myself) punctuated the airwaves of my apartment throughout the third quarter as I tore hair from my scalp and watched the Wolves lead slip away.
The Wolves starters accumulated 17 of the 21 fouls by the end of the game. Dieng with four, Wiggins with three, Towns with three, Rubio with four, and Rush with three. The accumulation became disruptive to the Wolves rotation as early as the first quarter. Gorgui was subbed out in the first after picking up his third foul, Rubio had to sit for the majority of the third and the start of the fourth after acquiring some pretty ticky-tack calls, and multiple offensive charges led to a number of the Wolves eight turnovers and an ever-growing Boston lead.
Again, I’m not blaming the refs for this loss. Upon replay, many of the fouls seemed legit, albeit somewhat borderline. There were other factors at play here.
Shooting - After shooting the lights out in the first half, the Wolves felt the full effects of the snowstorm on the east coast and went absolutely cold in the second (topical reference - nailed it). The Wolves ended the game at 44% from the field, 29.6% from three, and 80% from the line. The Celtics, on the other hand, went crazy in the second, hitting 54.4% from the field, 39.4% from three, and 85.7% from the line. There were stretches in the third and fourth, where the Wolves couldn’t buy a bucket. Some of that was because we couldn’t resist shooting threes and contested long twos, especially as the game wore on.
The successful strategy of getting the ball into the paint in the first half was completely scrapped and abandoned in the second. Instead of driving, Wiggins kept reverting to his turnaround, fade-away shot. Let me check his stat line really quickly. Hmm, he did end the game with 21 points. Let’s look deeper. 21 point on 23 shots?!? What had happened, Wigs? You can’t have been Crowdered that hard.
With Wiggins being off for the majority of the night, the Wolves turned to one Shabazz Nagee Muhammad for some scoring punch. What’s that? Bazz can’t hit a three to save his life? He was 0-5 from the arc? And is currently in a super hot 2-30 streak? That’s probably not great.
To his credit, Bazz did get to the line more than anyone else tonight, hitting seven of eight and finishing the evening with 21 points, tied with Wiggins for second best on the team. So where did the points come from? With KAT getting constantly fouled and Wiggins unable to generate anything, where did the Wolves generate 104 points?
Ricky “The Magician” Rubio, wants everyone to know that he’s capable of hitting shots. Haters beware. This adorable unicorn is on a hot streak. When the rest of the team was hitting bricks, Rubio was splashing off-dribble mid-rangers all night. Well, for the portion of the night when he wasn’t in foul trouble. My man ended the evening as the leading scorer for the Wolves with 23 on 8-14 shooting, 3-5 from three, and 4-4 from the line. He also had a seven to one assist to turnover ratio and stole all the girls (and had one legitimate steal). He continued his amazing streak against some of the best point guards in the league. If it wasn’t for moving screen calls that went against him, Ricky may have had one of his best career performances. Unfortunately, there was a tiny man that bested him, and the Wolves, on this night..
Isaiah Thomas - While shooting foul shots midway through the second, Isaiah walked past Bjelica and looked like a toy version of a human. I knew that he was on the shorter end of the spectrum, but I didn’t realize how short. I immediately fired up the vegter21 research labs and found the following information.
At 5’9”, Isaiah Thomas is in a rarefied NBA category. He shares the sub-six foot category with some huge names, but there have only been 17 players shorter than him. Research Labs; ENGAGE!
- Mugsy Bouges - 5’3” - The shortest NBA player of all time. At one point, he was on the same roster as Manute Bol, making it the greatest height disparity between teammates at 28 inches.
- Earl Boykins - 5’5” - I recall Earl in his Denver days, probably because he destroyed the Wolves during the dark years, but I didn’t realize that he was on ten different teams during his thirteen year career. It’s the size of the fight in the dog, GM’s.
- Spud Webb - 5’6” - Slam Dunk Champ in 1986, beating out ‘Nique.
- Watura Misaka - 5’7” - First Asian to play in the NBA (but you knew that).
- Herm Klotz - 5’7” - Who could forget? He’s the shortest player to ever win an NBA championship, winning with the Baltimore Bullets in ‘47-’48 (same time at Misaka, but you knew that).
Isaiah Thomas, although he does have an inch or two on the list above, is far and away the best short player the league has seen in recent history. Yes, I know you’re going to drop a Calvin Murphy reference on me, but that was 35 years ago. I will not listen to you if you mention Nate Robinson. Isaiah is the real deal. He’s the second leading scorer in the league this season, just behind radiation-enhanced Westbrook, is extremely fast, and has a jump-forward three point shot that never looks like it should go in but results in swishes more often than not. Tonight, despite being held in check for most of the first half, Thomas ended with 27 points on 8-15 shooting, four for nine from three, and a perfect seven for seven from the line.
Thomas continues to make the Sacramento Kings look like geniuses for drafting him as the 60th pick in the 2011 draft and, at the same time, idiots for trading him to the Suns for the rights to Alex Oriakhi in the summer of 2014. Good job, Kings!
The Phoenix Suns attempted to match the Kings futility by trading Thomas to the Celtics just before the trade deadline in 2015. What sort of haul did they receive for the second-leading scorer in the league this season? Marcus Thorton and a 2016 first round draft pick (via Cleveland). Thorton played in nine games with the Suns. Solid, solid work Phoenix.
Led by Thomas, the Celtics are a really, really solid team. Because of the recent play of the Wolves, I thought that we had a good chance at stealing a road win tonight, but the play of Thomas, Horford, Crowder, and Bradley make Boston a tough out. They may not have the star power of Cleveland, but the Celtics are going to be a tough contender in the eastern conference.
Other Factors - Injuries to Belly and Stephenson tonight did not help matters. Belly’s recent play has a direct correlation to the Wolves success. Having Stephenson as a contributor off the bench would have helped with the foul trouble the Wolves found themselves in this evening.
Karl-Anthony Towns continues to not garner the respect of the NBA referees. He was called for three fouls, yet he only managed to get to the line once on the evening. In the latest NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement, players will now have the ability to call into a hotline to complain about refs and calls in recent games. According to Mitch Lawrence at Sporting News:
Additionally, the players for the first time will have a hotline to the union to call in to critique the work of refs in their games. They’ll be able to report not just on where they think the official botched a call, but also if they found a ref to be out of line, verbally, with how they handled blow-ups. Basically, they can complain like never before. The hotline is a response to the league allowing the new monthly reviews so that players can report something they thought was handled incorrectly while it’s still fresh in their minds.
The Ringer put together a hypothetical video of what Karl-Anthony’s recorded call into the hot line would sound like. In reality, KAT should be complaining about the lack of calls on his drives to the rim, but the following video did make me laugh, all the same.
“He was throwing ice chips at us”
“He was calling me Kitty....my name is KAT”
“And the mastodon is on fire...and the smoke above it, it just says “defense””
Solid work. Eventually the calls will come, KAT. Just listen to Thibs and his flamed mastodon, and the calls will come. I hope.
I’m also hoping for a Denver loss tomorrow night. If needed, I will pull a Tonya Harding on Jokic. Just give me the go-ahead in the comments and a lead-pipe acquisition will happen. Whatever it takes. Playoffs or bust, Canis. Playoffs or bust.