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Wolves 93 Spurs 100: Happy Hunger Games

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“Stupid people are dangerous.” ― Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Have we ever explored the idea of the Spurs actually being evil? Maybe the Popovich-led army (dressed in black and gray) is not a basketball dynasty and instead an evil empire created to silently torment unprepared victims. I have a theory, San Antonio is The Capitol from The Hunger Games and Gregg Popovich is the Spurs version of the evil President Snow.

Tonight at Target Center, Pop’s beard was looking especially wispy and his Spurs were up to their usual shenanigans. Kawhi Leonard played coy in the first half, scoring two points. But in the second-half, he waited one minute and nine seconds to begin sharpening a javelin he would eventually send directly through the heart of the Wolves as he ripped off a Brandon Rush pass intended for Andrew Wiggins.

Leonard piled on 20 second-half points against a helpless Wolves defense that, again, struggled to communicate effectively. As is now par for the course, Wolves defenders begin to go rogue and offense becomes easy for the opponent. After the game, Tom Thibodeau was particularly frustrated in the lack of connectedness by the defense especially in the crucial final possessions.

Tom Thibodeau On Pressure Situations...

“We’re mistakenly making this up. And so the young guys don’t know what the other is doing and it’s leading to mistakes. We have to be able to count on each other.”

The broken record narrative extended beyond Thibodeau’s comments. This game’s story was eerily similar to the previous matchup against the Spurs in San Antonio two weeks prior. Another game where the Wolves looked dominant in building a first half lead only to wilt under second half pressure from a seasoned, contending team.

The Wolves early dominance was highlighted by an engaged Shabazz Muhammad on both ends of the floor. Muhammad approached defending Leonard with the same ferocity he typically saves for offensive rebounds. Outside of his impressive work on Leonard, his offense was equally admirable. Muhammad tallied 16 first-half points, punctuated by what has become his signature left-handed hammer on the fast break.

Muhammad and the entire team’s early effort was figuratively a volunteering of tribute. The third quarter began a slow and painful death. That quarter’s woes returned behind the usual culprit of turnovers. The Wolves turned the ball over ten times in the third quarter alone. A nine-point first half lead completely dissolved as the Wolves lost that quarter 31-16.

A positive change was a fourth quarter resurgence. Even more surprising was a face in the surge, Kris Dunn. He may have only scored five points in the fourth quarter, but Dunn played all but the final 22 seconds of the fourth quarter. His impact was, again, felt on the defensive end. Dunn continues to show an elite ability to chase wings, contort his body, and get around screens consistently. He even confidently shot and made an important three.

Neither Dunn nor the rest of the team needed to bring much offense in the fourth quarter as Karl-Anthony Towns, again, became dominant. Towns only missed one shot in the fourth and scored 15 points in that quarter alone. Wiggins threw down yet another nasty dunk in the fourth quarter, but I was personally frustrated when the biggest shot of the game went to him. Down by one point with the 45 seconds to go, the Wolves called a timeout and drew up a double-screen for Wiggins that resulted in yet another missed midrange shot.

While it is certainly easier to find an isolation for a wing, at some point a real calculation needs to be weighed between the effectiveness of Wiggins in these situations compared to Towns.

The Spurs who entered the evening with a Net Rating of +21.0 in clutch situations out-executed the Wolves down the stretch who have a -9.9 Net Rating in the clutch, according to NBA.com/stats. So long as communication, execution, and continuity remain an issue in Minnesota the evil will continue to prevail.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Notes

  • Omri Casspi looked quite awful in his Wolves debut, turning the ball over five times. While there is a need on the roster for a stretch-four like Casspi, matchups against teams with formidable frontcourts remind the Wolves that they need another legitimate big man.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge is healthy and as much of a beast as ever. LMA dominated Dieng, Towns, and Aldrich scoring 12 points in the first quarter. He finished with 26 points on 24 shots.
  • Tyus Jones’ defense continues to be underrated, in my opinion. His ability to pester the passing lanes is clear. He may be small, but he knows where to be. He had three steals in the first half.
  • Karl-Anthony Towns had an excellent fourth quarter but came out slow. He was constantly coughing on the bench and in the locker room after the game. (He was not seen coughing up blood like President Snow though, so we’re alright.)