Traveling west this week for a three-game road trip, the Wolves’ collective emotions could best be described as mixed. On one hand, they found themselves 3rd in the Western Conference and one win away from matching last year’s win total (31). On the other hand, they were once again without the services of both Jimmy Butler and Jamal Crawford, who were dealing with knee and toe injuries, respectively.
Despite being undermanned, the Wolves entered Staples Center last night in search of their league-leading 24th victory against the Western Conference. Led by a combined 70 points from Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague, the Wolves successfully topped off another casual Monday in the NBA, a day that saw the Milwaukee Bucks fire their coach, the Cavs hold a “fiery team meeting,” and Boogie Cousins drop a Powerball-like stat line (44-24-10-4-1).
If you missed the game last night or couldn’t fathom spending two hours of your life listening to Bruce Bowen and Ralph Lawler lazily mispronounce the names of one Wolves player after another, you missed quite a performance from Maple Jordan.
Building off his 29-point performance at home against the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night, Wiggins was back to his bucket-getting ways, tallying a season-high 40 points on 57% shooting, including this two-hand slam on the backdoor feed from Taj Gibson:
Andrew takes the secret tunnel all the way to the rim! pic.twitter.com/mK7sSf6LAR— Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) January 23, 2018
With Jimmy sidelined and Towns M.I.A. for most of the game (more on that in a minute), Wiggins turned on the burners early, pacing the Wolves with 21 points in the first half.
Wiggins wasn’t completely abandoned on the offensive end, as his backcourt running mate Jeff Teague and fill-in starter Nemanja Bjelica both had their best games in a Wolves re-branded uniform, combining for 48 points on 48% shooting, including 19/21 from the foul line.
Maybe it was because he ditched his hefty knee brace, or maybe it was because he was being guarded by a combination of a 30-year old rookie (Miloš Teodosić) and a defensive turnstile (Lou Williams), but whatever the reason, Jeff Teague put on his best performance since signing with the Wolves this offseason. With Towns struggling, Teague went into attack mode, attacking the Deandre Jordan-less Clippers relentlessly. He finished 16/17 from the FT line and had his best assist/turnover ratio (6:1) since early December against the Phoenix Suns.
Meanwhile, Belly accounted for 41% of the Wolves three-point attempts last night, connecting on 3/9 from deep while also collecting 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal. His 35 minutes were also a season-high and the third most minutes he’s played in a single game since entering the league three years ago.
Back to Towns... the likely first-time Western Conference All-Star was either sick (possibly), injured (unlikely), or had his talents poached by the Monstars (can’t be ruled out). Despite notching his league-leading 41st double-double of the season, KAT was a step-slow all game, failing to secure his first made field goal attempt until 8 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. He also had this moment late in the fourth as the Wolves were attempting to lock up the victory:
KAT's gonna be on #Shaqtin pic.twitter.com/1Q0fJhjTv9— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) January 23, 2018
KAT finished the game with only 7 FGA’s, and numerous times looked disinterested on the defensive end, resulting in 72 (SEVENTY-TWO) points in the paint for the Clippers. Towns’ lone basket marked only the second time in his entire career that he had failed to connect on multiple field goals in a game. Plainly speaking, he wasn’t good at either end, but the big man did grab 17 rebounds and made crucial FT’s down the stretch to ice the game.
As for the home team, Blake Griffin continued to do the two things he does better than most - fill up the stat sheet while simultaneously (and excessively) complaining to anyone within earshot. Griffin finished the night with an enormous stat line (32 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 assists), but also finished the game with two crucial turnovers, including this fancy double-dribble that got Taj Gibson feeling some type of way:
Taj Gibson's reaction to Blake Griffin's double dribble pic.twitter.com/gHEJRdyvZs— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) January 23, 2018
All in all, it was a fairly sloppy performance from both teams last night, but in the end the Wolves made the necessary stops on the defensive end to secure their 31st win of the season, which according to our friend Alan Horton is pretty significant:
With a 126-118 win over the Clippers, MIN improves to 31-18 matching their win total from last season.— Alan Horton (@WolvesRadio) January 23, 2018
Matching last season’s win total in just 49 games is a clear sign of improvement for the new regime, and the recent production from key bench players (primarily Tyus Jones, Belly, and MGH) shows that this team actually does possess the necessary depth to be a serious threat going forward.
In the end, it wasn’t pretty to watch (or listen to depending on what broadcast you were stuck with), but the Wolves did just enough to come away with another “W.” In the words of my pal John Meyer:
We’ll take it.— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) January 23, 2018
Other Game Notes:
- The officiating last night for both teams left much to be desired. Our beloved Marcus Georges-Hunt somehow fouled out in just 21 minutes, and both Doc Rivers and Clippers assistant coach Mike Woodson received ejections late in the fourth quarter. Blake Griffin also used enough NSFW words to collect his fourth technical of the season.
- With Jamal Crawford sidelined and Belly promoted to the starting lineup, the Wolves remaining bench collectively tallied 13 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists. Tyus Jones played 14 minutes.
- Karl-Anthony Towns finished with two more shot attempts (7) than Shabazz Muhammad (5).
- With Deandre Jordan missing his 5th consecutive game with an ankle injury, Montrezl Harrell filled in nicely, pouring in 23 points and 6 rebounds.
- Finally, how about this Stat of the Night, courtesy yet again of our good pal Alan Horton:
Swanny Says: Tonight marks the 3rd time in franchise history the Wolves have had a player score 40+ while a teammate added 30+ in the same game. All 3 have occurred at Staples Center: pic.twitter.com/2kq8pFQZaw— Alan Horton (@WolvesRadio) January 23, 2018