MINNEAPOLIS — After dominating the Pelicans to start a five-game home stand this weekend, the team welcomed the Cleveland Cavaliers to Target Center. While the Wolves have been dominant against the West this year — they sport a 21-6 record against conference foes — they have been equally as bad against the East.
Coming into tonight, the team had a 4-10 record against Eastern teams, including a dud of a game against the Boston Celtics last week. Kyrie and Co. were their usual pestering selves and stifled a normally very good Minnesota offense, holding them to 84 points.
Fortunately for the Wolves, the Cavs lack that reputation, despite being one of the best teams from their conference. They have the second worst defensive rating in the NBA, and it’s really not surprising considering their personnel. Other than LeBron James, their only capable defender may be Jae Crowder, who hasn’t impressed much since coming over from Boston.
Cleveland has put up some really bad games this year thanks in part to their defense, or lack there of, but they still have the aforementioned James. LeBron, arguably the best player in basketball, has not lost a game in Minnesota since February of 2005.
On the other hand, Jimmy Butler, arguably the best Timberwolf of all time (!), had won six straight head-to-head matchups with the King coming into this one. This would be his first game against him as a member of the Wolves and something had to give. (Eds. Note: Um...Kevin Garnett is obviously the best Wolf ever.)
It turns out, when you combine Andrew Wiggins superpowers against the Cavs with Butler’s superpowers in general, the end result is catastrophic destruction. The team won without any doubt, dominating every facet of the game, 127-99.
There was no hangover from the dominant win on Saturday, as the team started quickly in this one. They jumped out to a 20-4 lead behind patient ball movement, which led to open shots, and disciplined defense. It was 32-18 by the end of it, with Wiggins leading the way with 10 points.
We all know it’s coming but it really is fun to watch Andrew against the team that drafted him number one overall. He was hitting stone-cold jumpers with a hand in his face and attacking the rim and finishing with acrobatics. In the end, he led all scorers with 25 points while adding six rebounds.
If the team could play the Lakers and Cavs 41 times each per season, we would never have question the five-year max Wigs received this past offseason.
The hot start to the game was also propelled by the two towers in Taj and Towns. The small Cleveland lineup was no match for the traditional, though very talented, big men. LeBron was matched on to Taj twice in the first half. Both times Gibson used his footwork to outmaneuver James and notch the easy bucket. He ended with 16 points and 13 rebounds in one of his best games of the year.
Towns missed only three shots on his way to 19 points, highlighting how efficient he has been lately. Any time he got the ball in the post and the double came, he found Taj. He has become so adept at passing out of the double team as he has gotten more looks and it’s really helped the offense evolve.
He finished the game with 19 points, 12 boards and four assists in 30 minutes of a play. The play of the game came from none other than Tyler, er, Tyus Jones:
Before the game, LeBron James was asked about the youth of this Wolves team. He said to ‘throw out that narrative’ as the only young guys were Wiggins and “Tyler Jones.”
Well, Lebron, meet Tyler. Granted, this was almost immediately after LeBron stuffed Tyus when he tried to float one over the forward. The good news is that Jones learns from his mistakes. He played great with six points, eight assists and two steals.
Jimmy Butler was perfect again with 21 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and three steals. He has now won seven in a row against LeBron James. If the Wolves were to ever meet the Cavs in the Finals, that would be a very good thing.
His defense on the bruising James is something Wiggins is not capable of withstanding and gives the Wolves so much more freedom. When you can leave a guy on an island, the rest can worry about team defense, clogging passing lanes and providing weak side help.
The team made history tonight in holding LeBron to a career worst plus/minus of -39.
“I’ve won a game and had a bad plus-minus, so why does that matter. I don’t give a damn about no damn plus-minus,” James said after the game.
The whole win was very surprising in how dominant and impressive it was. For the second game in a row, the team got a huge lead and never really let the game come back into question.
“It’s a good sign that the last two games, this game and the last game, we’ve been able to garner a lead and not only keep it, but build on it. We’re having a lot more maturity. We’re doing a great job defensively. When we play defense like we did tonight and against New Orleans we’re very hard to beat,” KAT said after the game.
There were questions early on, when the defense was horrid, whether this team could ever turn it around on that end. If December and January are any indication, the defense is here to stay.
The team continues their home stand this Wednesday against the Thunder.