I admit I did not see that coming. Even without Stephen Curry and others, I expected Golden State, the best team in the league and coming off a loss in Portland, to be ready to take care of business against the Wolves, who came in on a three game losing streak. But the Wolves outscored the Warriors by 13 points in the second half to emerge with what could be a season-saving, and defining, 109-103 victory.
In order to beat the Warriors, you need some good fortune, and the Wolves got that in the form of poor shooting games for Kevin Durant, who scored 39 but shot 11-32 from the field, and Klay Thompson, who finished with 21 on 8-22. As a team, the Warriors were just 10-36 from three, and shot 40.7 percent from the field. But some credit must go to the Wolves defense, which was as active as we’ve seen it recently, particularly in close-out and help-and-recover situations.
I thought Andrew Wiggins did an excellent job, mostly on Klay Thompson, not giving him tons of air space, but still sticking with him on drives. It was a noticeably strong performance at that end by Wiggins, who also scored 23 points on 9-16 from the field. Also worth mentioning defensively is Nemanja Bjelica, who was assigned to Kevin Durant for much of the game, and did an admirable job given Durant’s talents. He also made several monster defensive plays in the fourth quarter, and finished with three steals and two blocked shots. He was also as committed as anyone in closing out to shooters and simply not giving up on plays. He didn’t shoot it well today (4-12 for 10 points,) but I was as impressed by Bjelica as I have been all season.
The star of the show was Karl-Anthony Towns. He dominated the fourth quarter especially, scoring 14 of his 31, including a monster three that pushed the Wolves lead to seven, and later an unguardable baseline fade away over Draymond Green. It was his put-back of his own miss, giving the Wolves a five point lead with 37 seconds left that was perhaps the key basket in the game. Bjelica blocked Quinn Cook’s layup attempt on the next possession, and the Wolves were able to see the game out.
The story was the starting lineup, which badly outplayed the Warriors throughout the game, a real achievement even in the absence of Steph Curry. But we need to talk about the bench, which was horrific. Derrick Rose saw his first action as a member of the Wolves today, playing seven disastrous first half minutes, in which he was -17 and a Wolves lead that was double-digits completely evaporated.
What amazes me is that all season, fans have been suggesting trying Jeff Teague and Tyus Jones together, at least a little bit, but Tom Thibodeau would never go to that look. He signs Derrick Rose, and all of a sudden he’s willing to throw Rose and Jones out there together?
Frankly, he committed coaching malpractice by running Rose-Jones-Crawford out there together for several minutes, along with Gorgui Dieng and Bjelica. That lineup has no business on the court against the Warriors, and was eviscerated to start the second quarter. That threesome on the perimeter is a catastrophe defensively, and hopefully will never be seen again.
But the Wolves do need some bench contributions from somewhere, and it’s hard to see where. Dieng’s game has atrophied, Rose is washed, Crawford gives up more than he scores, and Jones needs help to make it work. At any rate, somehow it didn’t cost them this game, largely because Thibs hardly played the bench in the second half.
In the end, though, it was a fantastic day at Target Center for the Wolves, who were desperate for a win as they have been struggling without Jimmy Butler recently and seeing other teams in the bunched Western Conference pass them by.