The Minnesota Timberwolves missed a rare opportunity that was there for the taking on Sunday night — stealing Game 1 as the 8 seed in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
The Timberwolves wound up on the wrong end of a 104-101 score when it was all said and done. Other than James Harden and Clint Capela in the first half, the entire Houston Rockets team was practically begging the Wolves to win that game.
Though the result wasn’t ideal for the Wolves, it did provide a clearer picture of what is necessary to beat the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. Houston certainly didn’t play its best game of the season and that has been acknowledged. However, the Wolves didn’t exactly light it up themselves.
Karl-Anthony Towns’ production was far more limited than many desire. He only attempted nine shots in the game, hitting three and scoring eight points. Whether Towns’ lack of involvement was due to Tom Thibodeau’s game plan, his teammates for ignoring him or his own doing, Minnesota could benefit significantly from a run-of-the-mill KAT performance in Game 2.
As Charles Barkley alluded to during the halftime show on the TNT broadcast Sunday night, Houston’s defense is based on switching most screens. Minnesota’s pick-and-roll heavy offense forced Houston into switches often, which meant a guard defending Towns and a big defending a ball handler such as Jeff Teague, Jamal Crawford or Derrick Rose. Instead of posting Towns up against a smaller player, the Wolves would clear out the lane to allow the guard to isolate against a big man. It’s not that this is a terrible idea, but one would assume feeding Towns the ball inside and letting him draw double teams or attack a smaller player would result in ample scoring opportunities for the Timberwolves.
Additionally, Jimmy Butler’s offensive performance Sunday night was not up to par with his typical display. He struggled to find a rhythm and remained Thibodeau’s go-to option in crunch time. If the Wolves can get the usual production from Towns and Butler in Game 2, they can stay competitive with the Rockets, especially if they shoot from outside the way they did in Game 1 (which won’t happen).
As John Meyer touched on in his 10 quick thoughts, flipping the usage rates from Game 1 is a good idea. Rose (30.8%), Gorgui Dieng (26.8%) and Teague (26.4%) led the Wolves in usage rate Sunday night while Butler (15.6%) and Towns (14.2%) were sixth and seventh, respectively, out of the Wolves players who saw the court.
Defensively, the Wolves appeared to be contesting Houston’s three-pointers well for the most part in Game 1. Several of Harden’s makes from outside were contested and he was the only Rocket who shot well (7-for-12) from three. The rest of the team went 3-for-25. It’s tough to imagine a scenario where the team as a whole shoots that poorly again.
Minnesota can absolutely keep up with these Rockets, but it will take a defensive effort similar to Sunday night and much better execution on offense.
A win tonight would suddenly put the Wolves in the driver’s seat the series would move to Target Center for Games 3 and 4. Now wouldn’t that be something?
Expected Starting Lineups
Note: Ryan Anderson will go through shootaround and is expected to suit up, though his playing time is undetermined.
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This is fun, isn’t it? PLAYOFF BASKETBALL.