No matter what happens in the game, this is an exciting night at Target Center for Wolves fans: The first home playoff game since 2004.
Unfortunately, though perhaps expectedly, they return home down 2-0 in their series with the top-seeded Houston Rockets. The Wolves pushed the Rockets to the end in game one, falling by three points after trailing significantly for most of the game. Game two was much less in doubt after the Rockets seized control in the second quarter and cruised home from there.
The Rockets are obviously the better team, and it’s not clear what the Wolves can do to get back into the series, although as we saw with the Bucks and Wizards yesterday, getting into your own building can help immensely. So far, we’ve seen some reasonably successful defense from the Wolves, holding the Rockets to shooting percentages and point totals they can live with, but it’s been the offense that has failed them.
Lots of attention has been paid to Karl-Anthony Towns and the two game slump he’s in, and rightly so. He is the Wolves best offensive player and they need him to play like it. Throughout the season getting him the ball enough was an underlying issue, but it has been exacerbated in the post-season with the Rockets switching but ready with a double-team lurking, usually in the person of one of their long forwards like P.J. Tucker or Trevor Ariza. This has cut Towns off, and he hasn’t figured out how to respond.
I’d like to see him get the ball on the perimeter more, either for three point attempts or drives, and I’d also like to see more pick and roll action involving Towns. But the Rockets are very good defensively, and nothing comes easy.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Butler is clearly hurting, and does not have his usual aggression and spring. He too has struggled to find good looks, and when Towns and Butler are struggling, the offense is going to struggle as a whole.
Game two featured a catastrophic stint by the three-guard bench unit that includes Jamal Crawford and Derrick Rose. That was the turning point in the game, and Thibs stuck with it for roughly six minutes while the Rockets ran roughshod over it. It worked somewhat better in game one, largely because Rose made some shots, but Thibs has to be quicker on the hook if things start to go south.
Meanwhile, the Rockets have not hit their stride from three point land so far, shooting a combined 26-89 over the two games. Some credit is due to the Wolves defense, which has done a good job of sticking with shooters, but it’s also scary to think what things might look like if they get hot from beyond the arc. So far, it’s only taken one of their stars—James Harden in game one and Chris Paul in game two to be on their offensive games to beat the Wolves. Hopefully the effortful defense continues from the home team.
That might get harder tonight if Ryan Anderson returns to the Rockets lineup. He’s missed the fist two with injury, but was expected to be ready to go for tonight. He’s hurt the Wolves all season with his three point shooting against Wolves bigs who haven’t been willing or able to close out on him effectively.
Our blogging buddies are over at The Dream Shake. Be excellent.