Late Wednesday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves season ended.
This game was similar to Game 4, although the third quarter was not quite as historically disastrous. The Wolves played the Rockets well through the first half, though they were relying on some three-point shooting variance in their favor, and then the Rockets just blew the doors wide open and took a commanding lead in the third quarter.
The interesting wrinkle that the Wolves tried in the first half was sending more help on James Harden, particularly late in the shot clock. Throughout the series, the Wolves have been trying to follow the Spurs blueprint, which drops the bigs back in the pick-and-roll, stay home on shooters, and make the Rockets beat you on mid-range jump shots. The new strategy certainly made things more difficult for Harden, but it opened up the floor for the rest of the Rockets, as Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, and Eric Gordon were firing away.
We could assume the Wolves were in trouble going into halftime. While the Wolves had a four point lead, Harden and Chris Paul were shooting terribly and the Wolves were shooting above 55 percent from the field. The numbers were going to catch up.
Then, as in Game 4, the third quarter happened. Any headway the Wolves built up this game dissipated quickly, as Rockets began their decimation of the Wolves defense. While the Rockets’ starting hitting their threes, the Wolves struggled to put together anything on offense. The Rockets continued to collapse the paint, send help defenders on the post-ups, and force the Wolves into bad decisions. The Wolves lost the third quarter 30-15 and this essentially ended the game. For whatever reason, Jimmy Butler did not play after this point. It is quite possible that he is hurt and Thibodeau decided early in the fourth that the game was out of reach.
There feels oddly little to report from this game. Jeff Teague had a really strong first half and he and Karl-Anthony Towns propelled the Wolves on offense for much of the game. Teague was able to, for the most part, capitalize on mismatches, push the tempo, and fire away from beyond the arc. He ended with 17 points and 7 assists.
Towns had a double-double in just the first thirteen minutes of play. After the rough opening of the series, he finally seems to be getting back to the type of player that we know he is. Unfortunately for him, the season is now over. However, this was an incredibly important experience for Towns, as he now more fully understands how teams can gameplan against him over a series. It took him a bit to adjust, but it seems like it was happening.
As for everyone else, it was a pretty mixed bag. Jimmy Butler played some great defense, but was quiet on offense. Will be curious to find out how injured he really is now that the season is over. Playoff Wiggins disappeared as quickly as he appeared. Wiggins settled for long-twos all night, finishing with 14 points on 14 shots.
The Rockets have been content to ignore Taj Gibson on offense all series and that continued tonight. The Wolves bench (if we can call it that) remained to just really Derrick Rose and Jamal Crawford. The duo, as they do, shot the ball. Jamal’s went in the basket, Rose’s did not.
It is tough to say too much because the Wolves were demolished in this game. The ways in which the Rockets are a matchup nightmare for the Wolves were readily apparent throughout the second half. The anemic offense, the personnel deficits, the inability to defend the pick-and-roll, and failures in transition defense were all here. The problems that the Wolves have had all season never disappeared and they were unfortunate enough to be matched up against the team that is perhaps best equipped to exploit these issues.
However, that is not to say that it was not fun. It was a blast to watch the Wolves in the playoffs and to see them actually compete in several of these games.
The Wolves season may be over, and we always knew that the team would be outmatched, but we still can hold onto the one victory as a glimmer of hope in this gentleman’s sweep. The postmortem will begin in earnest soon enough, but for now we can just enjoy the season that was.