Minnesota came into tonight 1-2 on the season against the San Antonio Spurs, a team that has given them serious trouble in seasons past.
In the final regular season matchup between these two teams, the officiating crew comprised of Ken Mauer, CJ Washington and Tyler Ford decided to step in and steal the spotlight, calling an absurd 53 total fouls throughout the night, 28 of which were charged to Minnesota.
I typically try to avoid inserting referees into the narrative of wins and losses – partly because it’s an incredibly hard job to do right and partly because bad calls often even out in the end – but tonight resulted in a game where both teams could not ignore the missteps carried out by The Powers that Be. Coming into tonight the Spurs were first in the league in personal fouls per game at 18.5 (meaning they commit the least out of any team) while the Wolves were seventh at 20.2.
This reckless whistleblowing resulted in some costly calls for the Wolves down the stretch, leading to Karl-Anthony Towns’ sixth personal coming with plenty of meaningful time left in the fourth quarter. Now, Towns isn’t entirely innocent here, as this has been an obvious concern for him throughout the first half of the season. Tonight there were a couple times where he was called for two fouls within a few minutes of one another, which ultimately led to him only spending 21 minutes on the floor.
Some of these foul calls were legitimate, but at least two – if not three – were not, which is all it takes to skew the outcome of a game entirely. Towns had 23 points in those 21 minutes, and who’s to say he doesn’t go for 40 if he’s on the floor an additional 10? The urgency for Minnesota to win this season is quickly escalating, and a game like tonight at home is one the Wolves desperately needed.
Gregg Popovich and the Spurs coaching staff deserve at least some credit for tonight’s outcome, though. They understand the importance of getting Towns into foul trouble, and Aldridge is the best guy to do that dirty work outside of Boogie Cousins. Aldridge is a brick of a guy who was fighting for position down low all night, giving KAT, Taj Gibson and Gorgui Dieng a run for their money. He finished with 25 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
While the Spurs shoot the fewest threes per game in the league, they also have the highest percentage made, and that rang true tonight. They shot their average 24 attempts, making 11 for what amounts to 49 percent. Compare that to the Wolves’ 7-26 (27 percent) and there’s your other determining factor for the night. This team can’t get Robert Covington back soon enough (and Tyus Jones’ absence was definitely felt tonight as well).
Derrick Rose kept things interesting by making a few tough shots at the rim toward the end of the game after Towns fouled out, but his shot selection up until that point was really tough to watch. Meanwhile Andrew Wiggins had a fine stat line on the face of it (17 points on 7-12 shooting with five rebounds) until you realize he played more minutes than anyone else on the floor. Doris Burke made multiple comments during ESPN’s broadcast about Wiggins’ disappearing act, and – even as a stubborn member of the colony colloquially known as Wiggins Island – I found myself adamantly agreeing with her.
What it comes down to is this: As bad as the refs were tonight, the Wolves have reached a point in the season where they can’t afford a loss like this – and the fact that they find themselves in this position to begin with is not the fault of tonight’s officials.