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Bucks 134, Wolves 106: Crooked Backboards, Reviews of Reviews, and Mercury is in Retrograde

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The Wolves had no answer for the reigning MVP.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Minnesota Timberwolves Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

There was a strange energy lingering within Target Center Monday night as Minnesota hosted Milwaukee and the reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo. After a one-hour delay to tip-off due to a crooked backboard, the Wolves faced off against one of the deepest teams the NBA has to offer.

With Karl-Anthony Towns out serving the final game of his suspension, the shorthanded Wolves had an uphill battle to fight, which they handled well during the first two quarters, moving the ball fluidly on offense and getting stops as a unit on defense.

Robert Covington got off to a hot start, hitting his first three attempts from deep before drawing some more attention from the Milwaukee defense and cooling off. He finished with 15 points, four rebounds and two assists.

Andrew Wiggins had another solid game (25 points, three rebounds, two blocks), especially considering the fact that Giannis was in front of him for a chunk of the night. He was doing some of those little things the Wolves are so desperate for him to contribute, but it’s clear he can’t operate as First Banana against a team as structurally sound as the Bucks. If Wiggins performs like this with Karl-Anthony Towns next to him on the floor, this game probably would have ended in a much more interesting way.

If it wasn’t strange enough that the shorthanded Wolves were holding their own against a healthy Milwaukee team early in this one, the final possession of the first half was surely the most bizarre thing we’ve seen so far this season. Both teams traded a flurry of buckets leading up to the half, ending with Giannis galloping down the court and finishing at the rim as the clock expired, only to get called for committing a charge against Jordan Bell. After reviewing the play and confirming it was Minnesota’s basketball, Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer challenged it, positing that Bell was still in motion, sending the refs back to the replay.

After reviewing the replay again (or reviewing the review?), they reversed the call and charged Bell with a blocking foul. And even though the buzzer sounded while the ball was still in Giannis’ hand, the refs awarded him the basket due to continuation. If that whole scenario wasn’t strange enough for you, everyone in the arena seemed to think Giannis was shooting two free throws as no one reacted when he missed and the ball bounced casually back to its shooter’s hand. The belated buzzer sounded, everyone snapped out of their daze and wandered in bewilderment back to the locker rooms for halftime.

(In all seriousness, though, I think the refs did get this call correct – it was probably a blocking foul and the continuation explanation makes sense. Budenholzer’s challenge of a review? Yeah, not sure about that one.)

Whatever weird energy beset the Target Center during the first half of the game must have shaken the Wolves, because they came out in the second half looking like an entirely different team, completely befuddled on both ends of the floor. What was a close game soon spiraled into a mess of careless turnovers, errant threes and discombobulated defense. On top of that, Covington, Bell and Shabazz Napier all left the game with potential injuries at one point or another, although Napier was the only one who didn’t return (strained right hamstring).

All in all, the Wolves were simply no match for the combo of Giannis (34/15/6) and Khris Middleton (26/3/4). Giannis in particular was a nightmare of a matchup for the Wolves without KAT on the floor. Players like Covington aren’t strong enough for that matchup and players like Noah Vonleh aren’t long enough. Towns truly is the centerpiece to this otherwise completely mismatched puzzle of a roster.

These two teams will get a rematch on New Year’s Day.

Stray Observations

  • While the Wolves as a unit were not at all shy about letting it fly from deep, they only connected on 13-43. It’s clear that Ryan Saunders has given every single player on the roster the green light to sling it from deep, but a lot of those misses resulted in long rebounds that spurred a fierce Milwaukee transition game throughout the night.
  • Between Giannis loping down the court in transition, Khris Middleton leaking out for easy buckets and Eric Bledsoe finishing strong at the rim, the Bucks outscored the Wolves in the paint 62-38.
  • The Jarrett Culver enigma continued in this one. In the final ticks of garbage time, his three final possessions went as follows: (1) Contested fadeaway 3 from the corner: swish; (2) wide-open 3 straight on from the basket: airball to the right; (3) off-the-dribble pull-up above the break: rattles in. *Shrugs*