Let’s just cut right to the chase. With 20.6 seconds remaining in the 4th quarter, dynamic rookie Trae Young hit a 8-foot driving floater, tying the game at 118-118. Armed with one final timeout, the Minnesota Timberwolves huddled around their interim head coach, in a game that was 12/10 on the “Must Win Scale.” As the players tuned in to what their 32-year old coach was drawing up, I half-jokingly burped out this tweet seconds before the huddle broke:
My beloved Ryan Saunders should be suspended if he draws up this last play for Rose and not Towns.— Kyle Theige (@KyleTheige) February 28, 2019
Now, before I go any further, I should state on the record (yet again) that I am a massive Ryan Saunders fan, so this tweet was (somewhat) in jest. I have strongly enjoyed his brief tenure with Minnesota, and believe he should be the guy to lead this team into the future.
With THAT said, I’ve also seen enough of the late-game play-calling this season, from both Tom Thibodeau and now Ryan Saunders, to know exactly what was getting scribbled on that infamous white board, regardless of who was on the other end of that magic marker.
The end result of that final timeout? Let’s go live to my dear friend John Meyer:
Yes, after collecting the inbounds pass from Tyus Jones, Derrick Rose (more on him in a second) dribbled the clock down to roughly 8 seconds, received a high screen from Karl-Anthony Towns, failed to find a seam, then dribbled back-and-forth a few times before throwing a high-arcing last-second lob from inside the free throw line that failed to even draw iron.
While the game wasn’t officially over (the game eventually went into overtime after Trae Young failed to get a final shot off with 0.5 seconds), any true Wolves fan watching the game already knew what the final result would be. The Hawks stormed out of the OT gates on a 7-0 run and never looked back, led by DeAndre’ Bembry (more on him as well in a second), and the talented rookie from Oklahoma, who finished the game with 36 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds.
Back to Rose... without spewing 3,000 words on how polarizing his stint with Minnesota has been, let me just say this: when Derrick has played well, I have complimented him appropriately. Love him or hate him (and there are large groups of people on both sides), Rose has provided the Wolves with something they severely lack — a player who can break down the defense and get his own shot. In other words, Derrick Rose can actually dribble, and the Wolves don’t have a lot of those guys currently on the roster (thanks Thibs!) When Rose is good, you usually ride him to a nice victory. But when Rose is bad? You have to pull the plug and go with another option.
A simple glance at the box score might not tell you exactly which Rose showed up Wednesday night in Atlanta, but let me save you some time: the bad one. Despite pouring in 18 points, Rose was an amusement park turnstile on defense, failing to stop literally any Hawks player he was matched up against. When he wasn’t giving up a cornucopia of points, he spent his time complaining about missed calls, something that finally caught the ire of my good friend Jim Petersen. Rose just didn’t have it tonight, and it should have been the responsibility of the Wolves head coach to notice that and pull the plug.
He did not.
If you watch a replay of that final possession in regulation, you may notice that it was indeed Towns who set the screen, but even Abraham Zapruder would tell you that Towns wasn’t ACTUALLY going to touch the ball on that play. Towns seemed determine to play more of a left tackle than an active screen-and-roller, attempting to barricade both Vince Carter and Bembry from seeing where the former MVP was going. The entire play was a (redacted) (redacted) disaster, and that has to fall on the person who manned the magic marker in the huddle.
Listen, I get it. As I spew more words onto this recap I understand just how limited Ryan Saunders is right now — both with actual head coaching experience as well as serviceable players. However, if you put the ball in Rose’s hands to close the game, you have to know his first, second, third, ninth, and 73rd option is going to be to attempt to score. That’s. Who. He. Is.
But in Saunders defense, specifically tonight, it was almost impossible to go anywhere else (well, you know, other than Karl-Anthony-Bleeping-Towns). Robert Covington is still hurt. Luol Deng (who is surprisingly, ironically, and almost depressingly so valuable to this team) left in the first half with a sore achilles. Jeff Teague was sidelined. Dario Saric, another player I have fond admiration for, was downright atrocious (1-for-11 from the field). Andrew Wiggins? Lol.
So Saunders did what his predecessor did many times before him - put the ball in the hands of a guard who actually wanted to take the shot. Was it the right call? No, it was horrendous. But until the team is back at full strength, or their interim head coach gets more seasoning, or until Andrew Wiggins steals the gift originally bestowed to the Tin Man, or until Towns simply scribbles “GIVE KAT THE GOD DAMN BALL” on the white board himself, this is who the Wolves will continue to be for the remainder of the 2018-2019 season.
A season, by the way, which is now all but over.
Full Game Highlights
- DeAndre’ Bembry, mentioned above, was an absolute monster tonight. If this was your first time ever watching professional basketball, you would absolutely think that #95 for Atlanta was signed to a $150 million dollar contract, while the player defending him (#22 for Minnesota) was the late first-rounder struggling to find his place in the league. Bembry finished with an eye-popping 16 points and 14 rebounds, including a few grown-man moves in overtime against the helpless Andrew Wiggins. Bembry simply wanted everything more than Wiggins on Wednesday night - points, rebounds, and the game - and it was his overall effort that sealed the deal for the Hawks. It’s getting lonelier and lonelier on Wiggins Island, as many citizens are beginning to simply abandon their properties.
- Every player not yet mentioned for the Wolves was equally as awful tonight (except maybe the local product Josh Okogie, who did provided a few highlight-reel plays on both offense and defense). Tyus Jones was severely outplayed by Young. Taj Gibson (who 1000% should have closed the game alongside Towns) contributed only 9 points and 4 rebounds. Jerryd Bayless (unfortunately) thought he was a late-addition to the Three-Point Contest, failing to connect on all four of his 3PA.
- And finally, there was Towns. I don’t know man... what else can you say? The Wolves are so damn lucky to have this guy on the team. The big man from Kentucky finished the night with 37 points on 12-of-19 shooting, including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc. KAT also gobbled up 18 rebounds and dished out three assists, showing playmaking skills both in transition and against the double-team. At only 23-years old, this dude is making another gigantic leap right in front of our eyes, and it’s truly stunning to watch. Every single thing the Wolves do going forward - finding a GM, deciding on a head coach, roster construction, marketing, the temperature of the practice facility, the meals served to players on road games - should all SOLELY be focused on maximizing Towns’ God-given abilities. He is truly a unicorn in a pasture full of ponies, and it is imperative that the Wolves (yes YOU Glen Taylor) do every single thing possible to foster Towns’ limitless ceiling.
I need a hug.