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Pacers 104, Wolves 99: Malcolm to Sabonis Round

With Towns sidelined for the 15th straight game, the Wolves had no answers for the Pacers new dynamic duo.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Minnesota Timberwolves Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Entering Wednesday night’s contest against the Indiana Pacers, the Minnesota Timberwolves had been playing a relatively inspiring stretch of basketball, relying on toughness, defense, and hustle plays to keep them afloat despite being without their franchise center for over a month. With Karl-Anthony Towns sidelined for his 15th straight game (this time due to illness, not his knee), the Wolves were forced to continue their gritty ways against a visiting Pacers squad, but in the end it was their offense (and not their defense) that let them down.

Failing to hit triple digits for only the third time since before Thanksgiving, the Wolves offense (which looked promising for the first two frames) stumbled to the finish line, connecting on just 12 made baskets in the final 24 minutes of action. Being without a player of KAT’s stature is evident throughout all parts of any game, but his absence is magnified in those tight stretches when you need a bucket to stop an opponent’s run or need an offensive play to take some of the burden/pressure off of your teammates.

With Towns still not available, the Wolves were forced to once again rely on the “next man up” mentality, this time turning to the youthful duo of Keita Bates-Diop and Jarrett Culver, who combined for 32 points on an efficient 12-of-22 shooting (55%). However, it was the production of the opponent’s dynamic duo (Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis) who stole the show (and ultimately the game), teaming up for a combined 50 points on an even more efficient 22-of-35 shooting (63%).

Sabonis, who paced Indiana with 29 points against the Wolves (one point shy of his career best), found little to no resistance in the paint, tallying 25 points in the first half alone. His gifted ability to finish in a variety of ways off the pick-and-roll kept the Pacers alive despite an early barrage of three-pointers for Minnesota (including makes from both Noah Vonleh and Treveon Graham!). While it seemed like a career night was all but locked up for Arvydas’s son, it was Indiana’s prized offseason free agent (Brogdon) that iced things away, scoring 16 of his 21 points in the final two quarters en route to the Pacers 26th win of the season. After the game, Indiana head coach Nate McMillan discussed just how important Brogdon has been so far this season:

“He establishes us on both ends of the floor. Late in games he’s the guy who’s playing with the ball and making decisions. This just his second game back, it seemed they had better chemistry down the stretch tonight out on the floor and I though they executed well.”

Overall, the Wolves simply looked once again like a team that, despite their effort and toughness on the defensive end, was undermanned and under-skilled (which is somewhat depressing when you consider Indiana was also without their face of the franchise). In terms of positive takeaways from the game, look no further than the play of one Robert Covington, who on a contending team like the Denver Nuggets or Boston Celtics would be garnishing plenty of “Defensive Player of the Year” buzz. Despite the Wolves putrid record (which has now fallen to 15-25), RoCo continues to play his [redacted] tail off, swiping and pestering and stealing and blocking, sometimes doing all of these things while wearing just one foot protector:

Shoeless Ro Jackson continues to be a bright spot on yet another disappointing season, but his two-way ability won’t truly benefit the Wolves until they get their star big man back, which (fingers crossed) *could* be as soon as this Friday (I know, I know).

Full Game Highlights

Game Notes

  • Although I already mentioned him above, it’s worth noting again the progress that Jarrett Culver is displaying on a nightly basis. The Texas Tech alum is now averaging 14.5 points a game on 49% shooting, 6 rebounds, and has recorded at least 2 STOCKS (steals + blocks) in 8 of his last 11 games. While those numbers may not jump off the page to some people, it’s a vast improvement over the Jarrett Culver we saw during the first quarter of the season, and provides hope that the first major domino of the Gersson Rosas regime still has a plethora of untapped potential.
  • If the previous bullet point and video got you buzzing, let me help you sober up — while Culver has been attacking and finishing at a much higher rate, he has failed in his last 4 consecutive games to get to the free throw line, which seems utterly impossible in 136 minutes of action. Maybe it’s a symptom of being a rookie, maybe it’s the downside of being a poor FT shooter, or maybe it’s simply a combination of both. Nevertheless, if Culver’s game is to expand and reach new heights going forward, he will have to solve the formula of not only accruing free throw attempts, but also successfully making them.
  • Gorgui Dieng recorded his sixth double-double of the season, scoring 15 points on 7-of-15 shooting and grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds. The six double-doubles are the most in a single season for Dieng since tallying 13 in the 2016-17 season (cc: all 29 other NBA teams).
  • Shabazz Napier handed out a game-high (and season-high-tying) nine assists.
  • The Wolves connected on 11 threes Wednesday night against Indiana, the eighth straight game with 10+ threes (and 34th this season). While the wins simply have not been there, it’s becoming more and more evident that “the system” is starting to be established under the new regime.

Next up for the Wolves: a Friday night road game against the Indiana Pacers (ever heard of them?)