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Los Angeles Clippers v Minnesota Timberwolves

Clippers 126, Wolves 115: A Lot to Learn or Not?

A question arises in defeat

Reggie Jackson put on his deadeye shooter glasses.
| Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

MINNEAPOLIS — Opponents entered the evening shooting 29.9% from deep against the Wolves through the first six games of the season. That was good for third-best in the NBA, but the Clippers must have missed that memo. They turned in a 45-point third-quarter led by a barrage of threes—a franchise-record 9-11 in the period—and finished 21-36 from deep with an overall 75.6 true shooting percentage when the final buzzer sounded.

It was three after three after three on a blistering night of buckets that saw the Wolves fight back hard in the fourth, cutting the deficit to five points before another trey from Nic Batum at the 2:55 mark. That was followed by two straight turnovers, including a second errant inbounds pass by Patrick Beverley during crunch time. Ultimately, Reggie Jackson’s seventh three muted the crowd (7-9) and sealed the deal. The Clippers were scorching from the perimeter, relentless in their ability to crush any sign of hope, resulting in a third straight loss before Friday’s rematch at Target Center.

As Cole Anthony did on Monday night, Jackson is the latest point guard to ruin the Wolves' night. He put together his best game of the young season with 29 points, 8 dimes, and 5 rebounds. “I don’t think Reggie's confidence ever wavers,” said Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue. “He’s one of those guys that plays through it. He puts the work in, and he’ll have times when he (doesn’t) shoot the ball as you want to. Everybody goes through it. When you’re open, and it’s good shots, you have to take those shots. That’s what I’ve been preaching over the past couple of weeks.” Paul George continued his strong early-season output with 32 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds, while Nic Batum (20 points, 6-8 from three) and Terrance Mann (17 points) played crucial supporting roles. The foursome combined to shoot an absurdly good 20-28 from deep in the 126-115 win.

“When [Paul George] is driving, when Reggie [Jackson] is driving, when [Eric] Bledsoe is driving, we get into the paint, guys have to help, and with Zubac’s presence underneath the glass, my guards are coming back to crack back. Open threes were available if you make the right pass and the right play. I thought we did that tonight. Like I said, 33 assists, got some wide-open shots, and we finally knocked some down.”

Beverley made his first start of the season in place of the injured D’Angelo Russell, who is currently nursing a right ankle sprain. The veteran point guard finished with a near triple-double, scoring 10 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, and dishing out eight assists. Beverley drew an ill-timed technical, taking the blame postgame for losing his composure. He also wasn’t overly concerned with the loss, saying it was one of those nights where the opponent simply “shot the shit out of the ball.”

The Clippers were due for a game like this, he concluded, and the Wolves happened to be at the other end of it.

“We stuck to the game plan,” said Beverley. “I give ‘em a lot of credit, a lot of credit. You know, they were shooting it historically bad through the whole season. They were due for one. Today was the one.”

In the loss, Anthony Edwards again flashed his incredible ability to attack the rim with power and poise, fueling his 28 points and six assists. The dynamite sophomore shared a similar view as Pat Bev, mostly chalking up the loss to an unreal shooting night from LA. “I like the way we fought. I don’t really know what to say, man, there wasn’t really too much to learn. They shot 65% from three ... like them Steph Curry numbers.” (58.3% for those who are counting but Ant’s point still stands.)

Karl-Anthony Towns recorded 18 points (6-16, 3-3) and 11 rebounds, adding four steals. He faced double and triple teams once again, with all eyes focused on stopping him first and letting everyone else prove it. It’s become common practice to send multiple bodies at Towns early and often, and the Clippers had an extra man in his space, at times, even before he could even gather a pass, pressuring him into deferring to the open man. Again, his shot total wasn’t nearly enough.

In 26 minutes off the bench, Malik Beasley contributed 14 points after connecting on four triples for the second time this season. For the third-straight game, Naz Reid tallied double figures off the bench, scoring 11 points, while Jarred Vanderbilt notched 13 points on 6-13 shooting and eight rebounds. Vando was a huge reason the Wolves made a run in the fourth with his fierce cutting towards the rim, his relentless pursuit of boards, and eye-opening isolation defense on George to cool off a superstar on fire. His intensity was infectious when the team needed a spark, even if it wasn’t enough to overcome the brutal third and the onslaught of threes.

BOTH TOWNS AND FINCH SEEMED TO FEEL the defensive issues were a little bit more than simply red hot shooting by the Clips, contrary to Beverley and Edwards’ view of the results. “I think that we missed some assignments,” said Towns.

“We talked in there, and we understood that we missed some X’s, and we understand that we’re doing high-man, and it’s not a secret to the league anymore. We’ve shown it already all preseason and these first seven games. We just didn’t make the right assignment, we worked on it, and as soon as they pass the ball out, we gotta ‘X,’ and we just didn’t make those rotations the right way. We just didn’t do it the right way tonight. We all knew in there. We talked to everybody, and we understand the mistakes we made. It’s just one of those things; you got to fix it; it’s something that’s our standard. We can’t ever let our standard be let down.”

“Not into the ball, not physical enough,” Finch said of the defense. “It started with the beginning of the third quarter and we noticed it still lacks approach there. Shot contests were not up to par and they got hot. That’s what they do. They’re kind of an iso jump-shooting three-point team. 45 points in the quarter is way too much; that’s two 40-point quarters in the last two games.”

A particular question arises in this defeat: Is there a lot to learn or not? Is this one of those games to crumple up and throw out, pointing to variance? Opinions seemed to differ and that’s the question that lingers.

EDWARDS LIMPED OFF the court immediately after banging his knee against Eric Bledsoe in the second half. There was a deafening silence that overtook the building as he walked into the back, limping in pain. Not again. Please not another significant season-crushing injury. That thought could be felt across the arena. When he strutted back out, sat on the bench, and returned after the next stoppage, fans rejoiced. Everyone could breathe easy again, even as the game was already trending towards a loss. The loss, of course, of Ant would’ve been a million times worse, and for that, at least there’s something to be happy about in defeat. Ant seems OK. The Wolves got hammered from the perimeter for the first time this season, but their young star seemed to avoid significant injury.

Edwards and Beverley expressed little concern with a loss inspired by an unsustainable shooting affair and now they’ll get another quick crack at proving that point. Whether or not the defense is a mirage, or if this was a sign of slippage, the season moves fast, meaning Friday brings another opportunity to get back to .500 against the same opponent.

Everything they’ve been preaching will be back on display. If the Wolves are going to make the playoffs, keeping a losing streak from spiraling out of control is their first significant test.