Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the Minnesota Timberwolves blew a giant second half lead to lose yet again in agonizing fashion. After being up 97-81 late in the third quarter, the Wolves were outscored 30-11 in the final 12 minutes or so to drop another game that they more than deserved to win (until of course they absolutely did not deserve to win).
Out of respect to everyone involved, primarily my fiancée, let’s keep this one rather short.
If you enjoy re-watching good Timberwolves basketball (which is about as difficult to find lately as Sasquatch himself), I would highly recommend re-watching the first 30 or so minutes of this Spurs/Wolves contest. The ball was moving. The defense was engaged. And even some of the play calls were — brace yourself — creative.
NBA Star Malik Beasley, who finished the night with 29 points on 12-of-18 shooting, must have thought San Antonio was a suburb of Minneapolis because he put on a shooting performance only seen this season at Target Center. In addition to his 66% shooting, Beasley connected on 4-of-8 from beyond the arc. Simply put, he was the best Minnesota player on the court and should have been featured FAR more down the stretch than he was (more on that in a second).
Another bright spot on Wednesday night was the play of the entire Wolves bench, primarily Ricky Rubio. The Spanish Unicorn played like someone who read this article about his putrid play so far this season, and looked like his old self in the first half — finishing at the rim, setting up players for wide open shots, and getting his hands all over the passing lanes.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention (yet again) how good Anthony Edwards looked (albeit mostly in the first three quarters of the game). The box score may not jump out at you (14 points on 6-of-14 shooting, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists), but ANT-Man continued to show a propensity for attacking the rim, attempting to draw fouls, and more explosiveness going up for defensive rebounds. In what is quickly becoming another lost season for Minnesota, the continued development of Anthony Edwards should be at the forefront of every person’s mind in that organization (if you currently collect paychecks from the Minnesota Timberwolves, please re-read that last sentence 14 more times).
As the season draws on, the point guard position for the Minnesota Timberwolves is rapidly evolving into something like political parties or that of a famous vampire book/movie series:
Team Rubio vs. Team Russell
Let me pause for a second to make something extremely clear: I don’t give two [redacted] who plays point guard, shooting guard, small forward, head coach, POBO, owner, whatever. Hell, this team could roster 14 Luke Ridnour’s (and one Anthony Edwards), and as long as they start winning consecutive basketball games, I won’t care what names are on the back of the jerseys.
With that said, D’Angelo Russell’s determination to play isolation hero ball down the stretch absolutely neutered any remnants of momentum that the Timberwolves may have had. Now, before you sprint to the comment section, let me refine that take with additional context — Wednesday’s collapse was a total team effort that connects from Ricky Rubio to Ryan Saunders and everyone in between.
But back to Russell — yes, he finished with 20 points, but he did so by taking 20 shots (8-of-20 from the field). He took twice as many shots (8) as his next Timberwolves teammate (4) in the final frame, and the last 2:30 or so of the game was purely one-on-one without any sort of offensive plan to move the ball, make cuts, set screens — you know, all those things that a real, successful NBA team does in “winning time.”
Again, I’m left with a sour taste in my mouth after watching how Russell close out the game, but to solely pin the loss on him simply isn’t being fair or objective (at least in my opinion). For example, Anthony Edwards, a rookie who has made multiple references to “accepting his role” and simply wanting to be a good teammate, took the exact same amount of shots in the fourth quarter as Kevin Garnett, Glen Taylor, and myself combined.
That simply cannot happen.
I’ve probably provided more patience with head coach Ryan Saunders than most, and I fully understand that he’s still dealing with a short deck, but the old saying of “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” is now evolving into “fool me three times, shame on Ryan.”
Ant HAS to get a touch down the stretch. Ricky Rubio, who I’ve already complimented for his first half play, cannot be substituted late into the game if your plan for him is to be a spot-up shooter who simply watches D-Lo work in isolation (Rubio is shooting 5.5% from three since the start of the new year). Malik Beasley, who was far and away the star of the game, cannot be frozen out of the offense and left to watch the lead that he himself built crumble like a house of cards in a tornado.
*takes a deep breath*
I’ve said this countless times now on Canis, on Twitter, to my stress ball shaped like Crunch’s face, to my fiancée, etc... I will always love the Minnesota Timberwolves. The first 2.5 quarters were an absolute joy to watch and highlighted a team full of under 25-year old’s who can get to the rim, hit threes, get stops, and play like a team.
But the last 12 minutes or so? Well, that shit has to stop immediately. Ryan Saunders has to be better. D’Angelo Russell has to be better. Ricky Rubio has to be better. This team — again in this lowly blog boy’s opinion — has far more talent than a 5-16 team. I fully respect if you disagree with that, and in professional sports you simply are what your record says you are.
But this team has now dropped three nearly historic losses in the stretch of 21 games, three losses that *if* they were wins, would make this team 8-13. Again, that record still isn’t good by any means, but it would paint a much clearer picture (and provide far more optimism going forward) than whatever the hell we’ve got going on right now.
Thanks as always to everyone in the Canis community for putting up with another embarrassing loss and for providing some great play-by-play commentary throughout the night. I sincerely love you all and believe things will get better (but not until something changes).