“They just out-punked us in every way possible. Out-ran us, out-competed us, out-physicaled us. It was ugly and unacceptable.”
Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch summed up tonight’s 115-106 loss to the now-3-1 San Antonio Spurs better than just about anyone could.
His team came out flat on the second night of a road/home back-to-back and lacked confidence in everything they did, whether it was rebounding, sharing the ball, communicating, or how Wolves players positioned themselves defensively.
“This team’s personality right now is we’re kind of timid,” Finch added. “For whatever reason, we are finding our way and it’s not working, and we’re not fighting through that right now.”
Anthony Edwards took responsibility for the team’s lack of energy and everything that it set in motion.
“I think it’s all on me tonight. I came out with no energy at all,” the young star said postgame.
While Finch listed off the names of everyone on the team after the team’s loss to the Utah Jazz on Friday in response to a question about players who need to bring more energy, Edwards believes there’s one player who needs to step up above all the rest.
“Myself, for sure. Myself. When I come out with no energy, man, it’s all bad. I can hear from my teammates on the bench, they’re like, ‘Come on 1! You know we need your energy. We need you to get here,’” Edwards explained to Canis Hoopus. “I’ll be better. Trust me.”
Coming off his second straight 30-point effort with a field goal percentage north of 50%, Edwards tonight didn’t score until draining a 3-pointer off of a baseline out of bounds play with 3:27 to go in the second quarter. That was a byproduct of stale offense that put the Wolves in a hole early.
“I don’t know, man,” Edwards answered when asked about why the ball sticks with the first unit. “ I think we’re just playing for ourselves right now, I feel like. The first group, for sure.”
“Honestly, our backcourt has got to give itself up to the offense a little bit more. I think there’s too much come down and take on the teeth of the defense. Not enough movement early in the offense, not enough thrust early in the offense,” Finch said postgame. “We’re just kind of waiting and pretty one dimensional.”
Timberwolves players largely lacked conviction when they caught the ball and didn’t find any after they passed the ball. There was limited ball movement, player movement, and kinetic energy in the team’s offense, which led to poor shot quality that fed San Antonio’s transition offense.
“We can probably get better shots a lot of the times. I think that’s the answer for most of [the transition defense struggles],” D’Angelo Russell said in the locker room after the game. “Throughout the flow of the game, when you have to take tough shots and do things like that, you still got to bust your ass to get back and try to slow down for the group.”
Unfortunately, no one did that tonight for the Wolves.
The Spurs quickly jumped out to a 15-2 start in the fast break points contest. That, coupled with strong perimeter defense, fueled an 18-7 run to take a 39-28 lead after one quarter. Gregg Popovich’s squad never surrendered it.
“You gotta give them credit. They hit some shots. We also didn’t make it hard for them. We made it their night,” Karl-Anthony Towns said postgame. “We gave up some looks in transition and they got their momentum and started to feel good because of their transition buckets and started feeling good and hitting some shots because of how they felt.”
Unfortunately for Russell and Towns, no one joined them when they made their best collective push to get the Wolves back in the game in the second quarter. D-Lo scored four straight points to cut the lead to 16 around the 7:00 mark before Towns took the baton both as a scorer and a playmaker. The duo combined to account for more than 75% of the team’s offense in the period.
Just a fantastic quarter from Karl-Anthony Towns here in the second.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) October 25, 2022
Six points on a trio of good shots, two beautiful dimes inside to Gobert, and has grabbed a pair of rebounds as the cherry on top.
He's got Minnesota back within 12, 56-44, and with momentum at 5:22 mark
Throughout the first quarter and a half, seemingly every time the Wolves scored, Minnesota had a defensive breakdown or allowed an offensive rebound and second chance points immediately on the other end resulting in a Spurs answer. Rudy Gobert didn’t move with the same energy tonight and struggled to clear the glass as a result, something he held himself accountable for after the game.
“It starts, obviously starts with me, Setting the tone defensively and also on the boards. I felt like I wasn’t there on boards defensively,” Gobert said in a quiet, pensive tone postgame, before addressing why that was. “Just focus. Yeah, just gotta start the game with a little more intensity. Like I said, set the tone. And, you know, [it’s] tough on me to talk to other guys to do things if I don’t do them myself. So I just got to do them and then to be able to communicate.”
Finch made the adjustment to a zone defense to try and slow the bleeding in both areas as Towns kept chugging offensively. Edwards joined him with seven points in the final 4:00 of the frame (including his 3,000th career point), and Gobert came alive in spurts, which helped Minnesota piece together a 23-13 run to end the half down 10, 67-57.
8th-youngest player in NBA history to reach 3,000 points pic.twitter.com/UnkgQRVV5U— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) October 25, 2022
But going zone really became they equivalent of putting a band-aid on the proverbial gunshot wound — Minnesota’s perimeter defense.
“The breakdowns are coming at the point of attack. We cannot contain the ball effectively and they were living in our paint all night long,” Finch said postgame. “Then they’re one pass away from a 3.”
While San Antonio only shot 12/37 (32.%) from behind the arc, it felt like most of those looks were wide open. To make matters worse, the Wolves couldn’t effectively defend the mid-range, either. Minnesota displayed no defensive cohesion, ball watched, and appeared content letting the Spurs take advantage of the their collective fatigue.
Keep in mind the Wolves sat their starters for most of the fourth quarter in Oklahoma City on Sunday evening and the team landed in Minneapolis around 12:30 AM local time — not as late as most back-to-backs.
The Timberwolves are uniquely talented at ball-watching and not getting back when a shot goes up on both ends.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) October 25, 2022
It's not a chemistry problem. It's a lack of fight
The Timberwolves’ defensive indifference on the perimeter and frequently improper positioning on that end ballooned the San Antonio lead to 34 at one point in the third quarter, 103-69, and understandably brought the boo birds out at Target Center just four games into the arguably the most anticipated season in franchise history.
“It feels crazy. I be wanting to say something, but the fans are not wrong. We look bad,” Edwards said in a matter-of-fact tone with his hands in the air. “I definitely don’t ever want to get booed again at my home. I’ll figure it out.”
Finch left his starters out there in the fourth quarter to do work through some difficulties on both ends of the floor, which made what was a blowout game look easier to swallow in the box score.
Towns (27 points, 11 rebounds and five assists) and Russell (25 points, seven assists, and five rebounds) continued their strong nights, but there weren’t many positives outside of that the Wolves will be able to carry with them into a rematch with San Antonio on Wednesday night in Downtown Minneapolis.
If Minnesota wants the result to be different, each Wolves player needs to give the team more.
“Teams, all these game plans, there’s a lot of things that are designed for us to put us in, in tough positions. And then we gotta keep playing. We talk about multiple efforts. If the five guys on the court keep doing something, you know, find a job to do whether it is hitting somebody on the glass, running out to contest the shot,” Gobert told Canis Hoopus postgame. “And if we all do this consistently with the length that we have and the ability that we have, we’ll be really, really tough.”
When fully optimized, Gobert’s vision for the team sounds like very similar to what we all expected the Wolves to be entering the season.
“I think our identity is that we’re gonna be a tough team, a team that people don’t like to play against. You know, and once again, we got some really good on-ball defenders, we got myself, we got size. So when I look at our team, I see a top defensive team on paper,” Gobert said, acknowledging the Timberwolves aren’t there yet. “Now, we gotta just all learn those things, right? It takes time, you know, but we’re getting there.”
How long it takes is the pressing question moving forward.
Minnesota allowed north of 15 second chance points, 19 points off turnovers, and 17 fast break points for the fourth straight game, while surrendering a season-high 60 points in the paint tonight to a team with only one player bigger than 6-foot-9 in its rotation.
That’s before mentioning the offensive issues, namely 3-point shooting (8/32 tonight, 28.7% for the season), turnovers (16 tonight, 16.3 per game), and Edwards putting up two games of sub-25% shooting on 15 or more attempts.
The Wolves have the easiest open to their schedule of any team in the NBA — by a mile.
If the team can’t find the antidote against squads they hold a significant talent advantage over, running into well-oiled machines like the Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks and Memphis Grizzlies in the coming weeks may only make playoff seeding more troublesome come April.
Run It Back
Up next for the Wolves is a rematch with the Spurs on Wednesday night at Target Center. You can watch the 7:10 PM CT tip on Bally Sports North.