In the first three minutes of the game, the Minnesota Timberwolves jumped out to an 8-0 start before the Indiana Pacers scored their first bucket.
Their positional size and length bothered the Pacers as they ran shooters off the line and into the paint, where three players 6’10 and above were ready to smother any shot that came their way.
‘’I just told the guys that was the best performance of our season, no doubt,’’ Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch said.
The Wolves were in control most of the way during their 115-101 win over the Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. The team’s ball movement and defensive execution was arguably the best it's been this season.
There were moments where the Wolves threw errant passes (23 turnovers on the game) and lost track of shooters, yet it was a promising performance and a step in the right direction.
The defense was solid (at times)
The Wolves held the Pacers to 38.5% shooting across the game. The game plan was to force the Pacers’ shooters to drive inside the arc and make a play, which worked.
When the Pacers players drove to the rim they were met by the Wolves' interior length. The defense had 10 blocks on the day. Four of which came from Jaden McDaniels.
Tyrese Haliburton shot a poor four of 15 from the field and two of seven from the three-point line for ten points with McDaniels as the primary defender. His length and athleticism made things difficult for the Pacers’ primary ball handler.
The Pacers’ Buddy Hield also didn’t have a strong shooting night. He scored 13 points on five of 16 shooting and three of 11 on three-pointers.
While Hield didn’t shoot the ball well, he still took 11 threes and missed some makeable shots for a shooter of his caliber. The Wolves were a step late staying attached to him in the halfcourt and in transition and allowed him to fire off threes. D’Angelo Russell had a rearview block on Hield, but the team could’ve done a better job staying with Hield.
Conflict of Identity
Here’s one of those clean looks Hield missed. Gobert sees Hield open here but doesn’t run out to contest. Instead, McDaniels has to go from guarding ball to ball. Luckily he misses.
Gobert is at his best when he’s around the basket affecting shots, but there might be something to say about how Gobert errors too much on the side of staying around the rim and guarding his man.
This exemplifies the conflict of identity the Wolves face. They are a chaotic defensive team with bodies flying around. On the other hand, Gobert is more of a conservative defender who tends to stay around the paint.
Sometimes Gobert needs to step out to a shooter on the perimeter and force them off the line. The theory for the Wolves’ defense is having multiple players who can provide resistance at the rim. When Gobert concedes open threes and doesn’t rotate, it hurts the scheme. Gobert needs to trust that the four other defenders have his back if he closes out.
Until then, the Wolves will continue to give up the third most three-point attempts in the league.
But, if Gobert can can stonewall drivers in the paint and his teammates can fly around him for blocks and close passing lanes, this team’s defensive potential is sky high. That was on display tonight, as the Wolves recorded a season-high 10 blocks.
The Wolves opted to run drop coverage against the Pacers and have the point-of-attack defenders chase over the top. It largely worked. The Pacers' points per possession in 42 pick-and-roll ball-handler possessions was 0.69 per Synergy.
Where the Pacers exploited the scheme was in pick-and-roll roll man possessions. The Pacers’ points per possession was a strong 1.56. Myles Turner was the main factor in attacking the scheme. He finished with 31 points on 12 of 17 shooting and shot a scorching seven of nine from 3.
The reason for his big game is directly related to the Wolves’ drop coverage. In drop, the big defender drops back down into the paint to contain the ball handler until the point of attack defender can get back in the play.
In the play below, KAT correctly drops here, but Turner pops to the arc and forces KAT to make a long closeout. Turner gets by KAT and drives to the rim for the vicious dunk on McDaniels.
Turner made the Wolves pay for running drop in the third quarter. He scored 15 points on six of nine shooting and three of four from three. He got to the rim like in the clip above, but he also pulled from above the break.
Caitlin Cooper, one of our friends over at Indy Cornrows, points out that the Wolves could’ve put their center on a weaker shooter and not on the hot-shooting Turner. They could’ve utilized Kyle Anderson or even Naz Reid, who could get out to Turner faster and possibly even switch the screen.
No idea why Minnesota continues to check Myles with Towns/Gobert when Jalen is still on the floor. Just watching him shoot — with loads of confidence.— Caitlin Cooper (@C2_Cooper) November 24, 2022
While Turner torched the Wolves, the pop-out 3 is what defenses give up in drop. It’s an understandable scheme to deploy against Indiana, considering Turner shot 36% from 3 entering last night’s contest on just 2.75 attempts per game.
The effort and intensity were there across the board, combining to create arguably the Wolves’ most defensively sound performance of the season.
A Balanced Offensive Attack
All five starters for the Wolves scored in double-figures and converted on over 50% of their looks.
What stood out was the team’s ball movement. Every player who played more than ten minutes recorded an assist (except Taurean Prince, who left the game with an injury). The Wolves finished with 31 assists, which is approximately four more than their average of 27.5 per game.
Many of the assists went to Gobert. Early in the game, there was a concerted effort to get him involved by feeding him down low through rolls and seals. He finished the first quarter with the most shot attempts (five).
Gobert had multiple pick-and-roll partners ranging from Russell, Edwards, and even KAT. They all worked well and brought a different look to the action. As a result, Minnesota scored 74 points in the paint, second most by any team in an NBA game this season.
The offense stagnated in prior games, but the Wolves got the defense in rotation and made the extra pass. Although the team had 23 turnovers, there were more than a few unselfish turnovers where a player tried to force a one-more pass that wasn’t there.
An egalitarian philosophy is the pathway for the Wolves’ to be a successful offense. It’s a matter of sharing the ball consistently when playing better defensive personnel, who might sop up advantages quicker.
- Taurean Prince injured his shoulder in the third quarter and did not return.
- Partly as a result, Minnesota’s bench was out-scored 42-19 by Indiana
- Jordan McLaughlin was inactive for the contest due to a calf issue. Austin Rivers took his place in the rotation and finished with six points in 20 minutes.
- Naz Reid was a DNP - Coach’s Decision. The Wolves opted to play smaller against a speedy Pacers team.
- Minnesota tied a season-worst with allowing 32 points off their 23 turnovers
- Despite allowing 13 offensive rebounds, the Wolves gave up just four second-chance points
The Wolves cap off a two-game road set on Friday with a 4 PM CT tip against the Charlotte Hornets, who may be without star point guard LaMelo Ball (ankle). Ball has missed the team’s last three games after re-injuring the same ankle that caused him to miss the first month of the season.
You can catch the game on Bally Sports North.