In the midst of a 20-game start mired by inconsistency, a lack of heart, and an evident timidity inexcusable for a team with plenty of NBA experience, the Wolves have fumbled the league’s second-easiest schedule to this point to the tune of a 10-10 record.
Minnesota Head Coach Chris Finch summed up everyone’s feelings pretty well postgame.
“I just think on any given night we don’t really know how it’s all going to fit together.”
Every night after an official throws the ball into the air, we could get one of a few teams.
Karl-Anthony Towns could start 2/2 from 3 in the opening minutes, or he could repeat last night’s first quarter and start 0/3. Anthony Edwards could attack his defender off the dribble early, or he could score four points in the first half, like he did Sunday. Rudy Gobert could bring intensity on both ends and impose his will on the opponent, or he could let a team like Golden State push him around and render him impact-less on the offensive end.
And when we get a team that takes on the worst case identity of its three best players, you get a disaster like the one fans witnessed on Sunday afternoon at Target Center.
The Wolves brought limited energy and let the Warriors dictate how the game would be played. Golden State turned it into a track meet early, torching Minnesota in transition, whether it followed a miss, a turnovers, or a made basket. That forced the Wolves to press offensively by taking 3s early in the shot clock, which did not work out well for them.
As a result, Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins combined for 23 points in a hurry, and Draymond Green dropped seven first quarter dimes. That trio fueled a 25-2 Warriors run in 3:56 of game time to take a 20-point lead into the second quarter.
“Teams are going to try to run and go fast paced and that’s what we’re doing, and we’re struggling with it a little bit. I think getting back is just crucial right now, especially the three guards,” Austin Rivers said in the locker room. “The first quarter was disgusting. If you clean up that first quarter, we’ve got a ballgame. The rest of the game, we looked really good, so that tells you we can do it.”
“Obviously, that was everything,” Finch said of his team’s suboptimal opening frame. “Then you have to make all the great plays, all the shots, and get all the calls and all the 50-50 balls and all that. And then they’re just one or two shots from breaking the game open again.”
“When we start well we end well. That’s kind of been the recipe for us right now,” Finch added. “And for the most part when we start well we play well. When we don’t, we always are chasing the game. Tonight was a classic example of that.”
So far this season, Minnesota is 9-2 when leading after the opening quarter and 1-8 when trailing at that point.
Gobert shouldered the blame for his team’s slow start.
“I will take the blame for that because I [felt like] I was a step slow on everything, offensively, defensively. It was just one of those games for me. I gotta be better than that, to set the tone before I can say anything else,” he said. “If I’m better tonight we got a chance to win the game.”
As they have for much of season, the Timberwolves’ G-League alumni brought energy and intensity to a game after the starters failed to do so early in the game. Jaylen Nowell entered the game late in the first quarter and got right to work, scoring eight points on a pair of triples and layup at the rim. He carried that into the second quarter by draining another 3 to open the scoring before his Iowa Wolves Naz Reid followed suit on the next trip.
the bucket is getting buckets pic.twitter.com/H6yhp6IsoN— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) November 27, 2022
Golden State’s lead shrank to 14, prompting Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr to use a timeout.
A quintet of Nowell, Bryn Forbes, Kyle Anderson, Reid and Gobert opened the second quarter in a 2-3 zone and found success. They slowed drivers, kept the ball on the perimeter, and forced Golden State to shoot jumpers; from there, Minnesota did a good job of rebounding and then infusing the offense with some much-needed pace.
They won those non-Curry minutes 11-4 and got the lead down to 13 before the Wolves’ starting back-court re-entered the game. Golden State immediately went on a 6-0 run to balloon the difference back to 19. Minnesota lost those non-Steph minutes 17-13; considering Golden State’s starting five is the best lineup in basketball, that’s a killer, especially when a team is already trailing when Curry exits the game. The Timberwolves’ starting unit found themselves right back where they left the game: in a deep hole.
Rivers got the start for Jaden McDaniels (illness) to step up and guard Curry, whom he defended for a significant time during last year’s Western Conference Playoffs, and did an admirable job in the second. Curry scored just two points on 0/4 shooting and turned it over twice without recording an assist.
“(I get) physical and I literally just follow him. I’m always on the outside. A lot of people make the mistake of doing like a normal lock and trail against him, but they set so many screens ... that if you do that, you just get eaten up,” Rivers explained of his strategy in guarding the two-time MVP. “You have to literally fall behind him. It’s hard for a shooter or someone to score when you know someone is behind you. It usually works. I guard him pretty well, but he’s tough, man.”
“We’re not as physical or as tough as I’d like us to be. I think that’s something we have to try to find,” Finch said postgame.
Given the Timberwolves’ injuries to Taurean Prince and Jordan McLaughlin, Rivers could earn more minutes in the coming games because of his defensive tenacity.
“Lead by example, pick up full court, I’ve got to start talking more, leading more, demanding effort. Getting on guys, I”m going to start getting on guys if I see someone not guarding hard or if I see a fuck up, I’m going to hold guys accountable,” Rivers told Canis Hoopus in the locker room in response to how he can bring more physicality and toughness to the team.
“It breeds guys to be on their toes, when you fuck up on a vet team, on that team, Draymond [Green] is going to be on you. Boston, Marcus Smart is going to be on you. Any good team, for that matter, you’ve got guys on that defense who are holding everyone accountable.”
Rivers’ defensive efforts on Curry gave the Wolves some juice going into the locker room down 20, but the team’s momentum didn’t survive the halftime break.
Minnesota sleepwalked through the first 7:22 of the third and found themselves down 100-72. Down 28, Edwards decided to put his stamp on the game. The third-year star drained a 3 before earning making six free throws on a personal 9-4 run that gave his squad the requisite energy to cut the lead back to 20 by the end of the quarter.
Edwards carried that into the fourth, where he created nine of his team’s 14 points in the first three minutes of game time he played in the frame. He capped off a 19-4 Wolves run with a banger 3 that brought the lead down to 10 with 5:31 left.
SO TUFFFFF.— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) November 27, 2022
19-4 RUNNNNN pic.twitter.com/OQNdTfMDGb
On the next trip, D’Angelo Russell stripped Curry, but Curry retrieved a 50/50 ball, made a pass to Green, and got it right back for a wide open 3 that broke the Wolves’ spirit. Instead of a chance to cut it to seven going the other way, they inbounded the ball down 13 while Curry danced his way down the floor looking at a raucous Warriors bench.
The crowd stayed in it for another minute, when they reached their collective breaking point. Gobert caught the ball the paint before turning and shooting a wild, uncoordinated layup against Green that wasn’t close to going in. It resulted in a Klay Thompson 3 in transition.
Anywhere you looked in the arena, you saw visible frustration. Fans court-side were beside themselves. Whether it was throwing their hands in the air, hiding their face in their hands, looking away in disgust, or some combination of the three, the anger was palpable.
If that wasn’t enough, Thompson took Gobert’s lunch in the paint on the next trip before dribbling into a transition 3-pointer, giving him 14 points in the second half.
Fans responded with boos during the subsequent timeout as they filed out of the arena. As Wolves faithful made their way out, the Warriors clowned the home team in garbage time.
Jordan Poole’s impressive finish with 1:20 to play put the cherry on top of an isolation-based 24 points, and Green lost it. He left the bench to celebrate his teammate’s big night, prompting a technical foul, as the rest of the Warriors on the sideline were jumping up and down.
A minute later, Donte DiVincenzo drained a 3 to give us the final score of 137-114; Curry followed Green’s lead, running off the bench to shower the young role player with cheers before earning a tech of his own. When Wendell Moore Jr. missed the free throw, the bench couldn’t contain their excitement, leaning on each other laughing and talking junk from the sidelines.
Life is better as defending champs. As the Wolves learned tonight, they’re still light years away from sniffing playoff glory.
The Wolves are in our Nation’s capital for a matchup with the Washington Wizards. You can catch the 6 PM CT tip off on Bally Sports North.