The Detroit Pistons came ready to play basketball. The Minnesota Timberwolves did not match their intensity or execution for a full 48 minutes. While Minnesota lead by as many as 10 points in the first half, Detroit eroded away at that lead and found themselves up one at the break. From there, that was all she wrote as the Wolves would never see a fruitful lead again.
Six players scored in double figures for the Motor City. Bojan Bogdanovic continued to be a solid veteran presence, pouring in 27 points on an efficient 9-15 from the field and 5-8 from deep. Saddiq Bey contributed with a season-high 31 points of his own. Jaden Ivey looked mature beyond his years, getting to his spots in the mid-range and moving the ball with energy. He and starting point guard Killian Hayes combined for 17 assists in this one.
As for the Wolves, not much can be said on the positive end. Yes, all of their starters played efficiently and put up points. But lack of discipline on the defensive end, bad passes on offense, and a lackluster motor facilitated their own downfall, and added to the grief of Timberwolves fans.
Detroit kicked things off with Hayes bringing the ball up and running the half-court sets, with Jaden Ivey playing off the ball. Jaden McDaniels and Rudy Gobert quickly asserted their length and stifled attempts at the rim. Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch went to his most effective offensive option — featuring Anthony Edwards in isolation on the right wing. He twice converted — first on a 19 foot pull-up, and then on a hoop and the harm, capitalizing off of the harm. An early 10-0 run by Minnesota in the first 2:34 forced the Pistons to call timeout.
Bogdanovic scored or assisted on Detroit’s first five points, including a spot up 3-pointer from the left wing. Austin Rivers got in on the fun from beyond the arc with a triple that was all cash, blue notes, and the teller was none other than Anthony Edwards.
At the 5:11 mark of the first quarter, Taurean Prince fell to the floor writhing in pain as he grabbed his left ankle. He was soon taken out of the game, though he would later return in the period. When play resumed, Hamidou Diallo was a menace in the driving lanes, Jaylen Nowell was the recipient of a gorgeous dime from McDaniels for an easy layup, and Hayes showed off his prowess both distributing and scoring. First he dished to Alec Burks for a 27-footer, and then he diced his way into the lane for a short 10-foot pull up jump-shot, channeling his inner Chris Paul.
Minnesota went five-out toward the tail end of the quarter, and the Pistons defense would collapse two help defenders in toward the middle to prevent penetration, but the Wolves countered this with quicker first steps and impeccable finishing at the rim. Ivey ended the quarter with a rack attack that culminated in a floater through traffic. The score a the end of one was 34-31 Minnesota. Both teams were shooting above 50 percent from the floor and from distance.
To start the second, D-Lo rained in a smooth triple from the wing. Ivey came down and matched his trey with a trifecta of his own. Minnesota hit three straight 3-pointers and were moving the ball impressively, yet Detroit was matching them bucket for bucket. Ivey smoked a pair of free throws at the charity stripe, extinguishing the high octane play from both teams.
Rudy Gobert stuffed a put-back dunk off of an errant Bryn Forbes floater with authority. Detroit then went into a high screen-and-roll, which Minnesota countered by playing up on the ball handler, while staying disciplined with the roll man’s defender — in most cases Rudy Gobert. This gave Gobert enough time to recover, but he committed a foul that the Pistons used to cut the lead back to single digits. Pistons head coach Dwayne Casey utilized a five-man rotation with no center, taking out Nerlens Noel for Kevin Knox, meaning only one thing — feeding Rudy Gobert.
Rudy Gobert crazy putback dunk pic.twitter.com/WPrjBP1uBW— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) January 12, 2023
It did not manifest into interior dominance. He was first hacked and split the pair at the line. Then after Hayes hit Knox with a dish for a 3-pointer, the youthful Pistons came back down and picked off a telegraphed pass to Gobert. They then came down and completed the 6-0 run with a Saddiq Bey long ball, cutting the lead to three. Conventional play concluded the half at 65-64 Detroit.
Bey (18) and D’Angelo Russell (14) were the high men for their respective teams. Minnesota was blowing Detroit out of the waters in points in the paint, leading 32-18.
The second half rolled around and the Pistons increased their lead to eight points before the first timeout. This was a byproduct of a 14-7 run, and Edwards being ruled out at the half with left hip soreness. All of Detroit’s 14 points in the first five minutes of play were two-point conversions. This included dunks from Hayes and Bey.
Out of the timeout, Minnesota ran a double screen along the right sideline, freeing up Prince who caught the pass and used a Gobert screen on the opposite side of the floor to rise up for the 3-pointer. Bogdanovic went on his own eight-point tear, connecting from deep and escalating the damage done to the Wolves.
Ivey’s passes increased in efficacy and flamboyance, as he was whipping the ball around the court, finding Diallo cutting baseline for a layup off glass, and then Burks for a spot up 3-pointer. Minnesota simply did not execute well throughout the quarter. Detroit won the third by a margin of 36-23.
Edwards surprisingly re-entered prior to the end of the fourth after being ruled out, but clearly was less than 100%. Finch then proceeded to play him long after the game was decided, which may come back to bite the Wolves if Edwards misses either Friday or Saturday’s home games against the Phoenix Suns and Cleveland Cavaliers, respectively.
The Pistons ran away with the fast break points battle, outscoring Minnesota 11-2. They completely neutralized any and all transition offense from the Wolves heading into the final 12 minutes of regulation.
Careless passes, lack of intensity, and an injury to Rudy Gobert all spelled bad news for the Timberwolves as their window of opportunity to come back slowly dwindled away. Isaiah Livers delivered on a corner bomb good for three and soon the lead ballooned up to 22 points.
The ball was getting stuck with late reads and a Pistons defense that picked up on the Wolves’ tendencies. Edwards showed visible displeasure with Gobert who failed to dunk his lob pass on the first try — a bad sign for the team. Edwards tried to eat into the lead with a triple of his own, but as was the story of the night, it was answered two-fold. As the Pistons ate clock inside of three minutes left to play, both teams exchanged meaningless buckets in a game that ended long before the final whistle.
Now 20-22 as the No. 10 seed in the western conference, the Wolves have a date with the shorthanded Phoenix Suns this Friday the 13th. Wolves fans are hoping that it is not a horror show to watch, as the Suns will be without six key players — including four starters.
Fortunately, Minnesota is only 1.5 games back from the No. 6 seed in the conference so a sudden reversal of fortune can catapult them into playoff standing in short order.