When two high-level basketball teams play, it normally comes down to a few plays that swing the game. That, and whoever can dictate the pace to their level of comfortability for the majority of the game normally finds themselves on top.
That ended up being the case in the Wolves’ 13-point loss to the Sacramento Kings on Friday.
Anthony Edwards said after Wednesday’s win against Philadelphia that that Wolves come to the building every night expecting to win. Fans should too at this point when you roll into Target Center as long as this team is able to keep its health about them.
But it’s never going to be perfect. Despite rebounding and shooting woes, the Wolves came within striking distance countless times to seize the game and put the Kings on their heels. But in those moments, mainly in transition, they made the worst possible play. The snowball effect ensued, and the result was a mounting hole they could never find a way to dig out of.
Another result? True to the NBA Cup theme, Minnesota now finds itself in an uphill battle to make it to Las Vegas for the single-elimination knockout tournament, with a double digit defeat tonight, point differential being a potential tiebreaker atop Group C, and only one “wild card” spot from each conference available.
It was a pretty rough game in general for the Wolves’ top three players in Karl-Anthony Towns, Edwards, and Rudy Gobert.
If you looked at the box score, you’d argue otherwise. But there were a lot of times in which they were pressing, which resulted in a detrimental product in important times, mostly resulting in either turnovers or shots they would probably like to have back.
Edwards finished with 35 points, but shot 38% from the field, including a 3/12 second half. Finch mentioned Edwards and Towns specifically after the game in which he thought they tried to “get it all back” (the deficit) in the second half by themselves. To the defense of Edwards, he was able to get to the line much easier in the first half than the second due to the Kings loading up more and more on him.
He also tried to put Domantas Sabonis on a poster multiple times, and came oh, so close.
Anthony Edwards dunk attempt, Rudy Gobert putback pic.twitter.com/ncnHMbKc5b— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) November 25, 2023
Towns finished with a hyper-efficient 27 points and 10 rebounds. He was really effective in spacing the Kings out and was a matchup nightmare for both Harrison Barnes down low early, and JaVale McGee outside later on. The main pain point he experienced Friday were costly turnovers that seemed to pile on to the already existing heap, and a sense of carelessness with the ball. As someone who touched the ball a lot, it seemed to trickle down. Some turnovers in transition, some trying to get the ball up the floor.
Costly turnovers were a problem for the Wolves as a generality. Mike Conley touched on the team-wide issue afterwards.
“There were a couple plays I couldn’t really explain...4 on 1s, 3 on 1s, throwing it out of bounds,” he explained. “We were right there knocking on the door...[and] the ones putting those self-inflicted wounds on ourselves.”
When you look at the 10-9, laughably small advantage for the Kings in fastbreak points, it doesn’t tell the full story.
The Kings love to play fast, and even though they sit at 14th in the NBA in pace, they pushed the tempo as much as they could via 36-point scorer DeAaron Fox, and it showed. It left shooters like Malik Monk wide open in transition, who started a perfect 4-4 from the field, and filled up the first half with 17 points.
The Kentucky Connection strikes again pic.twitter.com/53jbeRjKaM— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) November 25, 2023
“We couldn’t get set [in transition],” Head Coach Chris Finch said afterwards. “Once they got hot, they were hard to contain.”
There were matchup issues all over the floor particularly in the first quarter, in which Sacramento jumped out to a double-digit lead quickly.
This was a game where they missed Jaden McDaniels dearly. His ability to slow down Fox in transition was missed, and it felt as though the Wolves needed him when things got a little stagnant on offense in the third quarter when Edwards was getting blitzed off of picks at an increasingly high rate.
But with the Wolves in scramble mode from transition matchup issues in the present with McDaniels unavailable, Finch pointed out that it led to an issue nonetheless in their ability to rebound.
“When you’re behind the play in the beginning, you’re normally behind the play in the end,” he said.
Another overall stat that doesn’t look to be as much of a discrepancy as it felt was a rebounding advantage of 46-44 favoring Sacramento. The Kings made the most of their chances, and the 14 offensive rebounds they grabbed allowed them to mount a 26-15 second chance points advantage.
It was the perfect storm of everything going slightly wrong, and the downhill nature of the snowball, and Kings in transition, proved to be a little bit more than the Wolves were willing to defend and stick to the gameplan for on Friday.
The Wolves will head down to Memphis for a one-off road test on Sunday evening against the struggling Grizzlies. It will potentially be a nice opportunity for Minnesota to get its defense back on track, as Memphis is 28th in the league in offensive rating (106.1)