The Minnesota Timberwolves entered Friday night with an opportunity to wash out of their mouth the bad taste from Tuesday’s loss to a Philadelphia 76ers team playing on the second night of a back-to-back. Instead of pressing shuffle, the Wolves hit the repeat button and fell 124-123 in overtime to a short-handed Brooklyn Nets squad who, you guessed it, was playing on zero days rest.
Between Head Coach Chris Finch, Anthony Edwards, Rudy Gobert and Kyle Anderson, plus the general mood in the locker room, no one seemed pressed about the loss to Philadelphia, which could be chalked up to “one of those nights” shooting the ball. Tonight, however, the team should feel very differently about their performance.
Let’s dive into it.
All the Little Things
By adding Gobert, Anderson and Mike Conley to a group that also includes Jordan McLaughlin and Taurean Prince, the Wolves should be a team that is very good at doing the little things well. Despite that, they are wildly inconsistent with them, especially during the second halves of games.
Spacing and Ball Movement
Minnesota in the first half did an excellent job of maintaining spacing while driving the lane so that Gobert could feast across the face of the lane and in the dunker spot. Conley, Anderson and McDaniels were all getting him the ball where he likes it and he paid them off to the tune of 14 points on 7/9 shooting. Then after a hot start to the third quarter, the ball movement died, there was little attacking the paint, the Wolves couldn’t get stops and run in transition, and the offensive output fell off a cliff.
“We missed chippies, we missed layups, we missed some open stuff. We kind of lost our flow. Just got super stagnant,” Finch said. “Fell into the iso game against their heavy switching. But things that have hurt us before.”
Edwards settled, got passive and didn’t score in the third quarter, and Brooklyn proceeded to go on a 24-8 run over the final 6:16 of the period to turn an eight-point halftime lead for Minnesota into a nine-point Wolves deficit entering the final frame. The Wolves only made two of their 17 3s (11.8%) in the second half and overtime, partly as a result of that stagnation.
“Really, it becomes a drive-and-kick game at that point. It’s tough to run pick and rolls and the stuff we’re really good at off the ball screens, stuff like that. But we have to get the ball moving around and kind of drive the gaps and make them out to help and create opportunities,” Conley said in the locker room. “But when we do that, when we drive, you have to look the pass, we have to look to make an extra play. We just had too many opportunities or too many times where we went one-on-one or isolation where it took us out of a rhythm. It’s tough to score against a defensive team that’s long like that and can switch.”
The Wolves lost the game in several places, the 3-point line being one of them. Brooklyn shot 8/17 (47.1%) in the second half and overtime, with a few of them being wide open looks in transition as a result of Minnesota simply not matching up. Then, with the game in the balance in overtime, a pair of Spencer Dinwiddie drive-and-kicks created excellent looks for Nets deadline pickups Mikal Bridges and Dorian Finney-Smith, who connected on back-to-back 3s to turn a three-point hole into a three-point lead with 36.8 seconds left.
Ant tried to hit a home run and struck out big time.— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) March 11, 2023
• Bridges made 3 end of clock
• Ant airball 3
• Finney-Smith corner 3
Nets went from down 121-118 to up 124-121 in 40 seconds
“At that point, we just, we failed to stay on assignment, stay attached to our man. We were told at that time the game to try not to give up a 3 by helping in too much, and it’s hard in the speed of the game with someone driving at you, your instinct is to go in and help,” Conley conceded. “And in those moments, we got to remember the two isn’t going to hurt us as much as three. Just a mental lapse there, and you can’t afford to do that late in the game, whether guys are tired or whatever that might be.”
Seven of Dinwiddie’s 11 assists were on made triples, and five of the seven came in the second half or overtime, all of which were killers.
“He got to his spots. I thought we had him contained. It was his kick outs that killed us more than anything else. It was just off-ball discipline. Not staying home, and that’s what we talked about, was staying home to take away the three-point shot,” Finch said of Dinwiddie.
Finch wasn’t pleased with his team’s discipline off the ball against a heavy drive-and-kick team.
“If I review some of the 3s in my head, there’s times where we were scrambling around and the guy goes through the lane and we just stop and we don’t follow him around. There’s times when we help down past the drive for the kickout. We left the strongside corner. Just a little bit of everything right there,” he added. “Sometimes we have defensively a start-stop mentality, do one or two actions and rest for a moment. Against a team that’s driving and kicking, you can’t do that.”
The Rudy Gobert Game
Gobert delivered arguably his best game as a Timberwolf on Friday night. In the first six minutes, the Frenchmen contributed eight points, three rebounds, an assists, a block and a steal, helping his team jump out to a 20-13 lead midway through the first. He played with force on every possession early in the contest; whether he was setting a screen to free up an Edwards attack, attacking in a face-up situation, or maintaining good spacing either in the dunker spot or in the middle of the paint, Gobert’s activity leaped off the floor.
The job his teammates did in getting to spots on the floor where they could create for him — such as driving down to the block and pump faking to draw in a defender before dumping it off, or attacking well from the corners — was perhaps the best of the season.
When he wasn’t getting set up, he physically dominated Nic Claxton as a scorer in the middle of the lane and on the glass, unafraid to power through the rising star for dunks inside and/or to draw fouls.
“They played a lot of small lineups. We’ve been trying to punish small lineups by at least [being] able to draw fouls. We can’t just let teams go small and not try to take advantage of it when it’s there to be taken advantage of,” Finch said, explaining what fueled a bigger role for Gobert.
“Just trying to be aggressive. And I feel like the guys are finding me more and more, and, for me, it’s just the work that I put in translating to the court,” Gobert said about his offensive output. “I liked the way I’ve been more aggressive. I think we need that, especially when teams are gonna go small. Tonight they went small, but they had to battle, they had to fight. And it’s not fun when you’re small and you try to fight. I thought we’re getting better as a team facing those small lineups.”
Perhaps the most encouraging part of Gobert’s 26-point, 13-rebound, five-stock night was that he added a season-high four assists in the mix. Although Claxton got Gobert to pick up his dribble in an effort to bait Gobert into shooting, Rudy smartly kicked the ball out instead. Three of his four assists were on made 3s, all coming in the first half, which is proof that when the ball starts humming, even Gobert gets in on the assisting action.
The only flaw in Gobert’s game was his free throw shooting. He shot 2/6 from the line, with all four misses coming in the fourth quarter. The big man took responsibility for the loss, placing the blame on his four misses. He wasn’t alone, though. Minnesota shot 18/29 (62.1%) from the stripe, adding to a stretch of horrible free throw shooting that is consistently contributing to losing.
The Wolves' free throw shooting has been a disaster lately:— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) March 11, 2023
• L vs BKN - 18/29 (62.1%)
• L vs PHI - 15/21 (71.4%)
• W @ SAC - 22/31 (71.0%)
• W @ LAL - 12/16 (75.0%)
• W @ LAC - 13/22 (59.1%)
• L @ GSW - 11/21 (52.4)
• L vs CHA - 10/16 (62.5%)
A Dynamic Brooklyn Duo
Simply put, the Timberwolves’ drop defense had no answer for Bridges and Dinwiddie, particularly in the mid-range. Bridges scored 14 of his 34 points on middies (7/14 FG), while Dinwiddie was a monster at coming around a ball screen atop the key and then dragging Gobert out to the perimeter; from there, the offensive dynamo carved up the Wolves with rim attacks and kick-outs for 3s, or at the very least create scramble situations.
The pair combined for 63 of the Nets’ 124 points. 36 of them came after halftime, including 22 from Dinwiddie, who took over the game at all three levels of the floor.
Despite the onslaught from Brooklyn’s key cogs, Minnesota stuck with the drop. It actually paid off in the fourth quarter when Nets Head Coach Jacque Vaughn went small by inserting Finney-Smith for Claxton. Gobert did a good job defending mid-range jumpers, while his teammates corralled important rebounds. That helped the Timberwolves claw back into the game and ultimately force overtime, but almost felt like “too little, too late.”
When Brooklyn was in the midst of their big third quarter run, the Wolves didn’t try a switching concept, a more aggressive high wall, or even a junk zone defense just to throw something different at Dinwiddie. As the playoffs near and coaches start to treated every night like a playoff game, it’ll be interesting to see how Chris Finch maneuvers that. Especially considering the fact pretty much any team they could play in the postseason — the Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers — all have personnel that can kill drop coverage. File that one away.
What more can you say about the guy?
Naz Reid played maybe his worst game of the season against a switch-heavy team that should’ve been a great matchup for him. He played only three minutes in the second half as a result, but stayed ready nonetheless. Down three with 1.5 seconds left, Finch called upon his young big man in a catch-and-fire situation after Reid sat on the bench for the entire fourth quarter and the last 1:06 of the third — and boy, did Naz deliver.
Everyone needs to understand how difficult that is. Reid came into the game completely cold, with every reason to be frustrated with his performance and not completely locked into the game. Instead, he rose the occasion and gave his team a chance to fight for another five minutes. Reid didn’t play in overtime, either, until the penultimate offensive possession of the game, in which the Wolves were down one with 8.6 seconds left and needed a score.
Regardless of your opinion of Naz Reid, know that his teammates would die for him because of moments like that. You won’t find one guy in the Timberwolves locker room who has a bad thing to say about Reid, because of how hard he works, how well he supports his teammates, and how he always fights during games, no matter the score, how he’s played, or what the situation calls for. Possessing all of those traits is a legitimate NBA skill, which is a special one when you package it with the talent Reid possesses. He’s a necessary piece for this team — with or without Karl-Anthony Towns — and it was awesome to see him get the shine he deserves in that moment.
The Wolves hit the road for a one game trip to the 404 to take on Trae Young, Dejounte Murray and newly hired Head Coach Quin Snyder’s Atlanta Hawks. You can catch Monday’s 6:30 PM CT tip on Bally Sports North.
The No. 8 seed Wolves are only 1.0 game ahead of the No. 9 seed Lakers...— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) March 11, 2023
While making the play-in is a virtual lock given Utah, OKC and (probably) NOP stealth tanking, Minnesota is playing with fire.
14 games to go.
FINAL/OT: Nets 124, Wolves 123— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) March 11, 2023
MIN: Second home loss in a row to EC team on back end of B2B
Bridges: 34 pts
Dinwiddie: 29 pts, 11 ast
Claxton: 11 pts, 9 reb, 4 blk
Rudy: 26 pts, 13 reb, 5 stocks
Ant: 32 pts, 6 reb, 5 stocks
Jaden/Slow-Mo: 15 pts each
• 18/29 FT (62%) pic.twitter.com/srEMbzaPgQ