The Minnesota Timberwolves haven’t been too kind to NBA officials this season, and understandably so, but hit a boiling point in an unfortunate 104-102 loss to a struggling Boston Celtics squad that marked the Wolves’ fifth straight home loss and seventh in their last eight games.
If you’ve read my recaps before, you probably know I rarely involve refereeing in my writing. I try to keep it professional, because there’s so much more to the game than the three officials, from another poor free throwing night (72.7%), missing wide open 3 after wide open 3, or turning it over 13 times. With that said, we are a fan-run blog, after all, so please excuse me for a minute.
Tonight, the game completely devolved into unfiltered chaos once Brian Forte, Justin Van Duyne and Derrick Collins lost control of the game.
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Rudy Gobert picked up a technical foul for “taunting” Derrick White after dunking mid-way through the third quarter — an incredibly soft whistle. On the next trip down, Jayson Tatum detonated on Gobert for an and-one, which was upgraded to a Flagrant 1 given that Gobert accidentally swiped Tatum in the face.
Fans erupted with “Refs you suck” chants that you could hear from across the river. From there on in, as the game began to tighten, the officiating crew lost all control of the game, became visibly flustered, unwilling to offer explanations to players, and flat out missed calls that were crucial in deciding the outcome of the game.
“It was really rough out there. A little unbalanced at times. I mean, I don’t understand why there wasn’t a delay a game when Tatum runs down the floor with the ball. I don’t understand why there weren’t technicals it’s called when Mazzulla is out on the floor twice in the action of play. I didn’t understand some of the verticality A to B.” Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch said with an audibly raspy voice from voicing his opinion all night. “It seemed to kind of all kind of come on hinge at the time when Rudy got his taunting technical or whatever it was, I don’t know, it just seemed to put everybody on edge.”
Fans may remember that Nickeil Alexander-Walker was assessed a technical foul last week for running down the court away from a ref after a call. Tonight, Tatum did the exact same thing, but also had the ball in his hands. Not only should that be a technical, but it should also be a delay of game. Because the Celtics had already been issued a warning, it should’ve been a one-shot technical.
Here’s Celtics Head Coach Joe Mazzulla on the opposite side of the floor from his bench, well on the court calling for a timeout when Grant Williams ended up on the ground before a jump ball was called.
Thread of everything that the refs messed up tonight:— Timberwolves Muse (@Wolvesmuse) March 16, 2023
1) Coach on the opposite side of the floor during a play pic.twitter.com/mzVM2gibkF
“During live play the officiating crew did not see coach Mazzulla cross the mid-court line, as we were focused on the loose ball that resulted in a jump ball,” Forte, the crew chief, told Jace Frederick of the Pioneer Press after the game, as if it isn’t the officials’ collective job to see every angle of the game.
And finally, maybe the worst jump ball in NBA history.
So much wrong here. Al Horford moves his position, Grant Williams is moving forward into Rudy & then steals the tip on the way up. pic.twitter.com/dh25H3ZORV— Alan Horton (@WolvesRadio) March 16, 2023
Rudy Gobert on this jump ball late in the 4th:— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) March 16, 2023
"I think he stole the ball. I would never lose a jump ball to Grant Williams, with all due respect. I mean, if I do, it’s really on me. But I didn't. Completely stole the ball, and I don’t know what happened with that situation." https://t.co/0jcU3H7Mxb
As a result of this play, Anthony Edwards and Kyle Anderson went after the officiating crew and both were ejected from the game. Edwards was tossed on a single technical for “directly questioning of the integrity of the officiating crew” while Anderson earned his second tech of the night for directing “multiple profanities” at the officiating crew. Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes was ejected for a similar reason to Edwards last week, too.
In the arena, the tension between the two teams rose higher and higher with each call. Players got chippy, took the trash talking to another level, and only had more pronounced reactions as the game drew on. Celtics players shot non-verbal glances that screamed ‘Wow we’ll take it,’ with Al Horford even laughing about the tech Gobert received as he dapped up a distraught Wolves bench in the third quarter.
All in all, just a brutal night from another officiating crew in what has been the worst season of NBA officiating in recent memory.
Now, let’s dive into some basketball takeaways from tonight’s loss.
Surviving a Brick Fest
Entering tonight, Minnesota held a 4-10 record when shooting less than 44% from the floor, with all but two of those losses coming by at least eight points. The Timberwolves shot 44% on the dot on Wednesday, but stayed in the game because they forced the Celtics to beat them with difficult jumpers, and put together one of their best displays of contesting shots so far this season. Gobert, Naz Reid and Jaden McDaniels were especially solid contesting without fouling after switching.
“It’s very important. I told the guys when we came back into the locker room, I said ‘We’re gonna play a lot of games playing the way we played tonight and being able to withstand lot of adversity,’” Conley told Canis Hoopus in the locker room.
“Because it wasn’t an easy night for us at all, by any means, and we just kept fighting, kept punching back, we kept staying together, banding together when stuff got tough. Just proud of the way that we were able to give ourselves a chance. We’ve been doing it against one of the better teams in the league, so hopefully this is another game we can learn from.”
Boston came in with a 3-point rate of 47.6%, third-highest in the NBA, and it showed in the first quarter. The Celtics shot 12 3s in the first quarter alone, before adding 10 more in the second frame for a first half 3PR of 47.8% — a great sign for the Wolves’ hopes of keeping a spread offense from driving the lane and getting to the rim. Minnesota switched very well, even with Gobert on the floor, and made life miserable outside of the paint for Tatum, who was 0/8 from deep on the night. Key shooters in Williams and Marcus Smart also went 0-for from beyond the arc.
Offensively, Minnesota shot just 7/28 (25%) from 3 outside of Edwards, whose 5/8 night from downtown included several opportune 3s that ultimately kept the Wolves in the game. Nickeil Alexander-Walker shot 0/5, to extend a shooting slump to 3-of-his-last-15 (20%) on the heels of a 12/24 (50%) start to his Wolves career, while Mike Conley shot 2/6 and McDaniels connected on just 2-of-7 from deep.
Just a huge "shoulda, coulda, woulda" night for Minnesota.— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) March 16, 2023
Still in it down four with 1:55 left, but they are 12/18 from the line (67%), just 23/41 (56%) in the paint, and 3/10 (30%) on the fast break.
Can't complain about the defense one bit.
The worst of the shooting slump came atop the second quarter, when a Jordan McLaughlin/NAW/McDaniels/Taurean Prince/Reid unit shot 1/9 over the first 5:27 of the quarter, and mustered up just two points in that span. Finch thought that stretch prevented the Wolves from winning.
“Yeah, I think [it was a reason why]. We were always fighting uphill,” Finch said, as a result of the poor start to the quarter. “If that game goes a few more minutes maybe we win it.”
It was another reminder of why getting Karl-Anthony Towns back will be a huge luxury. He’s an incredible shot-maker and scorer, and will likely be out there with these bench crews to buoy the scoring and help ensure there’s a No. 1 scoring option on the floor at all times. Recent losses to the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets and now the Celtics can be chalked up to — on some level — simply missing too many easy, makable looks. Of course there’s more to it, but if the Wolves make a couple more 3s or turn a few turnovers into shot attempts, they win this one.
A Clearer Scoring Hierarchy
It’s very clear that Edwards trusts Anderson to go get his. Ant threads the needle in an effort to get Slow-Mo the rock in the middle of the floor more than he does for any other teammate, and Anderson is consistently paying him off around the rim. How I see the hierarchy is centered around answering the question, “when the Wolves need a bucket, who steps up?” If it’s not Edwards, it’s almost certainly Anderson.
While Slow-Mo hasn’t taken that many shots, he gets to spots on the floor where he collapses the defense with the gravity of a major scorer. That’s crucial, because it further unlocks playmaking opportunities for him to get his teammates involved, especially Gobert. Sometimes the threat you pose in “your” spots on the floor can be just as important as actually scoring, and Anderson is a great example of that. He scored 15 points on 14 shots tonight, but they were good looks in the paint for the most part, and he rarely takes shots out of the flow of the offense — an important element of stringing together runs and building momentum.
Beyond the internally beloved Anderson, McDaniels is right there behind him. Since the trade that sent D’Angelo Russell to the Los Angeles Lakers, McDaniels’ shot attempts have jumped from 8.6 per game up to 9.8, as has his confidence to attack defenders off the dribble in isolation. The faster he grows, the better off the Timberwolves are, as having a 6-10 walking mismatch is a major weapon to throw in behind Edwards, Towns and Anderson, especially in a playoff setting.
Timely Efforts from Naz Reid and Anthony Edwards
Naz Reid returned tonight after missing a game with left calf soreness and brought all the good stuff that make him a favorite around Timberwolves country. The big man made his lone 3-pointer of the night in a big spot to cut the Celtics’ lead down to four with about a minute left in the third quarter, before becoming a focal point of the Wolves’ early fourth quarter offense alongside Anderson. Reid scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half, and did so in just 9:58 of play, during which he was a +8 and instrumental in getting Minnesota back into the game.
DRAINED IT. pic.twitter.com/3tJuRGEeIi— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) March 16, 2023
“[His scoring] was huge. I mean, he gave us a favorable matchup and did a really good job to take advantage of it. That unit really got us back into the game,” Finch said. “It was good to see, because I thought they got a lot of good shots in the first half when they played and none of them went in, but we needed it at that point.”
Edwards took the reins from there, quickly flushing from his memory a third quarter in which he didn’t take a shot until the 5:11 mark (when he got fouled). After checking in at the 7:54 mark, Ant scored eight points at all three levels of the defense before using the attention and eyeballs he drew to get his big man involved up top — a developing prong of his fourth quarter attack.
LOVE A LATE GAME LOB. pic.twitter.com/bcvxT5cmyB— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) March 16, 2023
“Yeah, I thought he did a great job really, I mean, all night. I would like to see him drive Horford at the end down to rather than settle, but you know, I thought he got a decently clean look,” Finch said about Edwards’ playmaking. “But other than that, I thought he did a really good job after the first five or six minutes once he realized what the defense was going to look like. He was trying to play with good patience when he was driving.”
Edwards finished with another stellar line of 28 points on 63.1% TS, 10 rebounds, seven assists to three turnovers, and was a +5 in his 38:25 of play before he was ejected with one second left.
The Wolves will take on the Chicago Bulls in the Windy City on Friday at 7 PM. Fans can watch the game on Bally Sports North.
FINAL: Celtics 104, Wolves 102— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) March 16, 2023
MIN's 5th straight home loss and 7th in last 8
Brown: 35 pts (15 in 4Q), 10 reb
Tatum: 21 pts, 12 reb
Ant: 28 pts, 10 reb, 7 ast
Slow-Mo: 15 pts, 8 ast, 7 reb
Rudy/Naz: 15 pts, 6 reb each
• 7/28 (25%) from 3 beyond Ant
• Lost 24-16 in FTM pic.twitter.com/xuNBeRqobj