The first of this game was one that was almost unrecognizable for Minnesota Timberwolves fans. It was lazy rebounding and panicked defense that led to two of the worst defensive quarters the Wolves have played all year. How does one manage to be lazy — or absent of energy — and panicked — or overflowing with energy — all at once?
Well, the Wolves were lazy in their defense of shooters around the arc, surrendering a moderate 5/10 performance from Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Shai Gilegous-Alexander along with 5/7 from Jalen Williams (ouch) and 4/5 from Lu Dort including two threes (ouch-ier). They were conversely panicked as they chased big men and forwards out of the paint only to see them cut back into a completely empty paint. Things only got worse when the Thunder bench came in and made what felt like 110% of their shots in the first half. The Thunder’s reserves scored 14 of OKC’s 66 first half points and missed only four, yes, FOUR, shots.
But, the general feeling was that the Wolves had survived, not disappointed. Sure, there were some dumb choices. Anthony Edwards did not make a second quarter field goal. KAT failed to perform his defensive duties on multiple occasions and got a technical foul after arguing the call on he trucked two defenders on his way to the rim. Jaden McDaniels, again struggling with a temper he doesn’t show, got a tech of his own for hanging on the rim. The Wolves, apparently in the Christmas spirit, were living out there own version of Whitey Duvall’s house rules.
Within a minute of the third quarter’s opening whistle, the Wolves were down double digits. Chris Finch took a time out. Rumble the Bull (Bison?) did a bad magic act. Wolfmother started playing. So let me tell you all a story about the Joker and the Thief of the Night.
Or I wish I could. The Joker was me. The Thief of the Night was me. The third quarter was even more of the same. Shoot outs that the Wolves couldn’t close in on, except it was Chet Holmgren doing the scoring after a quiet first two frames. Dort kept hitting more threes. That 10-point deficit never felt in question. Mike Conley had some good moments, including a play where he got blocked but recovered to strip Josh Giddey and score an easy layup.
I, personally, was broken by how difficult it was to watch the lineup that featured three bigs in Gobert, Naz, and Anderson. The offense struggled to keep getting good looks in the third, and turned it over often in the half court. The defense was scattered as Daigneualt and Finch traded adjustments. The major adjustment was, as many teams have done, completely ignoring Josh Giddey as an offensive option. But, that was not enough as Shai continued to cut through any defensive option in front of him.
What really, really killed the Wolves was turnovers. Finch eventually called a timeout after a 10-2 run from OKC. It left the Wolves down 15, with a score of 83-98.
What else can you even say? At that point, the Wolves had a turnover percentage of 20.3%. The Thunder sat. at 10.1%. You cannot win a game that way.
The third quarter ended with three straight turnovers from Anthony Edwards. The Wolves were down 11. I started writing this recap. The Thunder’s Paycom Center was playing Seven Nation Army with tesla coils.
Let’s cut to the chase here. The Wolves lost and lost badly. They played as poorly as they possible could. The stars were silent outside of stretches. Let’s just move on to some points of note and call it a night because this game was not a fun watching experience and the fourth quarter was never in any doubt.
What We Learned
Jordan McLaughlin: Best of a Bald Spot
Jordan McLaughlin came in for a stretch of the fourth quarter. It was the type of “throw spaghetti at a wall and see what sticks” move that had initially brought McLaughlin into the rotation in the first place years ago.
While the box score will state nothing positive for J-Mac, he did offer a change of pace for the Wolves offense that had become catatonic beforehand. He skied for an offensive rebound, an impossibility as a 5-foot-10 guard. He found passes quickly and effectively and was one of only two Wolves players tonight without a turnover.
The issue with McLaughlin continues to be his lack of shotmaking in the half or full court, but if J-Mac is the experimental test of adding a point guard at the deadline, color me intrigued.
No Extra Offensive Gear
My worry for the Wolves all year has been and remains the offense. The defense has been the best in the league (despite tonight’s performance), but the offense has been dreadful. The Wolves are 19th in points per game and 17th in offensive rating. I simply don’t believe that is good enough for a championship team.
The solution, as difficult as it may be to find, is finding a real offensive boost. The Wolves don’t need a new engine, but adding nitrous would be pretty vital.
Minnesota so badly needs a shooting specialist. They so badly need a shot creator off the bench alongside Naz Reid. That was painfully obvious tonight. It also makes the downfall of Shake Milton so heartbreaking. The player he was supposed to be is exactly what the Wolves badly need and lack.
The Wolves Farm Team
The Iowa Wolves got a little run at the end of the game and Leonard Miller looked excellent. Seven quick points on 3/3 shooting and some decent defense showed the Grindstone’s slow growth. Surprising very few people, Wendell Moore Jr. still struggled. Josh Minott continues to be tantalizing as an athletic profile and invisible as an on-court player.
As someone that follows the Iowa squad, I have hope that the Wolves can develop the lumps of clay in the G League. The question is who those players will need to replace to get real minutes.
The Wolves are back in action on Thursday, as they will host Luka Dončić, who is on a scorching streak of historic performances, and the Dallas Mavericks, who play in Cleveland on Wednesday night, so they will be on the second night of a back-to-back at Target Center. Fans can catch the 7 PM CT tip on Bally Sports North.