3/15/17: Timberwolves at Celtics
Karl-AnthonyTowns is undoubtedly the focal point of the Wolves halfcourt offense, with Rubio and Wiggins being the secondary options. This is apparent from the first whistle, with Thibs calling for Horns Chicago Rip. The set starts with multiple screens across the top of the arc, allowing for Towns to run to the corner for a one-on-one look against Horford.
Towns is able to show his one-on-one prowess multiple times in the first quarter. His midrange face up allows him to start in the triple threat, throw two pump fakes, one with a jab step, then blow by Horford. His movement toward the hoop commands Amir Johnson to slide over for help and KAT’s passing vision allows for the kick to Rubio to start the perimeter passing, getting Rush an open look from the corner.
Towns has incredible handles for a big man. Channeling his inner Harden here, even if the pass is a bit off target, he knifes through the paint.
On the flip side, Towns need to hit the gym, like hit it hard enough to catch an assault charge. Horford is not an overly strong center, but on multiple possessions he man-handles Towns in the paint.
Wiggins has flashes of brilliance and flashes of ineptitude. It is apparent Wiggins is attempting to grasp how to draw fouls on the drive. When Wiggins is attacking the basket, he does a sub-par job of selling where his body is going and either has to lift completely over the defense, or sprawl into the defender hoping for a foul. A possible fix for this would be adding a floater or runner to his attack game.
Many times, when the play is called for Wiggins, he is able to lose his man through screens due to his quickness and length. Nice Triple Stagger from Thibs on this SLOB.
Wiggins is getting quite a few of his shots from midrange, but struggles against stronger defenders. Crowder and Smart forced him into numerous difficult turnaround fades or spins in the lane. You can tell the Smart matchup was one that Thib’s staff thought was in their favor: watch how anxious Dunn is to set up the post up. Wiggins looked bottled up most of the night; there were numerous cases of his post footwork not accomplishing anything and appearing discombobulated.
Rubio is attempting to silence all the people calling for him to be traded last month. His poise on offense allowed for play after play of great decision making and open shots for himself and his teammates. Rubio even bails out teammates who don’t appear know what to do with the ball in the halfcourt. If he continues to play like this when LaVine returns, the Wolves have a starting five that can adapt to most NBA defenses.
The role players for the Wolves were not terribly available for the game. Lance Stephenson played about 45 seconds of game time before injuring his left leg.
And Bjelica, who was averaging 10 points and 7 rebounds in the last 8 games off the bench, is out for the season after this foot injury in the 2nd quarter.
The one bright spot off the bench was Shabazz Muhammad. Although he went 0 of 5 from 3 for the game, he was continuously able to get to the hoop against the Celtics defense, finishing 7 of 14 from the field.
Without their bigs showing they can hold down the defensive board responsibility by themselves, the Wolves don’t create many transition points. When they do, it is normally a leak out by one of the small forwards. Here Wiggins quickly jumps up the court while his defender, Crowder, is shooting free throws.
This is one of the singular cases of the Wolves pushing the tempo, but again, Muhammad was already ahead of the Celtics’ defense.
Tyus Jones sees an opening to Shabazz, that ends in a shooting foul. If Towns could be the outlet man here with a half court pass off the rebound, not something he does very often, it could significantly increase Shabazz’s chance of finishing at the rim. Jones does have a nice feel for transition though, watch as he correctly chooses the floater when no one steps up to stop his drive.
The Wolves defense was difficult to see in its normal form this game, as Dieng and Rubio were in foul trouble due to some touchy officiating in the first quarter. While this drew the ire and confusion of players on both teams, the Pack got the shorter end of the stick.
Dieng and Towns had a rough night on defense. As stated previously, Horford was too strong for Towns, which had Dieng on Horford for the times he was on the court.
When the Celtics’ bench entered the game, it got even worse for the Wolves’ bigs. Dieng is simply not a good perimeter defender. Having to follow Olynyk beyond the three point arc, covering his rather crafty moves off the dribble, and finally covering drives to the basket proved a bit beyond Dieng’s abilities.
While Brandon rush was rather inconsequential on offense, his on-ball and pick-and-roll defense was completely solid. Other than Ricky, he was their best perimeter defender by far.
Rush continues showing his defensive capacities with excellent communication on the switch with Bjelica. The Wolves can live with this Olynyk shot.
When Rubio picked up his fourth foul, Dunn entered the game looking to be aggressive on defense and made some smart plays to break up some good actions from the Celtics.
However, he still needs help with his decision making. If he doesn’t foul here, this is at least a blow by for IT, if not a wide open three. It’s a pretty good dig, but he gets off balance closing out on Thomas.
Now for a statement that may cause some people to take pause: Ricky Rubio is one of the best point defenders in the league. I know this is a bit contrary to popular opinion, but I would argue for Rubio being in the top 5 point guard defenders with no hesitation.
He fights over and through every perimeter screen, no matter how many are set.
He has incredibly fast hands and a knack for knowing where the ball handler is going.
And even in the post, he makes Olynyk look foolish by creating this travel through incredible body control and core strength.
Stopping Isaiah Thomas in transition is no easy feat and Minnesota didn’t have a killer game plan prepared to stop him. IT has great chemistry with the Celtics’ front court, and with the Wolves’ bigs hunting for offensive rebounds, it made getting back to guard hand-offs and drag screens even more challenging. The highest priority for Towns and Dieng appeared to be getting back to the paint and protecting the rim, but Thomas got into a rhythm shooting off of ball-screens when there was no help to get in his face. Additionally, Thomas has a terrific sense of the momentum of his assignment’s movement, and can blow right by them if they aren’t committed to retreating against his drives.
AI Reverse Punch
Horns Chicago Rip
Flip Mix Angle
Double Down/Elevator Fist
SLOB Triple Stagger
Sadly, the main story lines of this game for the Timberwolves were foul trouble and injuries. Losing Stephenson probably doesn’t alter Minnesota’s lineups much, but Bjelica being out for the season is painful. Although Dieng and Rubio were able to play 31 and 32 minutes respectively, they were both forced out of the game at inopportune times, specifically Rubio having to leave half way through the 3rd quarter.
Isaiah Thomas got his, going for 27 points on 53.3% shooting. IT has only failed to score 20+ in three games this season, so his scoring is to be expected. However, the 38 points from the Celtics bigs (Horford, Johnson and Olynyk) on 78.9% shooting is a glaring weakness for Pack.
At a first glance, Ricky Rubio looks like a major key to this team’s success. If he continues to knock down open jumpers, 3 of 5 from three in this game, while still creating open looks for teammates through his patience and court vision, their offense could look even better in the coming weeks. Rubio probably needs to be more vocal on defense, as he appears to be one of the only players who knows what is happening in the moment.