4/3/17: Trail Blazers at Timberwolves
Towns’ 34 points on 60% shooting had a lot to do with Jusuf Nurkic being ruled out for the regular season. Meyers Leonard was the solo 7-footer to dress for Portland and he played just 12 minutes. Towns gobbled up points in the paint, taking only 2 shots outside of the lane.
When Towns could get position, there wasn’t a player Portland could throw at him that could bother his jump hook. Yet, like we’ve seen throughout these game reviews, KAT is hardly strong enough to bully open a catch on the block (even against a smaller player like Aminu). His deeper positioning often times comes from Rubio’s penetrations that draw the attention of 2 defenders. The most physically imposing he looked was when the Blazers opted to front him. He uncharacteristically barked at officials for fouls in the second half, but didn’t necessarily have a strong case in favor of deserving free throws. The biggest problem I see in KAT drawing whistles comes from his approach to contact in general: right or wrong, instead of anticipating and selling the contact from a defender, Towns will dip his shoulder to create space before going up over an off-balance opponent. If a defender does his work before the catch to push Towns into the mid-post, there is little Towns can do to get close to the basket by backing his man down. As a result, his man can play him straight up because he isn’t fighting to push Towns back away from the rim like a helpless, weaker defender.
KAT’s paint production was largely the tradeoff Terry Stotts gambled on with his smaller lineup, apt for shooting 3’s and driving by close-outs of Towns and Dieng. Stotts’ roll of the dice mostly came out in his favor with Aminu and Harkless shooting 8/12 from 3, and Towns finishing a -3. Thibodeau abandoned his typical rotation during the 1st quarter by playing Towns the entire period. Portland started their two biggest available players in Leonard and Vonleh, and Thibs knew KAT would only continue to destroy Leonard (finished -10 in the aforementioned 12 minutes played), or the Blazers would eventually go small. Minnesota won the 1st quarter by 6, but Portland swung the margin back in their favor with a 14 point advantage in the 2nd. Portland looked to get out in transition when they could keep Towns and Dieng from collecting offensive rebounds. Watch how scattered they were on this transition possession from the Trail Blazers.
I believe this was the first game we reviewed that didn’t include an alley oop to Wiggins when his man tried to play him on the high side to deny a down screen. Harkless was coached to trail Wiggins with a conservative approach to close-outs. The Blazers’ game plan backfired when Wiggins found two mid-range looks of his liking early in the game and knocked them down. Confidence was no longer of concern when Wiggins proceeded to drain consecutive 3’s without hesitation.
Wiggins’ success took a detour after halftime when he started shooting and missing obvious heat checks, and his decisiveness plummeted with his field goal percentage. He eventually regained his composure when Portland kept switching the 1-2 PNR that Minnesota runs to get Wiggins in the post. With Lillard and McCollum guarding him, it was easier to see the damage Wiggins can do with a smaller man on him.
This was the 1st time we saw Thibs able to hide Wiggins’ polite defense on a tertiary wing option. Even though he played his average near-40 minutes, he looked invigorated as a help defender that only had to guard the occasional drive. He finished a +10 with only 1 foul.
The Wolves had a clear desire to slow the game down, taking 73% of their shots with 15 seconds or less on the shot clock. For Rubio, this largely meant making routine passes to the player a halfcourt set was designed to get open; while he netted an eye-opening 16 assists, it wasn’t necessarily a game to admire his imaginative capacities as a playmaker.
One thing Rubio did do was get to the free throw line (7/9). With the exception of maybe only Muhammad, Rubio is arguably the T’Wolves best player at drawing fouls. He uses a little over half as many possessions and attempts less than half as many shots as Towns or Wiggins, but only shoots 1.4 and 2.6 less free throws per game respectively. In true Rondo fashion, Rubio usually maneuvers drives down the lane like a tourist, before rising up for tricky finishes that leave opposing bigs looking like Elmer Fudd. Then, once Rubio has established that he is most definitely not going to shoot the ball, he occasionally plows into a shellshocked defender and usually gets the benefit of the doubt by way of the officials.
Rubio’s terrific defense (fully noted in prior game reviews) was no let up against Damian Lillard, who finished 7/21 and 3/11 from 3. Rubio played an integral role in a collaborative effort to force the ball out of Lillard’s hands and showed prowess when he had to guard Lillard in isolation, including the deciding final possession.
Thibs’ decision to play Towns the entire 1st quarter promoted Bazz to the primary option during the bench stretch of the 2nd quarter. After a couple of lackluster nights where his skillset didn’t demand playing time, Muhammad rebounded and scored 11 points on 7 shots. Aside from his expected herky-jerky post moves, Bazz was prepared to attack the basket with the proper aggression when he wasn’t asked to fit in around Towns’ post-ups.
Rush was the other role player that dramatically improved his play from the previous couple of games. Notching an unusual 37 minutes, Rush saw an uptick in playing time for some great defense against C.J. McCollum. C.J. played his best when Rush was on the bench, finishing 5/14 from the field.
The other reason Rush was more playable than other games we have covered was his willingness to shoot the ball. He converted 3 of 5 attempts from inside the arc because he didn’t just pick up his dribble and wait to pass the ball back to Rubio.
Flip Mix Angle
AI Reverse Punch
Horns Chicago Rip
- The Timberwolves shots over 40% from 3, but only took 9; Wiggins was 3 for 5 from deep.
- Each team grabbed 11 offensive rebounds, but the Wolves pulled down 13 more defensive boards.
- Minnesota dominated the paint, winning Points In The Paint by 20.
- None of the T’Wolves starters played less than 37 minutes. Kris Dunn only played 6 minutes.