Good news is, the Minnesota Timberwolves returned to The Target Center on Thursday after 4 straight road losses, bad news it was against the LA Clippers. The Timberwolves upon playing at home announced the awaited return of Ricky Rubio to the starting lineup for the first time this season.
Ricky Rubio wasn’t the only change to the starting lineup for the Wolves; Derrick Williams was also starting for the Wolves. Williams and Rubio were joined by Pek, AK and Rubio. The Clippers, who were without Chris Paul, sent a starting lineup of DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, Caron Butler, Willie Green and Eric Bledsoe.
In what looked to be a tough start for the Wolves, giving up 2 offensive rebounds which led to a 3 point basket by Willie Green on the first possession of the game and a turnover for the Wolves on their 1st possession, turned around quickly. The Wolves were able to force back to back steals and knock down their 1st 3 point attempt of the game and keep pace with the Clippers right out of the gate. The Wolves had to battle to get baskets all throughout the 1st quarter, the Wolves attacked the offensive glass in the opening quarter, for 5 offensive rebounds. They seemed to be doing all of the little things right in the 1st quarter. All of the hustle really paid off as the Wolves finished off the 1st quarter down by 5, 22-27.
After 1 quarter of play, the most troubling number was Williams, Pek and Ridnour all playing the entire 1st quarter. Starting the 2nd quarter, the Wolves would go to the bench, and this would be a huge test, as the Clippers arguably have one of the best and deepest benches in the NBA. The Clippers bench was in fact too much for the Wolves to handle, as they outscored the Wolves 26-10 in the 1st half. The Clippers bench spurred a 15-6 run and opened up a 12 point 42-30 lead with 6:36 to play in the half. As 4 of the 5 Clippers starters checked back into the game with 5:22 left in the half and holding a 10 point lead, the Wolves managed to close out the half on an 11-4 run to enter the halftime break trailing by 4, 43-47.
After playing the entire 1st quarter, Derrick Williams didn’t step back on the court for the rest of the first half. He was 2-4 for 6 points and 1 rebound in his 12 minutes played. It was really great to see Ricky back into the starting lineup; his shooting wasn’t any better in his return to the starting lineup, he went 1-6, he did have 3 assists and finished the half with a 0 +/-. Pek also struggled from the field as he finished the half going 1-6 for 4 points. He did have 8 rebounds, 3 of which were offensive. After 5 first quarter offensive rebounds for the Wolves, Cunningham notched 3 offensive boards in the 2nd quarter and 4 total for the half. The Wolves ability to force turnovers was a big part of why they were in the game; they forced 7 in the 2nd quarter and 12 for the half. The Clippers were able to overcome the turnovers by shooting 50% from both 3 (5-10) and the field overall. Luke had the hot hand for the Wolves after 1 half, as he went 5-10 for 12 points, the team overall shot 36% from the floor.
Both teams started the 2nd half with the same 5 that started the game. The Wolves defense starting the 2nd half clearly showed that when the Clippers were in a half-court game, the Wolves would give both Jordan and Griffin any jump shot they wanted. The combo of Griffin and Jordan went 1-4 in the first 4:30 of the 3rd quarter. Conversely the Clippers were forcing Pek to do the same thing, and he continued to struggle on the offensive end of the floor making only 1 field goal through 3 quarters. If the night wasn’t going bad enough for Pek, he went down with 3:39 left in the 3rd and the Wolves trailing 60-55. Pek was immediately subbed for and went to the locker room. The Wolves continued to get help from Clippers turnovers, the Clips had 5 more in the 3rd quarter. The Clippers overcame the turnovers in the 3rd by getting to the free throw line. The Clippers after only shooting 5 free throws in the first half, became more aggressive in the 3rd quarter. The Wolves only allowed 10 Clippers points from field goals, but the Clippers got 11 points from free throws and ended the quarter with a 68-63 lead.
Going into the 4th and final period the Wolves got news that Pek had a thigh contusion. Derrick Williams was the only starter on the floor for the Wolves, and the Clippers had Jordan Crawford, Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes and Ronny Tuiaf to start the final period. The Clippers bench, just like in the 2nd quarter was able to open up a lead, and was just too much for the shorthanded Wolves. The Clippers managed to open up a 13 point lead with 5:09 left in the game. Not only was the Clippers bench outscoring the Wolves bench, the Wolves bench took another hit, as Alexey Shved also limped the court after having landing on Lamar Odoms foot after driving to the rim. With such a great performance from the Clippers bench, VDN left them on the floor to finish out the game. Even with Rubio back in the starting lineup the Wolves dropped their 5th straight falling to the Clippers 90-77.
There is no question the Clippers are deep and talented. I will continue to keep saying I don’t know how much being able to 6-7 deep will matter once they are in the playoffs. The Clippers starters scored 45 points combined. The Clippers bench scored 45 points on 50% shooting. The playoffs will come down to what the starters can do. The bench will help, but given VDN’s history, I Clippers fans should be very nervous come playoff time with rotations and how he will disperse minutes.
The Wolves already limited amount of available bodies, took 2 more hits as both Shved and Pek left the court early.
Should the injuries be severe enough for both Pek and Shved, the Wolves would only have 9 bodies.
The Wolves 3 point shooting continued to cold, as they finished the game 4-19.
The Wolves finished the game shooting 36%, the bench was 8-29 for 28%.
The Timberwolves will get a chance to break this skid when they host the Rockets on Saturday with a 7 o’clock tip.