Sometimes, in basketball, as well as in life, things turn out exactly as they should; exactly how one might expect them to be. Other than a couple of blips on the radar, such as the Chris Johnson/Mickael Gelabale –fueled blowout victory over Houston, the Timberwolves have performed about how we all thought they would after Kevin Love re-broke his right hand, providing the knockout blow in a season-long pummeling of injuries.
Saturday night in Denver was par for the course for the Wolves, as they stayed close for much of the game before being run off the court late in the third and throughout the fourth quarter. Assuredly, the Mile High City and its thin air had something to do with the Wolves sharp nosedive late in the contest. Realistically, however, this was just one stop in a season that has felt like the whole thing is being played in thin air, despite the abundance of valleys and very few mountaintops that Wolves’ players and fans have seen in the 2012-13 season.
The game remained competitive early, as the Wolves’ defense was largely solid in making the Nuggets work for open shots. Denver turned the ball over five times in the opening frame, partly due to the Timberwolves’ strong defensive rotations and partly due to the sloppiness of the home team. The Wolves and Ricky Rubio in particular were active on offense, but continued their season-long trend of missing open jump-shots. Due to their passable defense, however, they managed to only trail 27-24 at the end of the first quarter.
J.J. Barea turned in a few very good minutes to open the second quarter, but was essentially cancelled out by the ageless Andre Miller, who showcased a series of offensive moves and defensive savvy that many of us were not sure he was capable of at this stage in his career. After Denver held a 48-41 lead with 1:30 remaining, Minnesota went on an 8-0 run to take the lead before Ty Lawson hit a pair of free throws with a second left on the clock to give the Nuggets a 50-49 halftime advantage.
The third quarter started promisingly enough for the visitors, with the offense humming along. Derrick Williams actually caught the ball at the top of the key and swung it to an open shooter on the weak side, so that was a positive. Soon after, however, things hurtled downhill rather quickly for the Wolves. Luke Ridnour continued to miss open shots, the most painful of which are always the open corner three-pointers that Ridnour is usually so proficient at shooting. (Luke is 32 for 85 from the corners this season, good for just 37.65%. Not to mention his season long-range shooting is down to 31%, which would be the second-worst in his career, next to his final season in Seattle back in 2007-08.)
The Wolves entered the fourth quarter trailing 83-70, and things continued in their downward spiral. The visitors ran out a three-guard lineup with Dante Cunningham and Chris Johnson in the front court. Not exactly the best rebounding lineup, especially when Denver countered with Kenneth Faried. Minnesota managed to get the lead down to nine points with under ten minutes to play, but a couple more missed shots led to some easy buckets for the Nuggets, and the route was on. Denver eventually finally put the Wolves out of their misery, winning by the final score of 111-88.
A few thoughts….
– Ty Lawson is really, really good. He finished the game with 32 points on 12 of 17 shooting, including 4 of 4 from deep and 4 of 4 from the free throw line. He did have 4 turnovers and just 3 assists in 34 minutes, but overall, it was a good night for the speedy point guard. Nearly all of Lawson’s long range attempts were courtesy of crushing down screens set by the Nuggets big men, and the Wolves point guards failed to get around the picks and adequately contest the shots. Physicality has been an issue and remains a huge question mark for the Wolves in general, but especially guys like Rubio and Alexey Shved.
– Nobody on the Wolves came away with a noteworthy game, save for Mickael Gelabale. His line of 19 points (8 of 10 shooting, 2 of 2 from long range and 1 of 1 FTs), 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, and zero turnovers in 31 minutes was the lone bright spot for the Wolves, and probably Gelabale’s best all-around game for the Wolves.
– As mentioned, Ridnour was underwhelming, finishing the game 2 of 7 from the field, including 0 for 4 from three-point range. Rubio played okay, but somehow avoided making a steal after having the most steals of any player over a ten game span in the past eleven years. He did score 11 points on 4 of 9 shooting in addition to 6 assists and 4 rebounds.
– Derrick Williams had a couple of nice, patient moves in the post and in the paint that he has not shown enough of in his young career, but his line (4 of 14 FGs, 5 of 9 FTs) was pretty ugly.
– The Wolves actually showed decent fight in this game, and played passable defense throughout the tilt. As expected, the main issue was in transition, where the Nuggets ran the Timberwolves to death. The Wolves bigs are simply not adept at running back on defense, and Ridnour, Shved, and Barea have proven to be quite poor in playing transition defense themselves. Of the nine players at coach Rick Adelman’s disposal, only Rubio, Gelabale, and Cunningham have consistently been solid defenders in fast break situations.
– The Wolves will be back at Target Center in Minneapolis to take on the Dallas Mavericks at 6:00 CST on Sunday evening.