Let’s start by saying that the Wolves won, and ultimately won easily, by a score of 112-101.
However, if you adjusted your set early in Tuesday night’s tilt due to what appeared to be a strikingly red tint to the Wolves’ jerseys, well, I’m sorry.
It was indeed the 13-win Milwaukee Bucks that began on a 12 for 12 tear from the field, setting the high mark in the 2013-14 season for best field goal percentage to start a game. The Timberwolves managed to score right along with them at their own decent pace and in fact, weren’t far off their NBA-best first quarter scoring average. But the Bucks were hitting everything.
And the most concerning thing about the opening minutes was just how easy Milwaukee got whatever looks they wanted. Once again, Minnesota’s rotations were slow in the paint. Once again, Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer were consistently beaten, whether it was in isolation, going underneath screens, or allowing backdoor cuts. Even Ricky Rubio was guilty of some lackadaisical play on the defensive end.
It was embarrassing, and while it isn’t at all unusual for teams go through stretches like this in games and throughout the season, it’s all too familiar and repetitive for this Wolves squad. And at this stage in what is an increasingly lost season, when the players themselves are admitting that they need to essentially win-out to make the playoffs, and playing against the worst team in the entire league, they couldn’t afford a start like they had tonight.
But, the second half swung back the other way. It made one wonder how this season would have worked out had coach Rick Adelman followed tonight’s blueprint of playing Love and Rubio heavy second half minutes. Typically, Love gets an early or mid-fourth quarter rest during which the Wolves falter badly. Tonight, Love didn’t sit until there were less than two minutes left in the game, and he logged 42 minutes on the night.
(Adelman could be seen pulling Love aside midway through the final frame, likely asking Love if he needed a blow. Thankfully, they agreed that he didn’t/the Wolves couldn’t afford to have him on the bench for any period of time.)
And tonight was, in some ways, a sad microcosm of the Wolves’ season. When the only two teams that you’ve beaten after being down by double-digits are Philadelphia and Milwaukee, it tells a couple of stories. One, that Minnesota is unable to complete comebacks against good teams. Which isn’t surprising, since good teams are, in fact, good. But usually playoff squads pull off a couple of nice comeback wins per year.
Secondly, it tells a story of the Wolves allowing themselves to get down big to bad teams, forcing their own hand in battling from behind. These are the games in which the Wolves should be getting out to big leads and resting the starters in fourth quarter, and they’ve simply been unable to do this on a regular basis.
Tonight, however, Adelman suddenly understood the nature of the situation. Even Jim Peterson remarked towards the end of the fourth quarter that he liked the rotation, save for the lack of Shabazz Muhammad until early in the final frame.
Indeed, playing Rubio and J.J. Barea (who was finally Good J.J. tonight, scoring 17 first half points) together down the stretch while not sitting Love until the game was in hand was the recipe to pull out a come-from-behind victory. It’s also something that should be tried a bit more often, along with spelling Dante Cunningham a bit more with some Gorgui Dieng minutes alongside Love.
All things considered, it was a somber victory, and most certainly had the feel of the Wolves yet again delaying the inevitable. At the same time, it’s important to finish the season strong, as a free-fall wouldn’t do Flip Saunders and Co. any good in their quest to convince Love to re-sign with Minnesota.
But tonight was a win, and for another night, the Wolves climbed back to a game above the .500 mark at 32-31. Memphis defeated Portland, and Dallas was playing a tough game on the road against Golden State tonight, so it could be another treading water day for the home squad.
Next up is a trip to Charlotte to face the improving Bobcats. Tip-off is at 6:00 CT on Friday evening after a couple of off days.