Minnesota Timberwolves: Takeaways from Wolves loss to Spurs

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 18: Interim Head Coach Ryan Saunders and Assistant Coach Jerry Sichting. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 18: Interim Head Coach Ryan Saunders and Assistant Coach Jerry Sichting. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Minnesota Timberwolves played an incomplete game in Friday night’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs, failing to bounce-back from this week’s disappointing loss in Philadelphia.

The mettle of the Minnesota Timberwolves — and Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins in particular — was called into question after falling flat in a blowout loss against former teammate Jimmy Butler and the 76ers in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

On Friday, Wiggins responded with a solid first half. Then, he all but disappeared after halftime.

For his part, Towns was in early foul trouble (stop me if you’ve heard that one before), came back and dominated, and then found himself in foul trouble again early in the second half. While he dominated when he was on the floor and scored 23 points in 21 minutes, well … he only played 21 minutes before fouling out.

The game was tied at halftime, and the Wolves managed to take a 10-point lead in the third quarter. But the Spurs stormed back, and it was Minnesota that had to spend the entirety of the fourth quarter trying to keep pace.

They did, and had several chances to tie or take the lead late, but a series of mistakes once again doomed Ryan Saunders’ squad.

There was a pair of missed free throws from Wiggins with 4:45 left that would have brought the Wolves to within three. Then, a Wiggins’ pass to nowhere, allowing Marco Belinelli a free dunk to stretch the lead back to five with under two minutes to play.

When the Wolves finally got to within one point after back-to-back buckets from Derrick Rose and got the defensive stop they needed, the Spurs were able to wrestle the offensive rebound away from Dario Saric and force an official’s review, which determined the ball went out of bounds off Saric with 5.8 seconds remaining. It was a questionable call, as replays appear to show the ball brushing the left hand of a Spur while his right hand was out of bounds before it ever touched Saric.

At any rate, the Spurs were able to retain possession and knock down two free throws, leading to a timeout and Wolves’ possession with a chance to tie the game. The ball came inbounds to Rose, who dribbled to his left and couldn’t get a clean look. It ended up being a double-clutch, fadeaway 3-point attempt that didn’t even draw iron.

Here are the three biggest takeaways:

1. Towns’ foul trouble

Clearly, this game was officiated far too tight, and the fact that Towns was whistled for six personal fouls in 21 minutes and only attempted six free throws of his own suggests that there were some egregious misses in there by the officials.

That said, Towns has to do a better job avoiding the obvious fouls, which he too often picks up early in the game. The early fouls are the ones that disrupt his rhythm, alter the Wolves rotation, and, in my opinion, subconsciously get the officials into a pattern of assumption that Towns is always fouling.

The fouls on Towns that occurred later in the game were all fairly ticky-tack, but he has to do a better job of not putting himself in that situation.

2. Replacing Towns’ production

Clearly, one thing that interim head coach Ryan Saunders has made sure to do in his first few games in charge has been to run more plays directly for Towns. Much has been made of his using his dad’s sets that were designed to get Kevin Garnett the ball in the post, and they’ve worked to get Towns the ball, too.

Unfortunately, the Wolves’ offense has zero identity without Towns in the lineup. Even Wiggins, who is involved in his share of isolation sets, was barely a factor and only attempted 12 shots in a team-high 36 minutes.

Rose had a solid game, but is clearly the only reliable offensive source the Wolves have this side of Towns. Whether it’s running plays to get the likes of Anthony Tolliver and Saric open for 3-point attempts or getting Wiggins in the post more often, there needs to be more identity and consistency from the non-Towns Wolves, especially if Towns is going to continually be in foul trouble.

3. The rotation without Tyus Jones

The Timberwolves played their first game without Tyus Jones, and the rotation was deployed about as expected.

Rose primarily played backup point guard in his 27 minutes, sliding over to shooting guard when Jerryd Bayless was on the court for 12 minutes. Interestingly, Josh Okogie only played 25 minutes.

Gorgui Dieng’s own foul trouble — five fouls in just 10 minutes — meant that the Wolves played a lot of small-ball, putting Taj Gibson at the five and using both Tolliver and Saric at the same time. It also caused Gregg Popovich to only give 11 minutes to starter Pau Gasol, sliding LaMarcus Aldridge to center and giving 34 minutes to Marco Belinelli.

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The Timberwolves will remain home and take on the Phoenix Suns at 6 p.m. on Sunday.