Well, that was frustrating. Even if we didn’t expect a win, it’s still frustrating to watch a game get out of hand down the stretch, and doubly so when shots won’t fall. Since it’s Monday and I don’t feel like spending too much time recapping an expected loss without much by way of riveting fourth-quarter theater, I’m doing this one point by point. Fourteen in all; one for each point of the game deficit.
1. The Pacers are really good. With tonight’s win they move to 13-1. If the Spurs beat the Pelicans (currently leading by 17 at half) Indiana will be tied for the league’s best record. They’re 8-0 at home. Indiana’s defensive rating is down to 90.3, which is also best in the league. That mark would also be way better than last year’s 96.6 which — oh by the way — was also best in the league. Indiana is crazy-good on D.
2. Minnesota’s offensive flow became disjointed almost immediately, when Ricky Rubio went to the bench at 7:30 in the first quarter with two fouls. With the exception of some Rubio-created layups in the third quarter, the offense was ugly throughout. The Wolves shot just 32.6 percent from the field. Combine that with the 19 turnovers and, well, let’s just say Indiana looked every bit as good as their defensive statistics suggest they are.
3. Corey Brewer had a nice first quarter and helped cut an early double-digit deficit to just 4 points by period’s end. After that, he was an absolute train wreck, finishing with 6 turnovers and a whole lotta missed shots. Brew was out of control for most of this game.
4. In the first half, Kevin Martin was floating all over the place on defense. I’m not sure exactly what gave him the idea to play outside of his “lane,” but it hurt the team. Martin’s plus/minus of (-14) — tied with Brewer and Rubio for the game’s worst — is reflective of his lack of defensive focus in the first half.
5. The Bruise Brothers combined for 38 points and 28 rebounds. Kevin Love was an animal on the glass pretty much all night. He grabbed 17 rebounds. Nikola Pekovic struggled early, trying to post up Roy Hibbert. But he ended the game with 18 points on 15 shots, benefiting from pick-and-rolls with Rubio and — importantly — Hibbert foul trouble that sent the league’s top interior defender to the bench. It took Love 20 shots to get his 20 points tonight. He was just 1-5 from downtown and was unusually careless with some passes, turning it over 5 times. But make no mistake, without Love’s work on the glass this game would’ve been over in the first half. It was a grind-it-out effort and he was up to the challenge.
6. Paul George, an early-season MVP candidate, cruised to a ho-hum 26 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. He probably edged out his teammate George Hill for Game MVP honors. Again: The Pacers are good.
7. J.J. Barea followed up Saturday’s 1 for 10 shooting performance by going 3 for 11 tonight. In true J.J. fashion, he is consistently inconsistent. Barea started the season cold, quickly heated up, and is cold again. Who knows what to expect, night to night?
8. Coach Adelman only went 8 deep tonight. Four of his starters played over 37 minutes. It probably would’ve been 5 if not for Ricky’s early fouls. He doesn’t like his bench. Shved didn’t play.
9. Robbie Hummel didn’t score, but he had the team’s only positive plus/minus. (+4). Positive correlation guy.
10. The Wolves go underneath most high ball screens. They don’t “blitz” ball screens the way Indiana sometimes does with David West, as Zach Lowe brilliantly explained in this piece from last January. Overall, the Wolves are doing a pretty good job on defense, and probably outperforming their overall ability on that end of the floor. But there are some possessions where Rubio falls way underneath a high ball screen, which allows the point guard (George Hill tonight; Chris Paul on a key possession last week) to take his time to set up an open three. I assume this general strategy is at the coach’s direction. What I don’t know is if it’s the general philosophy of Adelman, if it is due to concerns about Love and Pekovic as screen defenders, or whether it’s due to concerns about Rubio’s ability to fight over screens.
11. Rubio had 5 steals tonight and leads the league in steals per game (3.1).
12. Tonight’s loss drops the Wolves record to 8-8. They absolutely need to beat Denver at Target Center on Wednesday night because…
13. After the Nuggets matchup, the Wolves schedule includes, in order, @ Dallas, @ Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Miami. They’ll be fortunate to win 1 out of those 4, and could lose them all.
14. Last and most important, various news sources report that the Timberwolves have agreed in principle to trade Derrick Williams to the Sacramento Kings for Luc Mbah a Moute. The Kings forward is a career rotation player who plays better defense than offense. I have no idea how much — if at all — he’ll play for this Wolves team that Adelman has largely restricted to an eight-man rotation. Luc was teammates with Kevin Love at UCLA.
For Williams, it’s a fresh start. I’ve made my views on him pretty clear over his two-plus seasons in Minnesota. Early on, I was intrigued by his physical talent. Over time — like many others — I grew tired of watching him hang in the air and allow his shot to be blocked by smaller or weaker opponents. He has some really, really bad habits that will need correcting if he’s going to make it anywhere. But there’s no question that his opportunity was gone in Minnesota under Rick Adelman, and maybe a change of scenery will do him some good. I wish it had worked out for him here — I envisioned Rubio and Williams pick-and-rolls with Love playing a Willis Reed-like floor-spacing center. It never clicked.
Best of luck to D-Thrill in a new environment.