Coulda, shoulda, woulda. The Timberwolves blew an 18 point second half lead to lose for the 11th straight time in Atlanta on Saturday night, with a score of 93 to 91. Despite another brilliant night by Ricky Rubio, the Hawks went on a 24-2 second half run after trailing 71-53 in the third quarter. Despite the loss of Al Horford, the Hawks were able to outrebound the Timberwolves 51 to 40, mainly due to the Timberpups inability to box out the Hawks. Second chance points proved to be a major factor in the Hawks come from behind victory, as even on their last offensive possession Josh Smith’s missed three point attempt turned into an offensive rebound by Ivan Johnson, getting fouled on his second chance attempt and hitting two clutch free throws.
The player of the night for the Timberwolves was Ricky Rubio, who in 35 minutes of play had 18 points, 12 assists, 5 steals, 4 rebounds, and 4 turnovers. Rubio hit a clutch three with 30 seconds left to knot the game at 91 apiece, but it was not enough. Missing JJ Barea and Michael Beasley due to injury, the Timberwolves had only one true PG on the court tonight, with Luke Ridnour seeing most of his minutes at SG.
Kevin Love finished with 30 points and 13 rebounds in 40 minutes, but struggled down the stretch. Love’s three-point attempt sailed left as time expired, and I really question why Love was the one taking the last shot of the game with 4.6 seconds remaining and inbounding from half court. There is no questioning that Love is a remarkable player, but he is everything but a go-to scorer in last second situations. He simply does not have the ability to create proper separation on the perimeter to get a decent attempt off, and I really believe that the Timberwolves would have been positively impacted by Beasley’s presence tonight.
Minnesota matched up with Atlanta tonight relatively well given their lack of a game-changing center on the court, and by playing small the Timberwolves were able to effectively run their offense with minimal interference. Darko started once again playing extremely marginal, and the centers on both teams made very little impact in the game. Until the fourth quarter, Minnesota was absolutely drilling Atlanta in almost every respect of the game. Love pounded the boards and made countless hook shots over defenders, and it appeared that the game was in the bag mid way through the third quarter.
Atlanta shot extremely inconsistent tonight, missing wide-open looks and second chance opportunities throughout the first half and early third quarter. Joe Johnson, despite his size advantage over Ridnour who was defending him, settled for many contested jump shots, choosing not to drive to the basket and exploit his matchup. That is, until the second half, and Johnson ended up with 25 points on 8-20 shooting, including some clutch shots down the stretch that kept the momentum in Atlanta’s favor. Johnson showed why he is making max contract money and was a man among boys in the 4th quarter.
Jeff Teague had no difficulty straight-lining his defenders all night tonight, exposing the Timberwolves atrocious weak side help defense. The Timberwolves played on their man too much and were not ready to collapse and help out on defense, and it led to too many uncontested layups and easy points.
Josh Smith had a few very timely blocks and played very good defense despite having an off night offensively. He played excellent weak side defense and bailed out his teammates with sensational blocks that helped turn the momentum for Atlanta during their second half run.
The biggest problems for the Timberwolves came from their lack of intensity when Rubio was out of the game. Ridnour created virtually no opportunities for his teammates to score and settled for very poor shots. When Rubio was on the sideline it seemed like there was no one on the Timberwolves moving without the ball or cutting to the basket. Disregarding Rubio, the Timberwolves telegraphed their passes all night instead of mixing in pass fakes. It is very concerning that this team is unable to run properly without Rubio in, and the loss of Barea is having an extremely negative impact on the Pups.
It feels as if the Pups traveled back in time to last year with this fourth quarter collapse, and there are no more excuses for losing games like tonight’s. This team continues to show that they can compete with any team in the league, but if they really want to end up being a championship caliber squad they have to take more pride on defense and rebounding, especially down the stretch when they are fatiguing.
Key Player: Tip of the cap to Ivan Johnson. Johnson was the X factor tonight, shutting down Love on defense and holding him to 2 points in the 4th quarter. The former D League star had his first double-double of the season with 10 points and 11 rebounds in 26 minutes, and hit the game winning free throws after an offensive rebound with 5 seconds left in the game. He outhustled the Timberwolves and earned the victory for his team, being a much-needed spark to a team that started off tonight extremely lackadaisical.
Key Stat: Kevin Love was the only starter with a negative +/- tonight with a -3, despite having 30 points and 13 rebounds.