Playing in Oakland on Monday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves took on the Golden State Warriors who were playing to clinch a playoff spot with a win on their home floor. A win for the Warriors would symbolize the organization reaching only their second playoff berth over the past 19 years.
The matchup featured a showdown between the top three-point shooting team in the league against the worst in that same category. Minnesota, now without team leader and top scorer Kevin Love for the remainder of the season as he gets some scar tissue cleaned up in his knee, had a very difficult time competing in the interior against the Golden State frontcourt of David Lee and a healthy Andrew Bogut.
The Warriors size advantage was impossible to ignore from the tip, as Warriors head coach Marc Jackson put 6-foot-7 Klay Thompson on Ricky Rubio, making penetration tough for the Spaniard off the bat.
The reigning Western Conference Player of the Week, Nikola Pekovic entered the game averaging a dominant 22.7 points and 10.9 rebounds over his past seven games. The Warriors game planned well and Bogut did a very good job of denying Pek the ball on the low block. With Minnesota doing a poor job of finding ways to get the ball to their center in the paint, the Wolves were forced to focus the offense on scoring from the perimeter – something that they usually struggle mightily with.
It was Klay Thompson who provided the majority of Golden State’s points early on, as he was red-hot from beyond the arc. Shooting an impressive 40% from three in only his second NBA season, Thompson hit his first four shot attempts and he led the Warriors with 10 points with the Warriors leading 20-17 with 2:55 remaining in the first period of play. Minnesota looked for backside cuts for much of their offense and went into the second period tied 26-26.
Thompson continued to light it up from all over the floor in the second quarter as he stayed perfect hitting his first 8 field goal attempts with 5 of them being three-pointers nearly halfway through the second. Despite the superb performance Thompson was giving for Golden State, Minnesota held a 40-39 lead with nearly seven minutes remaining in the first half. Stephen Curry had a difficult time getting in a rhythm and was mostly passive throughout the first half and even had to be careful on the defensive end as he picked up his third personal foul with around 3 minutes left in the second quarter.
Having a hard time gaining separation from Thompson, Ricky vied for open jumpers dribbling off screens but his shot looked very flat and he shot 0-5 in the first half. With Rubio unable to create offense for himself and the Warriors baiting him to take longer jump shots, the Pups fell right into Golden State’s gameplan as the Wolves worst shooter continued to brick shots off of the rim while Nikola laid hungry on the low block.
A late run in the first half highlighted by a transition dunk by Harrison Barnes gave the Warriors a 55-54 lead entering halftime. The first half was essentially the Klay Thompson show, who put on an absolute clinic shooting the ball as he went 9-11 from the field on his way to 25 first half points. The Washington State product certainly played a critical role in keeping the Warriors afloat providing nearly half of the team’s points in the opening half of play.
In the second half, Golden State continued their initial game plan of denying Pekovic on the low block while baiting Ricky to shoot jump shots. After averaging such prolific numbers over the past seven games, Pek was unable to get into any sort of rhythm in the paint while facing very impressive interior defense.
With the game only separated by six points, Luke Ridnour and Thompson got into a small shoving match which ultimately resulted in a technical foul against Luke causing a shift in momentum in the opponents favor. From that point on the Wolves started their collapse as the Warriors fed off of each others energy in transition leading to a 19-4 run for Golden State. With Rubio ice cold and unable to score on anything besides free throws, the Warriors gained significant control of the game with just less than four minutes to play in the third period as they led the Pups 78-64.
Not only was Pek held in check scoring-wise, but he was also unable to contribute on the offensive glass as the Warriors did a fantastic job of getting multiple bodies on the 290-pound monster. This inhibited the Timberwolves from creating second chance opportunities and the Warriors held a large advantage in the rebounding battle. Stephen Curry began to heat up in the third period scoring 13 points in the quarter. Chase Budinger was able to provide a spark offensively off of the bench as he scored 10 points in first 12 minutes on the court. However, Golden State controlled the perimeter and interior battles and led 86-70 heading into final period of play.
The fourth quarter was much of the same as the Wolves continued to struggle shutting down any of the Warriors several weapons, and the countdown to the final buzzer was on for much of the fourth quarter. With the clock ticking down, Warriors fans received the 105-89 victory with chants and cheers as they witnessed their team secure a playoff spot for only the second time in 19 seasons. As hard it was to watch Golden State cap off their impressive season with a playoff berth while the Timberwolves are in the midst of finishing their tumultuous 2012-13 campaign, it was a good sight watching a small market club cheered on by a sellout Oakland crowd overcome significant adversity to ultimately grab a playoff spot in the upcoming NBA postseason. While Timbewolves’ fans know that it coulda been, shoula been us, we must continue to look to the future and have confidence that our bit of luck has yet to come.
Keys of the Game:
Rebouding - The Warriors out-rebounded the Timberwolves 60-44 while holding a 12-6 advantage on the offensive glass. Lee, Barnes and Bogut each recorded at least 10 rebounds while Greg Stiemsma led the Wolves with 9.
Interior Defense - The Warriors held Minnesota’s starting frontcourt duo of Williams and Pekovic to a collective 10 points on 4-16 FG and 7 rebounds. Bogut recorded 3 blocks and together he and Lee posted 17 points and 26 rebounds.
Three Stars of the Game:
- Klay Thompson - Thompson was unconscious in the first half knocking down his first 5 three-point attempts and his first 8 field goals in total. The long shooting guard was two points off of his career high for scoring as he finished with 30 points (10-19 FG, 6-10 3Pt) to pair with 5 steals in 36 minutes on the floor.
- David Lee - Golden State’s workhorse in the paint continued his tremendous 2012-13 campaign and recorded another double-double of 15 points (6-12 FG), 12 rebounds and 5 assists in 33 minutes. Lee has been arguably the Warriors most important player this season and he will finally get an opportunity to compete in the playoffs after eight NBA seasons.
- Stephen Curry - After a subpar first half, Curry got hot in the third quarter and ultimately finished with 24 points (9-21 FG, 2-9 3Pt), 10 assists and 4 rebounds in 39 minutes. Curry has done a great job of staying on the court this season after several arthroscopic ankle surgeries over the past few seasons. It is no question that Golden State is a fundamentally different team with Curry in the lineup than when he is on the bench with injury.