Season’s Over – Thunder Rock Timberwolves 138-113

Admit it, this made you laugh too. (Photo credit: William Bennett Barry on WelcomeToLoudCity.com)

Admit it, this made you laugh too. (Photo credit: William Bennett Barry on WelcomeToLoudCity.com)

 

The end of the 2014/15 NBA regular season is now official for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who finish the year with a (largely pathetic) 16-66 record.  As you likely know, the Oklahoma City Thunder entered the game with a chance to make the playoffs as the 8th seed with a victory and a little help down in New Orleans.

There wasn’t much doubt going into the evening with the plethora of injuries the Timberwolves have amounted over the past few weeks and months, along with a strong desire to have the most ping pong balls in the NBA lottery.  The 16 wins on the season equates to the third worst record in the team’s history.  You’ll find a bullet point list of things to consider for the Wolves’ offseason below.

The Thunder … well, they have Russell Westbrook.  Without Kevin Durant, the Thunder have struggled to hold onto a playoff spot and will retool in the offseason.  The Pelicans took care of the Spurs Wednesday night and will take the 8 seed in the Western Conference.

The Pups starting lineup consisted of Zach LaVine, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Adreian Payne, and Arinze Onuaku.  Interesting stat/number from this season – Wiggins is only one of ten players to start all 82 games this season.  That number is extraordinarily low and concerning.  “Hello reduced NBA game schedule!”

OKC opened up with Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Dion Waiters, Enes Kanter, and Steven Adams.

The Thunder got off to an 8-0 start and the game was essentially decided at that point, despite several attempts by the Wolves to make it a closer contest.  At the end of the 1st quarter, the Thunder held a 47-29 advantage.  You read that correctly.  Westbrook had 23 points at the end of the first 12 minutes.  Did I mention this game was over when the score was 8-0?

Let’s just run through the score at the end of each quarter:

  • Halftime: Thunder 76 – Wolves 54
  • End of 3rd: Thunder 106 – Wolves 85
  • End of game: Thunder 138 – Wolves 113

Rather than say anything else about the season ending loss, here are a number of thoughts on this franchise as it heads into another playoff-less offseason.  We’ll look to cover some of this in a lot more detail at the appropriate time.

  • I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I truly believe that Andrew Wiggins isn’t getting enough credit for his rookie season.  His month to month averages improved as the season progressed, he played in all 82 games, and he never hit the rookie wall.  That’s un-freaking-believable!
  • Flip Saunders must get off of the sideline as Head Coach.  Sorry Flip, but you have to get out of the way of your own self.
  • I hope to see Ricky Rubio and Kevin Garnett on the court, fully healthy, next season for this team.  I don’t expect early 2000’s KG by any stretch, but their combined passion for basketball would be glorious.
  • Speaking of Rubio, we are on the border of hitting the dreaded “injury plagued” rumor with him.  If he can’t stay healthy next season, this franchise is in a lot of trouble.  A lot.
  • While Karl-Anthony Towns (or Jahlil Okafor) is heavily preferred, even without either player on next year’s roster, the Wolves need to find a new home for Nikola Pekovic.  That isn’t going to be easy.
  • The Wolves would also be better served to find a new home for Kevin Martin.

That’s it for this season’s game recaps folks.  What are your thoughts on the forthcoming offseason?  Where are, or should, the focus be put on the court, on the sideline, and/or in the front office?  Let us know in the comments below.

 

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 21

(photo credit: SportsCenter.com)

How often will we see KG on the court the last few weeks of the season?  (Photo credit: SportsCenter.com)

Setting the stage:

We are now officially into the last month of the season, with 12 games left on the Timberwolves schedule.  It hasn’t been a pretty season to say the least.  The Wolves are taking this one game at a time and have made the (wise) decision to give guys the occasional day of rest here and there.  For Kevin Garnett, Nikola Pekovic, and Ricky Rubio, the team is being more than cautious for very different reasons.  It will be interesting to see how much KG plays over the next month, if the Wolves only play him at the Target Center, etc.

Ping pong balls are the craze right now and despite the win in New York this past week, the Timberwolves are in the front seat (if not the drivers’ seat) for the most ping pong balls in the lottery.  I’m not bragging here.

With that in mind, here is a brief preview for another four game week for our Pups:

Game 70: Monday, 3/23, 8pm – Timberpups @ Utah Jazz (TV: No local TV)

Is someone on the FSN broadcast team not allowed in Utah?  It feels like this is a game that commonly sees the local blackout on TV.  While it would take a miracle to do so, the Jazz have been one of the hotter teams in the NBA.  They remain #1 in the NBA in points allowed and will be a tough match-up for the Wolves, even if they were to play at full strength.

Opponent to watch:

Derrick Favors – Favors’ name was showing up in trade rumors last year but I imagine that is over with his performance this season – 16+ppg, 8+rpg and a PER over 22.  If KG sits this one out, it could be a long night for Adreian Payne.

Game 71: Wednesday, 3/25, 7pm – Los Angeles Lakers @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Lakers are making a late run for ping pong balls, having shut Kobe Bryant down for the season and showcasing the likes of Wayne Ellington, Tarik Black, and …

Opponent to watch:

Wesley Johnson – My least favorite lottery pick in Timberwolves’ history!  Johnson is playing just under 30 minutes a night and still can’t score 10ppg or grab 4rpg on average.  Awesome.

Game 72: Friday, 3/27, 7pm – Timberpups @ Houston Rockets (TV: FS North)

Despite losing all three prior contests this season, the Wolves have played the Rockets tough.  This is another opportunity for the Wolves to put on the original blue uniforms against Kevin McHale’s squad … (note: I know this can’t happen, but I still yearn for it).

Opponent to watch:

James Harden – Harden is a legitimate MVP candidate this season (top 5 at least).  He’s putting up about 26-7-6 on a nightly basis and has free reign on the court because … well, he has McHale as a head coach.

Game 73: Sunday, 3/29, 3pm – Timberpups @ New Orleans Pelicans (TV: FS North)

The Pelicans dropped a season high 139 points on the Timberwolves back in November.  With the season winding down and the Wolves’ resting players, what is New Orleans capable of Sunday afternoon?

Opponent to watch:

Anthony Davis – Another legitimate MVP candidate gets to face the Wolves this week.  If you thought Harden’s numbers were impressive, Davis is putting up about 25 and 10 to go with about 3 blocks a night and a PER north of 30.  Let’s hope he can stay healthy because Davis could be the league’s best as LeBron and Durant start to age.

Wrap-up:

A very, very tough week ahead for the Timberwolves … excluding a terrible Lakers team of course.  Let’s go Wolves!

Thunder Pull Away From Timberwolves, 113-99

Andrew Wiggins consistently found a way to make the Thunder pay on Friday night! (AP Photo, Sue Ogrocki)

Andrew Wiggins consistently found a way to make the Thunder pay on Friday night! (AP Photo, Sue Ogrocki)

 

The Minnesota Timberwolves traveled to Oklahoma City to take on a Kevin Durant-less Thunder squad who continues to fight for their playoff lives.  The Wolves gave their own big gun, Kevin Garnett, the night off as well.  Enough foreplay, let’s get to the action!

The Timberwolves opened up with a starting lineup of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Adreian Payne, and Gorgui Dieng (i.e. still no Nikola Pekovic).  The Thunder mixed things up a bit in an effort to get more offensive firepower in the starting lineup, going with Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Dion Waiters, Enes Kanter, and Mitch McGary.

Both teams came out firing on the offensive end, putting up points with very little regard for the defensive side of the ball.  Kevin Martin and Andrew Wiggins put the Wolves on their shoulders in the first quarter, with the rookie drawing fouls and going to the line 10 times and making all 10!

However, the Wolves frontcourt defense left more than a little to be desired.  Adreian Payne struggled to cover his man or rotate when necessary.  The lack of prowess led to a quick timeout from Flip Saunders in the quarter, but he pretty much gave up hope shortly thereafter, allowing play to continue throughout a few rough patches.  While the future Rookie of the Year kept his team in the hunt, the Thunder took a 31-26 lead into the second quarter.

Zach LaVine had another “I’m not a PG and stop making me play one on TV” start to the second quarter, with a missed 23 footer, a turnover, and allowing DJ Augustin go off to build the Thunder’s lead to 39-28.  With that, Flip burned another timeout and brought back in the Unicorn.  This sparked a 12-0 run to give the Wolves a 40-39 lead.

As goes the Wolves season, Kevin Martin blew a layup on the next possession and bricked a three-pointer after a nice block from Dieng.  That seemed to give OKC some life as they went on a 5-0 run and were consistently beating the Wolves on the boards.  The Thunder scored 11 points in the final 2:45 of the half and took a 55-49 lead into the locker room.

Halftime highlights include:

  • Gorgui Dieng already amassed a double-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds … to go with 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 1 assist.  Please stop “tinkering” (PG-rated) with Gorgui’s minutes and role.  He should be a part of the long term plan.
  • Adreian Payne … I don’t see it.  11 minutes and a game low -14.  I know he has shown a few sparks, but to give up a future 1st rounder for the guy is not likely to end well.
  • Aided by Wiggins’ 10-10, the Wolves finished the half 13-13 at the FT line, while the Thunder went 8-8.  Nice, fundamental basketball there!

Aside from a few Justin Hamilton highlights (pick-and-pop made jumper, emphatic dunk) the first six minutes of the third quarter were an abomination for the Wolves.  The Wolves had four points in the first five minutes of the quarter before realizing that the second half started.  After trailing by as many as 14 in the quarter, the Wolves fought back to cut the lead in half heading into the final frame – 79-72.

With the Wolves continuing to trail by seven points, 87-80, the Wolves PR crew sent out the following:

(Insert stomach punch / game over)

As you might expect, this was the actual end of the game as the Thunder pulled away quickly thereafter.  While the Thunder announcers praised the potential for the Wolves, at some point this needs to turn a corner.  Here are a few thoughts from Twitter …

The final score, Thunder 113 – Timberwolves 99 

A few notes from the game:

  • Russell Westbrook barely missed a quadruple-double – 29 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds and 8 turnovers
  • Following up on the halftime notes – Dieng finished with 21 and 14, while Payne finished with a -22 in 20 minutes of action
  • Justin Hamilton finished with a career high 17 points and added 10 rebounds
  • Enes Kanter continues to be a thorn in the Wolves’ side, finishing with 23 points and 15 rebounds

Poor Shooting Leads to Timberwolves Loss to Clippers

(photo credit: therepublic.com)

(photo credit: therepublic.com)

Minnesota shot only 37.3 percent Monday night in its first of four road games this week. The team held its own throughout the first half, but in the end the Clippers pulled away with the 89-76 win in LA. The Wolves’ big men each had solid nights: Newbie Adreian Payne led the team offensively with 16 points and 15 rebounds, followed by Nikola Pekovic with 12 points and 12 rebounds.

The Clippers were without All-Star Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford, and Chris Paul was restricted to only two points in a supporting role, his injured knee clearly bothering him. The point guard went only 1-for-6 from the floor and committed four turnovers. While Paul couldn’t get to the rim, however, he still effectively ran the ball and dished out 15 assists to his teammates for automatic points. JJ Redick and Deandre Jordan stepped up to the plate, combining for an impressive 46 points.

“I couldn’t be as aggressive as I would like to,” Paul said after the game. “It just shows the depth of our team. … I’ve just got to be smart about it. I don’t want to hurt the team, but if I can contribute and help the team, we need all the bodies we can get.”

The first quarter went extremely well for Minnesota, as Pekovic and Andrew Wiggins scored eight points apiece and led their team into the second quarter tied with LA.

 

Following halftime was when the Timberwolves really began to struggle, specifically against defending the wing. At the end of the third quarter, the Clips had tallied seven buckets from behind the 3-point line, while the Wolves found themselves unable to sink a long-range shot. Minnesota was given a chance in the final quarter to regain its footing as LA scored 15 points, but Minny answered with only 14 points of its own and watched the clock drain with little to show for it.

Kevin Garnett sat out Monday’s game to rest, and his presence was missed below the basket on defense. Payne did a decent job filling in, though, and continues to show a lot of upside for the Wolves.

“We just didn’t come out with enough energy today,” Payne said. “We’ve just got to continue to keep fighting and keep playing through the whole game. We have a lot of talent, and we’ve got a high ceiling.”

Ricky Rubio, who has been notching solid numbers as of late, finished the game with only two points on nine attempts. The point guard did have 12 assists on the evening, but he said after the game that they had played “selfishly” and didn’t do a good enough job defending the basket.

The loss drops Minnesota’s record to 14-48 on the season. Up next, the Wolves will face Phoenix Wednesday night, OKC on Friday and San Antonio Sunday. Wednesday’s game is a 9 p.m. (CST) tipoff.

Listen to Payne’s post-game here.

Wolves Fall Just Short In Huge Comeback Against Grizzlies

Kevin Garnett's night at Target Center was cut short due to two T's. (Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Kevin Garnett’s night at Target Center was cut short due to two T’s. (Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

 

Today’s game recap below is brought to you by Harlie Olson.  Harlie joins the Timberpups.com team via connecting on FanCred.  Welcome aboard!

In the second game of the second Kevin Garnett era the Memphis Grizzlies came to Target Center seeking revenge for their February 6th 90-89 defeat to the Wolves in which Ricky Rubio came up in the clutch with two free throws in the last ten seconds to take the lead. Since then our favorite team has changed quite a bit, the departures of Mo Williams,Thad Young, and Troy Daniels, the injury of Anthony Bennett, and the additions of Adreian Payne, Gary Neal, and KG have all contributed to the changing landscape.

Just watching pre-game warm-ups you could tell the atmosphere wasn’t going to be quite as great as Wednesday’s affair with the wizards, but in the last 7 years it definitely ranks way up there. The match-up that had me the most excited going into the game was Garnett on Zach Randolph. The two had met each other a bunch of times when Kevin was still in Minnesota with KG having the upper hand most of the time, but with Kevin obviously having only limited playing time it just made you need to enjoy what you get to see.

As Kevin gave the crowd a salute as the action got underway. The beginning of the game saw a rather sloppy style of play with both teams running up and down the floor, missing shots, turning the ball over, and committing offensive fouls. The game remained scoreless until Gorgui Dieng hit a free throw two and a half minutes in. In a stretch of two minutes in the first quarter KG had 3 steals,2 points, and an assist where Andrew Wiggins slammed it home. With the quarter halfway over the score was T-wolves 15-Grizzlies 7. Memphis kept the sloppiness deep into the quarter as the wolves ended the quarter with  points off of turnovers. Once KG came off the floor after five minutes Andrew Wiggins stole the show ending the quarter with eight points. The score at the end of the quarter was 24-18 with the Wolves revamped defense flexing its muscles.

The second quarter began with a quick grizzlies run that got to 8-0 before Gary Neal hit a 15 foot jumper and got fouled for an and one which he converted. Despite the Grizzlies early dynamics both teams looked extremely sloppy for the second straight quarter with a stretch of 3 minutes without any effectiveness on offense for either teams. Four minutes into the quarter Zach Lavine had a slam, which reminded us all why he is the NBA’s slam dunk champion. At this point the wolves led by one, and both teams were starting to look much more efficient on offense. That trend continued until Lavine showed us he is still a rookie, as he tuned the ball over on consecutive possessions much like he had in the wolves last game against the bulls.

With five and a half minutes left in the half Ricky and Kevin checked back in the game. With that the atmosphere of Target Center stepped up a few notches. A minute later a mysterious technical foul was called on Flip Saunders for which I couldn’t figure the cause, then a minute later KG started taking at the refs and got a technical. Of course immediately afterwards the crowd chanted KG, KG, KG. He responded with an assist on a beautiful pass to K-mart on the next possession. With two minutes left in the quarter the wolves tied the game 44-44 on a 20 foot KG jump shot. With five seconds left in the half Garnett attempted a three that ended with Dieng getting a rebound, and afterwards fouled that resulted in two made free throws. After that the Wolves went into the half down by two 48-46.

Halftime stats and facts

  • Andrew Wiggins was the best player in the first half with 12 points.
  • The wolves had 9 steals in the first half, and 19 points off of turnovers from 15 turnovers overall.
  • Kg ended the half with 2 points, 3 steals, and a thousand smiles.
  • There were no sightings of Jiggle Boy. I repeat, NO SIGHTINGS OF JIGGLE BOY!
  • Kevin Garnett wears sweats better than anyone, ever.
  • Despite our field goal percentage being 44% compared to 63% we still  stayed in the game very well.
  • Garnett attempted his seventh 3 of the year missing. Making his season total 1/7.
  • Dieng was perfect in the first half with 11 points on 3/3 shooting and 5 free throws that were all made.

The Grizzlies started the third quarter with a 4-0 run before Flip called a timeout, so his troops could regroup. After the timeout the Grizzlies continued their run to 6-0 before Dieng stuffed one in for two. With the Wolves down 54-48 Mike Conley penetrated the paint and forced KG to foul. He made the shot and converted on the free throw. On the next possession Kevin responded with another jumper to bring his point total to six. The game was over for Kevin though, on the next possession he fouled Conley, and out of frustration he threw the ball at the ground … think 1/8th of a Gronkowski spike. Somehow he got the technical for it, his second of the game resulting in his ejection. He walked to the tunnel saluting the crowd before disappearing into the locker room.

Immediately after that the Grizzlies continued their domination of the second half stretching the wolves deficit to 12. Despite Gorgui scoring on the next possession the grizzlies further co tinged the domination making their lead 15 with 5 minutes left in the third quarter. Andrew Wiggins scored six points on the next three possessions, and then Payne hit a jumper making the wolves have a 8-0 run, and suddenly a close game at 60-67. Ricky got a steal on the next possession, and got fouled to shoot two. He hit the first, and the second to make it a 5 point game, and to stretch the run to 10-0. The Grizzlies would end their drought with a Tony Allen lay up. Wiggins was than fouled and made both shots to bring it back to a 6 point game at 63-69. After that Marc Gasol got a technical, for hitting Payne in the eye, and coach Joerger received one for arguing. The Wolves made both free throws, and Gary Neal followed that up with a three making the score 68-69, and continuing the Wolves run to 16-2. With 0.6 seconds left in the third Rubio was fouled for god knows what reason, and made both shots to make the score 70-72 grizzlies going into the fourth.

Target Center was revved up for what was inevitably going to be a very exciting finish to a game that has included 5 technical fouls. Right away in the fourth Wiggins tied the game up, and the Wolves forced a turnover on the way back. Adrian Payne scored next, and despite my failing to mention him in this recap much, definitely had his best game in the league yet. Ricky Rubio hit a big 3 to take the lead 77-76 that was followed up by a Grizzlies air ball. The next minute was highlighted by great ball movement on the wolves part and an awesome offensive rebound by Gorgui that looked like he had no chance of grabbing.

The Wolves called a timeout to regroup. After the timeout Gary Neal assisted by Ricky hit a big time 3, and the Wolves continued their resurgence to take a 4 point lead because of it. For the second time In the game Zach Lavine got a steal and brought it the other way for a huge slam to make the wolves lead 5 after the grizzlies made one of two free throws on the position beforehand. It felt like the Wolves were getting dominated just moments before, but the Wolves had made their run 30-10.Halfway through the fourth the grizzlies tied the game on a Zach Randolph three point play on just his second bucket if the night. Z-BO would get his third bucket on the grizzlies next trio down to give them a two point lead with five minutes left in the game.

In an unusually quiet night for Kevin Martin he decided to hit from downtown to take the lead by one. The Wolves would have two unproductive trips that were answered by two grizzly buckets to give the visitors a three point lead. The Wolves would get back on the board with a Wiggins turnaround immediately responded by Memphis with a bucket of their own by Tony Allen. With 1:58 left in the game Marc Gasol headed to the line to shoot two, of which he made one. K-Mart hit another big 3 on the next try, and Target Center went OFF.

Gasol made another trip to the line, this time knocking them both down. Down to the last minute of the game Zach Randolph inexplicably,y fouled Rubio, and was benched. Oh yeah, that was responded by ANOTHER KMART THREE TO TIE THE GAME! Unfortunately Mike Conley responded with a three of his own, followed by K-Mart forcing up a bad shot that was put back in with no regard for human life by Andrew Wiggins! The Wolves would foul Conley, and he made both shots setting the Wolves up with a three point deficit, and 11.3 seconds to tie it up. Martin got open and took a shot from three, but he couldn’t knock it down. After that the Pups fouled Tony Allen, after he made one of two Gary Neal put one up as the game ended that wouldn’t have mattered as the Wolves’ fate was sealed.

Reaction
Another day, another loss in Loserville, USA right? I don’t think so, as the Wolves look very different compared to a month ago. Well Adrian Payne and Gary Neal were huge off the bench tonight. Neal had 16 points and Payne seemed to be in the right spot at the right time the entire second half.

Andrew Wiggins continued his climb towards superstardom tonight with yet another 20+ point game, and had one of his first signature moments when he had the huge put back in the last minute of the game. Games like these will help his progression towards being the second Franchise player the team has had.

59.4%: that was the field goal percentage of the Grizzlies for the game. A season high for the second best team in the Western Conference, so how did the Pups stay close? …

32 points off turnovers: if it were not for the turnovers created by the Wolves it would have gotten ugly.

Where was Pek? He only played 12 minutes,and I never heard an explanation, so we’ll have to pay attention to see if we have another injury to a key starter.

I was surprised that in Flip’s presser his top priority was defending KG instead of praising the young guy’s tremendous comeback effort. Games like this will help the team much more than they would hurt it.

Bulls Charge Past Wolves, 96-89

The Bulls laid into Andrew Wiggins and made it a rough night for the rookie. (Photo credit: Nam Y Huh, AP Photo)

The Bulls laid into Andrew Wiggins and made it a rough night for the rookie. (Photo credit: Nam Y Huh, AP Photo)

 

Two nights after the most exciting game at Target Center in years, the Minnesota Timberwolves returned to the court to take on the Chicago Bulls.  Before the game started, the teams announced that key players would be missing from both squads.  Most importantly for Wolves’ fans, Kevin Garnett was ruled out of Friday night’s game in Chicago.  Prior to tip-off, the Bulls announced that Pau Gasol would miss Friday’s game, after also announcing that Derrick Rose had successful surgery earlier in the day and may be able to be back on the court in 4-6 weeks.

The Timberwolves opened up with a starting lineup of Ricky Rubio, an on-fire in recent weeks Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Adreian Payne, and Nikola Pekovic.  The Bulls made the appropriate adjustments due to the aforementioned injuries and countered with Aaron Brooks, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Taj Gibson, and Joakim Noah.

The Bulls got off to a quick start, taking a 15-8 lead and forcing Flip Saunders to burn an early timeout.  Chicago had seven assists on their first seven made field goals.  However, the Andrew Wiggins show started to warm up shortly thereafter, as the rookie scored seven points in a row (for the Wolves) to cut the Chicago lead to 21-19.  At the same time the Bulls were forced to take a timeout as Taj Gibson was injured (and subsequently ruled out for the remainder of the game).  For the remainder of the quarter both teams slowed things down and plodded along a bit.  Chicago took a 27-23 lead into the second quarter.

In typical Bulls’ fashion, the game continued to a somewhat ugly pattern or form well into the second quarter.  If the Wolves were looking for a silver lining, they may look no further than Gary Neal.  Halfway through the quarter and Neal scored or assisted on all but two Timberwolves’ baskets and led the charge giving the Wolves a 37-34 advantage.

That timeout sparked a 10-2 by the Bulls, giving them a 44-39 advantage, sparked by two three pointers from Mike Dunleavy.

For the second consecutive quarter, points became a premium in the final three minutes of the half.  Chicago took a 51-44 lead into halftime and the Wolves were a little lucky it wasn’t worse, as Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler worked the offensive end of the floor but couldn’t find a way to put the ball in the basket.

The Bulls came out of the locker room and couldn’t have looked more lethargic.  The Wolves tied the game at 51 in the first three minutes of the game thanks to the efforts of Rubio and Martin.  After the timeout, the game became a Free Throw contest, with both teams leaving a good number of points on the table.  At the end of the 3rd quarter, the Bulls held a 73-67 advantage.

Zach LaVine entered the 4th quarter with two minutes gone by and tried to take over the game.  It worked for a little while, but with the Wolves down by two points on two different occasions, LaVine turned the ball over that led to a Jimmy Butler layup and then grabbed a defensive rebound and dribbled the ball all the way down the court and took missed an off-balance layup.  LaVine then made and assisted on the Wolves next two baskets, but subsequently didn’t rotate or get his hands up on a made three-pointer from Aaron Brooks.

Flip Saunders saw the same thing and called a timeout, replacing LaVine with Rubio.  The moral of the story?  We are still seeing the ups and downs on a minute by minute basis with the rookie.

That three-pointer from Brooks opened up an 84-79 lead for the Bulls and could have been the dagger.  However, the Timberwolves scored the next six points to take an 85-84 lead with about five minutes to play.  Unfortunately for the Pups, they went cold from that point forward, missing shots, turning the ball over, and most frustratingly, missing free throws.  The combination of all three led a 12-4 Bulls charge past the Timberwolves and a 96-89 victory for the home team.

A few notes from the game:

  • Two Wolves had double-doubles – Pekovic with 12 points / 11 rebounds and Rubio with 15 points / 10 assists.
  • Andrew Wiggins was only 4-10 from the line, with the team going 21-31 from the stripe for the evening.  That is a nice way to lose a close game.
  • Gorgui Dieng had 3 turnovers in 25 minutes, but it feels like Flip has way too quick of a leash on the second year pro relative to others.
  • Unrelated to Friday’s action specifically, RIP Earl Lloyd, the first African American to ever play in the NBA who passed away on Friday at the age of 86.

 

Timberwolves Eclipse Suns, 111-109

Eric Bledsoe is wondering where his running mates in the backcourt were on Friday night at Target Center. (Photo credit: Jim Mone, AP Photo)

Eric Bledsoe is wondering where his running mates in the backcourt were on Friday night at Target Center. (Photo credit: Jim Mone, AP Photo)

 

NBA action returned to the Target Center Friday night as the Timberwolves hosted the Phoenix Suns, the first game for both teams since the All-Star break.  Phoenix shook up its roster at Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, picking up Danny Granger, John Salmons, Brandon Knight, and Marcus Thornton.  None of those players were available for Phoenix Friday night.  Despite all of those moves, the Timberwolves made just as much noise with one trade at the deadline, acquiring “The Kid” for one last run.  Kevin Garnett will make his debut for the Wolves this coming Wednesday night against the Wizards.

As for Friday night’s action, the Suns opened up with Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green, PJ Tucker, Markieff Morris, and Alex Len.  The Pups countered with Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, and Nikola Pekovic.

Minnesota got off to a quick start, specifically Kevin Martin who scored 8 of the team’s first 10 points.  After two back to back buckets by Andrew Wiggins, the Wolves led 14-9 and led to the game’s first timeout.  The Wolves wound up building a 9 point lead before the Suns started to chip away.  The Morris twins largely led that effort and after the 1st Quarter, the Wolves held a 26-24 lead.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, with about three and a half minutes left in the opening frame, Anthony Bennett was rolled over by two Suns players and had to head to the locker room.

The second quarter was really a thing of beauty for the Wolves and one to forget for the Suns.  Phoenix missed shots, free throws, turned the ball over carelessly and allowed the Wolves build a double digit lead.  Minnesota outscored the Suns 26-18 in the quarter and took a 52-42 lead into halftime.

Here are a few additional halftime notes/stats:

  • Phoenix shot 36% (16-44) in the first half, while Minnesota shot 42% (19-45).
  • The main reason the Wolves only shot 42% was Pekovic’s 1-7 and Rubio’s 2-6 from the field.  Ouch.
  • Kevin Martin and Andrew Wiggins led the Wolves with a combined 24 points, with both shooting 5-8 from the field in the first half.

The Suns came storming out (see what I did there?) in the third quarter to tie the game with a 15-5 run within the first six minutes of the quarter.  Things may have been a little more negative had this not happened …

Which was preceded by this from the Timberwolves official Twitter account …

Seriously, let’s just pretend it is 2004 for the next few months.  Deal?  Deal.

Despite giving up 35 points in the quarter, the Wolves took an 80-77 lead into the final 12 minutes as Zach LaVine drove to the basket for a layup and the foul with a second left on the clock.  Unfortunately, LaVine missed the free throw thereby proving that he doesn’t want Wolves fans to only say nice things about him.

The fourth quarter was phenomenal from a fan perspective.  The teams combined for 63 points and went back and forth, trading blows throughout.  After multiple lead changes, the Wolves were in a position to close out the game after a Wiggins layup gave the Pups a 110-107 lead with 17 seconds left in the game.  However, the Wolves missed three of their final four free throws giving the Suns a last second heave to pull off a miracle.  Without a timeout to use the Suns had to launch a shot but decided to throw a pass and hope the clock malfunctioned.  It didn’t and the shot the Suns did put up was after time expired (it missed anyway).

The final score of a highly entertaining game at Target Center: Minnesota 111, Phoenix 109.  The Wolves are now off until Monday’s matchup in Houston against Kevin McHale and the Rockets.  What year is it again?

Game Notes:

  • Markieff Morris led the Suns with 31 points, followed by an 11-10-6 (points-rebounds-blocks) performance from Alex Len.
  • The Timberwolves missed 11 free throws on the evening (27-38) … some things never change.
  • While led by Kevin Martin’s 28 points, Wiggins continues to come up with the big plays when the Wolves need them.
  • While Rubio had a terrible night shooting (2-10), he finished with 10 points, 14 assists, and 8 rebounds.  He deserves at least one vote for 5th place in NBA MVP balloting given how much he means to this club.