MINNEAPOLIS – Twenty-three quick thoughts for the 23 minutes played by Taj Gibson in Minnesota’s 118-109 loss to the Boston Celtics on Saturday night at Target Center.
1. Something was missing on Saturday night inside Target Center. For the first time in a few weeks the Wolves showed up without the necessary energy or focus to win at home. It’s been a rarity lately, but it was evident against Boston.
2. “I didn’t think we played with great energy,” said Tom Thibodeau. “You need to play with great energy every night.”
3. Whether the team was ill-prepared or just hit with an off night is up for debate, and that’s fine. These things happen over the course of an 82-game NBA season. No team – not even the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors that won an NBA record 73 games – has seasons without nights where it isn’t at its best. Saturday was one of those nights for the Wolves.
4. This isn’t a reason to panic, either. The Celtics are a very good team, even if their record thus far this season hasn’t shown it so far.
5. Defensively is where the Wolves traced their struggles in the loss to. The team had issues containing both Kyrie Irving and Gordan Hayward. Irving finished the night with 21 points and Hayward had a game-high 30 points, his highest scoring total of the season. Hayward also knocked down 4-of-5 3-point attempts, leading the way for a Boston team that knocked down 17 of them in total.
6. When the opponent is able to hit 17 3-pointers, it’s going to be tough to overcome most nights. Rotationally, however, the Wolves were off. The Celtics were able to generate good looks from beyond the arc.
7. “I think that defensively we weren’t as in-tuned as we usually are,” Karl-Anthony Towns said after the loss. “We made some miscues, we made some mistakes that obviously was our fault. They’re a great team, they made us pay for those mistakes and we could dig ourselves out of that hole.
8. “It wasn’t even more about what they did, it was more about us failing to do what we were supposed to do. I think when we did what we were supposed do to, like in the third quarter, the fourth quarter early, you know the bench came in and executing our defensive game plan got ourselves back in the game. When we didn’t do it, obviously they hurt us.”
9. Towns was spot on in his assessment of that. The Wolves aren’t a team that can afford to not follow the game plan on nights like this and expect to win. After getting back to even on the season following the 4-9 start, Minnesota could afford one of these games, as long as it’s an outlier moving forward.
10. “We got to this point because we were executing our game plan almost flawlessly,” Towns added. “We were playing the game with energy and defensive pride the whole game. I think we just kind lacked it today a little bit. The moments we lacked it, Boston is a great team like I said, they made sure to make us pay for it.”
11. For a team that didn’t follow the game plan very well and lacked energy throughout the night, Minnesota did a terrific job of making this a close game in the fourth quarter. The Wolves entered the period trailing by seven, but got the game back to even thanks to a Gorgui Dieng 3-point play. Once again, the bench was able to bail out the starters.
12. Unfortunately for Minnesota, the starters couldn’t close the deal.
13. “It’s frustrating because the will to win comes to mano a mano,” Gibson said. “That’s a playoff bound team, we’re trying to get back in the playoffs again, so games like that just test where you’re at. We’ve got another one coming up, but that one still leaves a bad taste in your mouth because you still understand that you had a chance to win the game. Just got to overcome, bounce back, get back to being hungry, and get ready for the next game.”
14. One of the issues down the stretch was the play of Jeff Teague. He finished the evening with 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting and five turnovers. Aside from the sloppy play at times, Teague continues to make his decisions too slowly.
15. There were multiple possessions down the stretch that were wasted with Teague over-dribbling above the 3-point arc, or weaving his way through the paint from one side to another, finding a mismatch, dribbling more, and then settling for a mid-range jump shot.
16. The reality of it is that this team seems to play better offensively when Derrick Rose is running the show. That’s been written a few times, but he continues to impress. On Saturday night he had 26 points on 11-of-18 shooting. Rose isn’t the same explosive athlete he was when won the league MVP, but he’s the closest he’s been since then.
17. Allowing Rose to come off the bench is great. He, along with Robert Covington, are the two biggest reasons why that unit has been the best in the NBA, but the rotation may need to be altered.
18. The reason for altering it would help keep Rose as someone able to finish the game. On Saturday he finished with 29 minutes, which is a good place for him to be, but he played the final 17:05 of the game consecutively.
19. The 29 minutes isn’t too much to ask, but it’s tough for a player to compete at that level for that amount of time on a regular basis. It didn’t necessarily cause harm to Rose on Saturday as he had 11 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, but it’s not something that’s a good long-term plan for Minnesota.
20. On the bright side for the Wolves, Andrew Wiggins showed some signs of life in the third quarter. At one point he scored nine straight points for Minnesota. There’s no secret that he’s been struggling lately with his shot. Saturday’s 5-of-12 from the floor isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s a step in the right direction after what’s been going on lately.
21. Wiggins hit a pair of 3s in the loss, which seems insignificant, but it marks the first time since Nov. 16 against Portland that he hit multiple 3-pointers in a game. Since that night he was a combined 5-of-26 from deep.
22. Again, his 17-point performance isn’t what the Wolves hope he is as a finished product, but it’s much better than the product he’s been turning in lately.
23. The Wolves return to action on Monday night at Target Center against the Houston Rockets. Talk to you then.