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Last Shots: Defense tightening up, a lid on the rim, and looking for KAT’s rhythm

MINNEAPOLIS – Seventeen quick thoughts for the 17 points scored off the bench in Minnesota’s 100-98 overtime loss to Denver on Sunday evening at Target Center.

To say that there would be growing pains for the Wolves as they adopted the new system of basketball put in place by Ryan Saunders this offseason wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. When players are trying to break habits of previous basketball experiences, everything isn’t going to click right away.

On Sunday afternoon the Wolves did a good job of sticking to their new pace-and-space system that includes bombing away from 3-point range. The problem on Sunday wasn’t abandoning the system, it was the fact that the Wolves set a franchise record for most missed 3-pointers in a game in franchise history by missing 39 of their 45 attempts from deep.

“I don’t know what we shot from three, lot of ins and outs, lot of great looks that we had,” Robert Covington said. “Definitely felt there was a lid in the game. That’s part of what happened, what allowed us not to come out with this win.”

In the history of the franchise, Sunday was just the 13th time the Wolves had even attempted 39 or more 3-pointers in a game. They had never missed more than 33 3-pointers in a game, but Sunday was that bad of a shooting performance. This was about as bad of an offensive performance as the Wolves can have in a game. This was the third-most 3-point misses in a single game in NBA history per Elias Sports.

Somehow, they still found a way to get the game to overtime before ultimately falling.

That happened because the team locked down defensively in the fourth quarter. The Nuggets held a 16-point lead with 6:43 left in regulation. Gary Harris drilled a 3-pointer that put the Nuggets in front of the Wolves 90-74, prompting a timeout by Wolves head coach Ryan Saunders.

The Nuggets didn’t score again until overtime. The Wolves were able to close out the rest of regulation with 15 consecutive defensive stops and go on a 16-0 run capped by a Karl-Anthony Towns 3-pointer with 42.4 seconds left.

That type of defense is something positive the Wolves can take away from this loss, even if it’s a tough one to swallow.

“I think our defensive intensity turned up a notch,” Saunders said. “We need that for the full-48. Guys did a number of things, in terms of playing without fouling, playing where we wanted to keep [Nikola] Jokic away from being a playmaker without his pick-and-rolls. So, we did a lot of good things.”

That type of scoreless streak isn’t something that’s going to regularly happen, but the fact that it did happen is encouraging. Even prior to that finish, the Wolves weren’t necessarily playing bad defense. On a normal night offensively, it might have been enough to win. But the necessity of needing the stops down the stretch did click things into a different gear for the Wolves.

““We were in desperation,” Josh Okogie said. “Desperate times call for desperate measures. We were able to execute the game plan defensively and we were able to hold them scoreless.”

The final stat line for Towns looks like a good one. He finished with 25 points, 16 rebounds, and six assists. But it’s clear that Towns doesn’t look like himself right now. The numbers are still gaudy, but his shot seems to be a touch off, as evidenced by the 3-of-14 mark he had from 3-point range on Sunday.

“I don’t know,” a frustrated Towns said when asked what felt off about his shot on Sunday. “When I find out I’ll tell you. Or you’ll see it, most likely.”

The fact that the Wolves have been competitive despite not having the best version of Towns recently is a good thing, and it’s mostly because of Andrew Wiggins.

Wiggins wasn’t spectacular on Sunday, certainly not in the same way he was on Friday night against the Warriors when he scored 40 points. That being said, Sunday was a rough game for him shooting, but not in the same sense it has been so many times in the past. Wiggins finished with 25 points on 22 shots.

But if this is a bad game for Wiggins, things are drastically improved from what they’ve been. He’s going to have nights where he misses shots, but as long as he’s taking the right shots, for the most part, it’s something that’s worth living with, and Friday night showed why.

The Wolves are back in action on Monday night in Detroit against the Pistons. Talk to you then.


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