MINNEAPOLIS – Twenty quick thoughts from Minnesota’s 124-117 loss to the LA Clippers on Friday night at Target Center.
1. Stopping Kawhi Leonard and Paul George is no easy task, for anyone in the world. They’re two of the best players in the NBA, on both ends of the floor. Leonard has a pair of rings and NBA Finals MVPs, and George is considered one of the premier wings in the league. They’re a nightmare for everyone.
2. Everyone, as you know, includes the Wolves and the train wreck that their defense has quickly become during the month of December. What George and Leonard combined to do on Friday night was special. They combined to score 88 points and carry the Clippers to a victory. It was the best performance the NBA has seen from a pair of teammates this season, and for three quarters the Wolves had absolutely no answer for it. At one point during the third quarter, that duo and the Wolves were tied with 66 points each.
3. Minnesota found itself down 27 points late in the third quarter before crawling all the back to make it a four-point game with 21.7 seconds left in regulation. The fourth quarter felt like the inverse of what the rest of the game was. The first three quarters felt like a march to the finish to get what looked like a loss on paper over with, and the fourth quarter showed a team that had interest in winning the game.
4. “When we play the right way, I’d like to think it works. We start moving the ball more. We had zero assists in the third quarter. I think we ended up with six in the fourth, but we were getting better looks because we were getting things out of the flow,” head coach Ryan Saunders said. “Defensively, we put the main group in at the beginning of the fourth quarter to see if we could make a little run. We ended up making a run, so we just let them ride. I think that group saw it; defensively they started communicating. They started doing more of impacting the ball, some of those things and we changed up a couple things with George and Leonard. We fell a little bit short, but I’m proud of the way the guys didn’t quit.”
5. The Wolves need to find a way to bottle the effort from the final period and make sure it shows up on Wednesday night the next time they take the floor. The losing streak has hit seven games, but Friday’s loss felt like a light at the end of the tunnel could be seen in the distance. That hasn’t been the case lately.
6. The losses that have built up have been filled with frustration and empty of defense. Make no mistake, there’s frustration about Friday, but the defense eventually did show up.
7. “I mean, how we was playing before was kind of different, but the way we played tonight we can build off this tremendously,” Robert Covington said. “How we played tonight, we can use this same focus, same energy, that second half, well really the fourth quarter. It could be beneficial to us if we could sustain them type of momentum throughout the game.”
8. “Yeah, but it’s up to us to make it carry forward,” Karl-Anthony Towns said. “We can’t say ‘Oh, we can’ and then drop a dud the next game. We’ve got to utilize the same feeling that we had today and we’ve got to make it happen for 48 straight minutes.”
9. Defense was one reason the Wolves were able to make this a close game, but Towns and Andrew Wiggins were the other reasons. That pair combined to score 73 on the night, with 39 of those coming in the second half.
10. On a night with a player many deemed the best in the world last June on the court, Towns made his statement in the fourth quarter. He had 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting while playing all but nine seconds of the period. It felt like Towns knocked down big shot after big shot for the Wolves while they kept fighting back. Towns was the center of that for them. His four-point play with 4:55 left in regulation cut the Clippers’ lead to just 111-106 and Target Center came alive thanks to it.
11. “If I’m given a chance in the fourth quarter to be great, I’m going to go out there and try to be great,” Towns said. “The ball was in my hands in the fourth quarter and I was trying to make the plays to give us that win no matter what the odds were against me.
12. “It’s frustrating that we put ourselves in that deficit that even after all that heroics, we’re still down by three. That’s what frustrates me. If we would’ve won the game, obviously it would’ve been a great win — come back and we played amazing — but we lost, and we didn’t deserve it from the beginning, so it’s a glass half-full, glass half-empty mentality for me, and we’ve just got to get back to work.”
13. Wiggins also helped to carry the load in the fourth quarter, to the tune of nine points on 4-of-5 shooting. That was partly thanks to a switch on the defensive end of the floor. The Wolves flipped Covington onto Leonard defensively after Wiggins spent much of the night trying to slow him down.
14. “I wanted to keep Wiggs off of him because we needed him to do so much on the other side. I took that upon myself. I knew that the matchup was different but I wanted him to sit up here and have me be tired rather than him be tired and have to go and still score with that,” Covington said. “I just wanted to take that challenge on myself and that’s what I always do, I always take those shots.”
15. That seemed to help, especially considering Leonard struggled in the fourth quarter, scoring just five points on 1-of-5 shooting, and only getting to the line for a pair of attempts.
16. If the Wolves can sustain that type of energy moving forward, they’ll find a way to be okay and get through this stretch of rough basketball. Seven straight losses aren’t good, obviously, but it’s not the end of the world for a team that’s going through growing pains. Things like this were always going to happen.
17. Wednesday’s game looks to be vital to ending this streak, too. The New Orleans Pelicans will travel to Target Center potentially with their own losing streak – a whopping 11 games currently – that they’re trying to break. They’ve got a pair of games before squaring off with the Wolves, but it could be intact when that day finally gets here.
18. After the Wolves take on New Orleans, they head back out west for a four-game trip, with the only bad opponent during that stretch the Warriors. Getting this losing streak over with as soon as possible is what the Wolves will focus on, and the best-case scenario would be the next time the play.
19. “Moral victories don’t pay the bills,” Towns said. “So, we’ve got to get the real ones.”
20. The Wolves are back in action on Wednesday at home against New Orleans. Talk to you then.