April 25, 2018, 6:50 pm
Their backs are against the proverbial wall, but at this point it feels more like the Wolves are out to salvage the series and make life for the Rockets as difficult as possible.
The Wolves were blitzed in the third quarter on Game 4, and in that 12 minute stretch the series took a tonal shift. Minnesota was in a one-point game on their home floor in a 2-1 series, and after the rough quarter lost a blowout and head back to Houston down 3-1.
There weren’t huge expectations for Minnesota in this series, but through three and a half games, the Wolves certainly had a punchers’ chance. Their offense has mostly been an utter mess, and yet three games were there for the taking. In the pivotal Game 4, the Rockets overcame the technical issues delaying their launch and blasted off in a historical third quarter where they scored 50 points, second most ever in a NBA playoff game.
An explosion of that magnitude, while historically rare, felt inevitable at some point in this series. The Rockets have not been shy about their 3-point shooting in this series, taking 43.3 attempts from beyond the arc in the series (in line with their 42.3 attempts in the regular season) while making them at a 32.9 percent clip. At some point they were going to break out of their slump.
The fact that it didn’t happen until the second half of Game 4 was a moderate surprise and certainly allowed the Wolves to hang around all series long. Riding the wave all the way back to Houston and their home floor is a likely possibility, which means the Wolves have to bust out of their slump as well.
After an odd beginning to this series there have been glimpses of what everyone expected peppered into Games 3 and 4, which was elite offensive firepower on both sides, and the stars showing out. Neither side has been able to put it together simultaneously just yet, leading to multiple blowouts and one-sided games.
From the Wolves’ perspective, they’re out to at least pull their weight. It’s sink or swing season and the Wolves are on their final breathe.
What kind of desperation adjustments Tom Thibodeau makes will be intriguing to watch. They say moments like this are where the true self reveals itself. Given the huge odds stacked against the Wolves winning this series, it might be advantageous to think towards the future and get the young players as much exposure as possible.
On the other hand, Thibs could rely on his former Bulls more than ever. The players that left it all out on the line back in Chicago for him may play a feature role in his last ditch effort to get this series back to Minnesota. That would include Derrick Rose, who’s actually been a prominent player in this series already and to his credit has stepped up huge for the bench.
Or perhaps the Wolves come out status quo and try to build on the things they did well early in the series, such as limiting Harden from getting into the paint and get him going backwards (something they utterly failed at late in Game 4), and running the offense through Towns at the high-post.
Using Towns in the high-post is not something the Wolves do often, but Towns is a good fit there, with a chance to be fantastic. On the surface his shooting touch and size over the defense gives him an advantage in the passing lanes, but he’s also mobile enough to take it off the dribble and attack. He needs to improve both of these areas in his offense in the summer, but they are solid as of now.
The main factor in this series that can help him, and the Wolves, is it makes it tougher to double team him in the high-post. If Towns gets switched onto a guard in the high-post, there’s more space to pass out of a double, and a couple of quick passes can lead to a score.
It’s also been effective with Rose cutting into the lane. The Wolves’ offense is typically very stationary without much cutting or back screens, which doesn’t play into a high-post offense very well. Rose has added that element to the offense (accidentally?) and given Towns’ a moving target on a couple of occasions.
Rose has been at his best when he’s in the lane and being a part of the offense instead of trying to create himself, and in this series he’s excelled in that regard, likely because the Wolves have lacked that all season long (Wiggins can be that guy, but is typically flared out to a corner).
It will be interesting to see how the Wolves respond to the shell-shocking second half of Game 4 with everything now on the line. The Wolves certainly have shown they have the talent to hang with the big boys, but perhaps are still a year away from joining them.
Jeff Teague – PG
Jimmy Butler – SG
Andrew Wiggins – SF
Taj Gibson – PF
Karl-Anthony Towns – C
Chris Paul – PG
James Harden – SG
Trevor Ariza – SF
P.J. Tucker – PF
Clint Capela – C
Tyus Jones (knee) – QUESTIONABLE
Justin Patton (foot) – OUT
Luc Mbah a Moute (shoulder) – OUT
Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
When: 8:30 pm CT
How: Fox Sports North and TNT