The Wolves fell short of going 3-0 against the Mavericks on the season, as a red-hot Kyrie Irving put on an elite shotmaking performance throughout.
Wednesday’s lackadaisical effort turned into a Friday feast in Houston against the Rockets. It was a much needed outing to capture some momentum going into a date with a Dallas Mavericks team that looked nothing like they did the last two times these teams clashed.
Down Dereck Lively II, the main source of this continued change for Dallas in the eyes of the Wolves was Kyrie Irving being back in the fold for Dallas. It was the first time they faced each other this season. He made that known throughout, and had 27 points on the board well before the third quarter ended, torching the Timberwolves’ drop coverage. He went on to finish with 35. Irving and Luka Doncic combined for 69 points (including shooting 11/20 on 3-pointers), 14 rebounds and 13 assists.
Minnesota hedged screens, switched, changed defensive assignments, and tried a few different things without turning too much attention off of Luka. But such is the conundrum in guarding Dallas.
The Wolves saw plenty of offense from its nucleus as well. Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Rudy Gobert combined for 40 of Minnesota’s 56 first half points. Naz Reid provided help off the bench in the form of 15 efficient points.
A trading of blows for three quarters came down to two of the best teams in clutch games in the NBA, playing a clutch game.
In this case, Kyrie Irving ended up being Kyrie Irving, and Dallas got the last laugh, closing the game on a 15-2 run in clutch time to turn a six-point deficit into a seven-point win.
Wolves Live, Die, Live Again By Edwards
Whether you felt the “hey” was respected or not, Edwards came out with one of his most aggressive and effective first quarters of the season. He was getting easy matchups to break down and get to the bucket on, and his 12 first quarter points with just one 3-point attempt prove that.
Edwards was asked what made it look so easy in getting to the basket.
“It was me! If you play me one on one, I like my chances for sure.”
While Ant finished with 36 points on an efficient 52% shooting, there were times in the middle of the game in which it felt like he could get off the ball with an initial pass and put some energy into the offense. Minnesota was at a big size advantage, and it may have help take some stagnation out of a time in which Dallas jumped out to its biggest lead of nine early in the fourth quarter.
Head Coach Chris Finch spoke after the game and mentioned that he liked Edwards’ balance offensively. He’s the Head Coach for a reason, and I’m typing away on my keyboard for another reason. But I felt as though there were times that Minnesota lacked the ability to make the Mavs work defensively, became passive when not everyone was touching the ball, and became inconsistent physically with them when at times they were spectating.
Edwards finished the game with three assists, and took 27 shots.
But that’s just a criticism. The reality is that Edwards was not inefficient. Further, especially in the first quarter, he was one of the only things that was legitimately working for a team that was trying to figure itself out early amidst a hail storm of offense by Kyrie Irving. Additionally, he and I both agree that he should have touched the ball more down the stretch than he did.
“I feel like once again I left bullets in the chamber,” he said. “I gotta be aggressive down the stretch.”
It’s all a balancing act, and something a 22-year-old superstar is rightfully learning, and will.
Clutch Time Offense Gone Wrong
The Wolves hold a top-tier net rating and also, the best winning percentage of the league in clutch games (clutch time is defined as a game/time in which the score is within five points in the last five minutes).
Coincidentally, the Mavericks are just as effective. It wasn’t necessarily that Dallas was more polished in clutch time, but Minnesota did plenty to hurt themselves.
Whether it was Rudy Gobert receiving a pocket pass rolling to the basket and throwing it back out into the back court, getting ripped from behind on a defensive rebound that turned into a 3, or a rushed late-game 3-ball that bounced off the iron from Karl-Anthony Towns, it wasn’t quite Minnesota’s night in that particular department.
The Timberwolves led 106-100 with 3:53 left in the fourth.
The Mavericks then outscored them 15-2 from that point forward.
Minnesota has been great all season in clutch time, but tonight was a very different story.
— Kyle Theige (@KyleTheige) January 8, 2024
“Bad offense really…rushed shots,” Finch echoed. “I need to get the ball into Mike’s hands like I have been all season.”
His point is valid. The Wolves rank 11th in clutch time offensive rating, and Mike Conley is a large part of that. Good things tended to happen when the ball found his hands, flashing seven assists to go with his nine points.
It’s another step in the process of growing up and further the identity of the team. Rudy Gobert spoke about it afterwards.
“When we are patient offensively, when we move the ball, and play second actions, it puts me and other guys in position to get offensive rebounds,” he went on.
“It also helps on defense. The difference between that and trying to make home run plays is huge for us. It’s maturity, you know, learning. We’ve been doing it, just gotta be consistent with it. We will.
The good news? It’s just one game. American Airlines Center was incredibly loud; a true playoff atmosphere. It’s better to be able to identify these things now, as opposed to four months down the road.
The bad news? The home stretch of this road trip won’t get any easier.
The Wolves will head east to face the Orlando Magic on Tuesday at 6:00 CST for the third game in this road trip. Orlando is fresh off a win against the Atlanta Hawks, and will look to make it three straight at home against the Wolves.