By: Seth Toupal
The Minnesota Timberwolves headed into Game 1 of their series against the Houston Rockets in need of many different things to go their way. The Rockets had trounced the Wolves in all four games of the regular season series. And yet the Wolves had a chance to send the game to overtime in the final seconds, despite the following:
The Wolves did some good things, as noted above. Derrick Rose and Jamal Crawford provided much-needed offensive sparks off the bench. Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague were both very solid offensively. And a combination of some good defense and an off night from Houston led to the Wolves being in the game until the very end.
However, there were plenty of head scratchers throughout the game as well. The Rockets killed the Wolves on pick-and-roll situations with James Harden and Clint Capela. The Wolves in these sets would rotate both defenders toward Harden (and with as good as he deserved the attention) but that left Capela all alone under the basket for many easy lobs and dunks. The Wolves tried multiple defensive matchups for Harden, without any success in locking him down. On the offensive end the Rockets gave the Wolves plenty of matchup mismatches throughout the night but the Wolves failed to take advantage of any of them. MVP caliber players tend to take games over when needed, and Harden definitely willed the Rockets to a win last night.
The Wolves had a chance down 104-101 for a game-tying look at the end, and yet again we got to see Jimmy Butler hoist up a contested 3 that fell short. Whether or not the Rockets bluffed the Wolves into thinking they were going to foul Butler (a foul that never came) the Wolves had 8 seconds to put together a game-tying shot (more difficult with no timeouts) but to drive into the corner and take a contested shot is a look we have seen far too often this year.
After the game, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau mentioned that Karl-Anthony Towns needs to "be more active". I counter with this: What about designing more looks for your best offensive player? Capela and PJ Tucker finished with a combined 5 blocks, and the Wolves may have been able to make a few more baskets had they been able to pull Capela away from the basket.
A few more touches for Towns, a better look at the end of the game, and more of a plan defensively and we could be talking about how the Wolves stole a game in Houston. Instead we look at an opportunity that got away, and an opportunity that may not come again if the Wolves simply hope Houston has another off-night on Wednesday.
Seth is host of The Scoop on KLGR Radio out of Redwood Falls, Minnesota. Listen to episodes of The Scoop here.