By: Drew Mahowald
The Minnesota Timberwolves looked to end 2015 with two wins in as many days when they traveled to Detroit for a New Year's Eve contest with the Pistons. Heading into the game, the Wolves were 3-20 in their previous 23 games that were the back end of a back-to-back series.
That trend continued tonight.
The Wolves followed up a strong first quarter performance (Wolves led 22-15 after one quarter) with a dreadful second quarter in which they were outscored 30-15 en route to a 45-37 halftime deficit.
A high-scoring third quarter made the score 78-70 in favor of Detroit heading into the fourth. Detroit then used a 26-9 run to open the fourth quarter to quickly put this game away before the Wolves could even formulate a plan to get back in the game. When it was all said and done, the Timberwolves fell to the Pistons by a score of 115-90.
The difference in three-point shooting between the two squads made a big impact in the result of this game. It's no secret that Sam Mitchell has never really tried to incorporate the three-point shot in his offense this season, and tonight was no different. On the flip side, Detroit was setting up their offense in an effort to find open three-point looks. The Pistons put on a clinic of how to move the ball quickly and effectively to find open shooters.
That perimeter shooting led the early fourth-quarter surge that put the game away, Overall, the Pistons converted 14 of 35 three-point attempts, while the Timberwolves made just 5 of 14 shots from beyond the arc. The lack of value the Wolves put on perimeter shooting goes both ways. Not only do they neglect it offensively, but they also neglect to defend it.
Rebounding was another aspect of this game that Detroit dominated, gaining a 52-36 advantage on the glass over Minnesota. Not many teams will win games if they make nine less threes and grab 16 fewer rebounds than their opponent, and the Wolves are no exception.
Andre Drummond was phenomenal for the Pistons, as he has been all season. He put up 23 points (11/14 FG) and 18 rebounds in just 30 minutes of action. Drummond's physicality in the paint on both ends of the floor appeared to be something the Wolves either weren't expecting or weren't ready for, because he imposed his will when he was on the floor.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 22 points for Detroit, while Reggie Jackson added 19 and 9 assists.
Former Timberwolf Anthony Tolliver gave the Pistons a big spark off the bench, scoring all 15 of his points from three-point range and playing a key part in that early fourth-quarter run the Pistons used to put the game away.
Minnesota was led by none other than Karl-Anthony Towns, who continued his stellar play by netting 22 points (10/17 FG) and 9 rebounds. Many of his shots tonight came from the mid-range distance, an area in which he has been lethal thus far in his rookie season. I actually don't think he's missed a mid-range shot all season, but I could be wrong.
Andrew Wiggins added 21 points (8/19 FG) for the Wolves. If Wiggins can start to knock down the outside jumper at an average rate, he'll take that next step as a scorer in the NBA. Unfortunately, Wiggins is really only a threat attacking the basket at this point. (Although he is very, very good at attacking the basket)
Shabazz Muhammad once again provided a solid spark off the bench, something we've seen often from him. He talled 15 points (5/7 FG) in just 23 minutes, and one could make the argument that this game would've been a lot uglier if not for Bazz's energy when he was on the floor.
Ricky Rubio added 9 points (3/11 FG), 6 rebounds and 8 assists for Minnesota after an incredible 10-point, 17-assist performance against Utah on Wednesday.
This loss doesn't come as a large surprise on the back end of a back-to-back, but it's surely disappointing given the 22-15 first quarter lead the Wolves were able to get out to. It's just another example of a game this season in which the Wolves have played really well for just a portion of the game only to let their opponent make a run in the second half to pull away.
--- Nemanja Bjelica was the first man off the bench tonight for Mitchell, which is somewhat surprising given his performance recently. However, Bjelica struggled mightily again tonight. It's a drastic difference from the first few games of the season before he missed time due to injury, and you have to wonder if there's something else going on that's causing Bjelica to look so lost on the court.
--- The three-point shooting. It's gotta happen sometime, right? The Wolves are consistently destroyed in this category night in and night out, and it's time for Mitchell to at least try to incorporate perimeter shots into his offense. Teams that shoot more threes have won more games in recent seasons, and the Wolves continue to ignore this trend.
--- Zach LaVine struggled for the second straight game after playing just 11 minutes against the Jazz on Wednesday. It almost appeared as if he was pressing, feeling like he had to do more in order to win those minutes back. It's something to keep an eye on in the next few games.
--- Minnesota's defensive rotation was dreadful tonight, and it's a reason the Pistons were able to get so many good looks from three-point range. Guys were consistently just a step late to their help assignment.
The Wolves will try to rebound from this loss on Saturday when they host the Milwaukee Bucks in a game full of young talent. As always, keep checking with us at OTP for news and analysis on all things Timberwolves and make sure to follow @ontheprowl_mn on Twitter.