Imagine an NBA that determines playoff seeding the way the NCAA does. High-profile wins are met with low number seeding, and where losses to Louisville or South Carolina tank your Madness odds. The Minnesota Timberwolves would be hard-pressed to justify even a middle-of-the-road seed, with numerous losses to bottom-dwelling teams. What went wrong in the Wolves’ recent loss to the Charlotte Hornets?
Three Timberwolves Struggle Late Against Charlotte
— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) February 25, 2023
Minnesota Timberwolves Continue to Struggle
Thankfully, a win is a win in the real NBA. As long as you beat up on the bad teams, you’ll likely find yourself playing spring and summer basketball. The Minnesota Timberwolves, however, have made it a habit to lose the easy ones. Enough is enough. Why did the collapse happen this time? Whose fault was it, or did the Hornets just simply outplay the Wolves?
The collapse occurred in the fourth quarter, and there weren’t exactly many cracks or issues popping up in the preceding quarters. The first quarter was a scoring frenzy, with both teams scoring over 30 points. The Hornets buzzed out to a 37-32 lead thanks to the marksmanship of LaMelo Ball. Jaden McDaniels was aggressive early on as well. He scored six points, but his drives and pull-ups looked smooth.
It’s so easy to blame coaches for everything. The team wasn’t prepared well enough, they should’ve challenged a call, and they needed to call timeout– there’s a lengthy laundry list of things coaches can screw up in a game. It’s not always their fault, but this time Chris Finch truly made a critical mistake against the Hornets.
Nobody likes having to play against stout defenders like McDaniels or Anthony Edwards, especially LaMelo Ball. Ball does like forcing Kyle Anderson to switch onto him, so he can beat him in two steps, make a shot, or find an open man after penetrating into the paint. Austin Rivers would often start possessions matched up with Ball, but he relentlessly hunted the Anderson matchup to much success.
Finch has to see that. He probably did see that. Regardless, he did not make the adjustment and sub Anderson out. If the Hornets had a non-shooter or small-ball five on the floor, things may have been different. Finch could’ve considered going small by subbing Gobert out and allowing Anderson to run a rover role guarding the non-shooter and helping in the paint. Steve Clifford elected to play Mark Williams for much of the fourth quarter, forcing Finch to play Gobert so as not to allow Williams to have a mismatch.
Edwards, McDaniels, and Alexander-Walker all defended Ball admirably. So it’s not that Finch didn’t have solutions to the problem. Anderson just shouldn’t have been on the floor, given the circumstances.
Play Like You Mean It
Yes, Edwards put up 29 points and made great defensive plays. But like the last airbender (Avatar reference for those out there that don’t get it), he disappeared when it mattered most. More specifically, his defense disappeared when it mattered most.
Tied at 109, Edwards was the first domino to fall in a disheartening defensive collapse. McDaniels was keeping up with Ball, but Edwards got caught ball-watching as his man, Terry Rozier, slipped toward the corner. Ball made the easy pass to a squared-up Rozier. Mike Conley had to leave Gordon Hayward alone in the short corner to close out. Both Edwards and Conley stood by Rozier as the shot fell short. Hayward went unchecked into the paint to effortlessly clean up the miss for two points.
Possessions later and down by three, Edwards set off another collapse. He tried jumping a passing lane but whiffed, allowing Hayward to hastily drive into the middle before kicking out to a wide-open Ball for three. Anderson was partially responsible, as he left Ball despite not really having to be the help on the play. It is also possible Edwards could’ve snagged the pass and scored, changing the outlook of the game.
Fouls n’ Free Throws
The Minnesota Timberwolves are one of the most foul-prone teams in the league. They’re 27th in the league in fouls per game with 21.8. Charlotte attempted 28 free throws on Friday night, dwarfing the 16 the Wolves shot.
Of the nine players that played at least 13 minutes, only Edwards and Rivers committed fewer than two fouls.