Defensive Intensity Continues To Lead Wolves
The Dallas Mavericks are no offensive slouches. Coming into Monday’s matchup with the Timberwolves the Mavs were at top 3 offensive team in the league producing 104.7 points per game and connecting on 44 percent of their 3-point attempts—all while weathering their own injury-plagued start without Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion.
But Dallas didn’t look the part on Monday.
In the Wolves’ 90-82 win against the Mavericks at American Airlines Center, Minnesota did all the little things—particularly early—to keep the Mavs’ offense off kilter. Rookie guard Alexey Shved collected three blocks, two coming against standout shooting guard O.J. Mayo. Malcolm Lee, getting his first career start in place of injured Brandon Roy and Chase Budinger, was active on the perimeter as well as defending the Mavericks in transition. And like he’s done all season, Andrei Kirilenko was everywhere on the court—pulling down five boards in the first quarter, diving for loose balls and pestering whoever stood in front of him on the defensive end.
The Wolves have preached defense from Day 1 in Training Camp, and it’s obvious that the group of players brought in this offseason have the energy and grittiness necessary to play defense at this level for 48 minutes. The result has been a resounding turnaround from last year’s late-season meltdown. Minnesota currently is holding teams to 88.4 points per game, good for second best in the NBA behind the Knicks.
The end result in Dallas? Minnesota held the Mavs to 17 first quarter points, 82 for the game and 4-of-16 from beyond the arc.
“We executed our game plan for the game,” Kirilenko said. “We’ve been told that Dallas is a top three offensive team, and we try to play defense from inside out.”
This win wasn’t due to turnovers; in fact, Minnesota had 18 compared to just 10 for the Mavericks. And Dallas got their opportunities to score on the offensive end. The Mavs had 15 more shot attempts than the Timberwolves, yet Minnesota finished with more makes.
Dallas finished the game shooting 29-of-80 from the field and got nine total points from their starting center-power forward-small forward combination.
What Minnesota did do was contest shots closely, forcing difficult looks then swarming the boards on Dallas misses. The Wolves held a distinct 49-35 edge in rebounding on the night, and in the process of contesting shots they came away with seven blocks—three from Shved, two from Kirilenko and two more from Derrick Williams.
Coach Rick Adelman said after Monday’s win that defense has been the key to the team’s success, and in particular fast starts in the first quarter has really propelled the Wolves early on this season. According to TeamRankings.com, the Wolves are tied with Houston for first in the league by allowing 20.3 points per game in the first quarter. And they’re finishing strong, ranked fourth at 21.3 points allowed in the fourth.
As a result they’ve cut their average opponents’ output by about 12 points per night from last season’s total. They’re ranked second in defensive field goal percentage (40.8 percent) and seventh in blocked shots (7.0 BPG).
But perhaps the biggest edge the Wolves have is defensively in the paint, where Pekovic’s presence clogs the lane and makes every shot attempt a battle for the opposing team’s bigs, plus Kirilenko and Stiemsma continue to be shot-blocking menaces and the Wolves guards are staying with penetrating perimeter players and not giving them easy looks.
“We’re just helping each other out and keeping the paint tight,” Ridnour said. “Everyone is on board with helping the helper and just grinding it out. Our team is really competing and it’s been working for us so far.”
Put it all together and you’ve got a team battling injuries but staying afloat due to a heightened defensive acumen. The key is to keep it going while battling these injuries and when the full roster returns.
“I would give credit to our character because nobody has their heads down or feels sorry about what’s happening,” Ridnour said. “I think as a team we played good team defense, and that really helps.”