Shootaround Access: Wolves vs. Pistons

Shootaround Access: Wolves vs. Pistons

Timberwolves forward Anthony Tolliver has a unique mindset on the court. In a league driven by scoring and offensive fireworks, Tolliver enjoys the defensive side of the ball just as much—even if it’s not the flashiest part of the game.

“Personally, I love playing defense and stopping the other team from scoring and getting 24 second violations on the other team,” Tolliver said. “That’s what really gets me going.”

The Wolves, as a whole, are on the same page.

Day by day the Timberwolves are becoming a defensive team. It’s a focus they’ve had since training camp, and while they’ve had their ups and downs the overarching theme this season has been a dedication to the defensive side of the ball.

It’s paying dividends, as Minnesota ranks fourth in the Western Conference in points allowed. Heading into tonight’s matchup with Detroit—a team that has struggled offensively and is currently last in the league with 85.0 points per night—the Timberwolves have an opportunity to take control of the game with solid, stingy stops.

“(The Pistons) want to get on the right foot winning,” Wes Johnson said. “So I think that it’s a good game for us to come out with a focused, defensive mindset, and we can show them that it’s a different T-wolves team this year.”

Minnesota ranked last in the league a year ago in points allowed, averaging 107.7 per night. This year they’re giving up 93.1, and in particular they’re shutting teams down late in games.

The Wolves are currently fifth in the league in fourth quarter field goal percentage defense (40.5 percent) and 16th in fourth quarter scoring defense (23.2 PPG). Last year they were last in both categories.

Coach Rick Adelman said the team’s defensive performance is still a work in progress, and the players say they’re continuing to try and improve each day. But the improvement thus far is noticeable, and Tolliver said one of the biggest reasons for that is trust.

He said last year it wasn’t always a given that players would be in positions to help defensively. This year is different.

“On the defensive end you have to be in the right position and trust that your teammate is going to be there,” Tolliver said. “It just comes from it happening; you taking the chance and somebody backing you up.”

Guard Luke Ridnour said the team is buying into what Adelman is preaching, and even at this early stage of the season the team is learning to be in the right positions and making the right adjustments.

The end result is being in position to win games late. Tonight against Detroit and beyond, the Wolves will continue bringing that defensive mindset.

“We didn’t want to go through the same season we did last year,” Johnson said. “I think the team knew we needed to play defense; the coaches know we have to play defense. In order to win we have to, so that’s our main goal this year.”

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