Wolves Set Tone Against Indiana, Now Time To Do So On Road Trip
Photo credit: David Sherman & Jordan Johnson/NBAE/Getty Images
The Timberwolves threw the word aggressiveness around after Wednesday’s 104-91 win over the Pacers, and with good reason. Minnesota came out with intensity from the start against the East’s top team, taking advantage of the Pacers’ situation playing the night before and forcing them into inopportune situations and early turnovers.
In the end, given the circumstances, it was arguably the Wolves’ best win of the season. When you factor in Indiana’s level of talent and success, the fact Minnesota did it without two starters and the realization that every game from here until April 16 carries incredible significance toward Minnesota’s playoff chances, it’s easy to make that case.
But there was something about Wednesday’s game was more than aggressiveness. A lot of teams this season have played aggressively against the Pacers and come out empty-handed. It’s not easy to put up 104 on a team that averaged 91.0 points against coming in.
The Wolves were able to build an early foundation, open it up midway through the contest and hold on when Indiana made its anticipated run.
“I just think we set the tempo,” coach Rick Adelman said. “We wanted to attack them and push the ball up the court. We had great ball movement [on Wednesday]. We didn’t keep it on one side of the court. We had a nice mixture of what we did.”
Adelman’s offense, as we’ve talked about at length since Training Camp, is at its best when players benefit from teammates’ cuts and continuous ball movement. The reads involved in properly running this offense make it very difficult to stop when performed like the Wolves did on Wednesday.
Not to mention the defense. Minnesota held Indiana to 27.3 percent shooting from 3 on Wednesday night, and they shut down the interior duo of Roy Hibbert and David West to the tune of eight points on 4-of-15 shooting. They held those two guys to 12 boards. Wolves forward Kevin Love had 16 on his own. They did it without regular starting center Nikola Pekovic for the entire game and without Wednesday’s starting center Ronny Turiaf in the fourth, as he left the game with a bone bruise on his right knee.
Paul George got his to the tune of 35, but the Wolves handled the rest of the Pacers’ offense and kept Indiana unable to deliver a balanced attack.
That leads us to this weekend. Minnesota is starting out a five-game road trip on Saturday night in Utah, and as they navigate the West Coast stopping in Portland, Phoenix, Sacramento and Denver before heading home, that same type of aggressive, detail-oriented play needs to be present in order to get back into this playoff chase.
So how do they do it?
“We went over some film. Just the way we moved the ball, we hit the open man, we set great screens,” forward Kevin Love said. “But we also played both sides of the ball. We were helping each other out, giving each other up for the better of the team and you know, it was a fun game—especially coming in off the break. And we really got our crowd into it. Our crowd was awesome.”
Minnesota’s main question heading into the weekend does deal with the health at the center position. Pekovic has been sidelined since Jan. 27 with bursitis in his right ankle, and with Turiaf out indefinitely it appears the Wolves might need to slide Love to the 5 and insert Dante Cunningham into the 4 spot. It also means Gorgui Dieng should start getting additional playing time. Adelman will need to be creative with his rotations to keep the intensity and cohesive play intact.
Bottom line is the Timberwolves showed what they’re capable of on Wednesday night, and they did it shorthanded. The key is longevity and consistency. Minnesota hasn’t always been able to keep that type of momentum going this season, but it’s imperative they do it beginning Saturday night in Salt Lake City.
This trip will be telling in a lot of ways. If Wednesday is any indication, it will be telling in a good way for this Timberwolves team.
“[Wednesday’s success] was a combination of things,” Adelman said. “I just liked the way we played.”