Wolves Use Big 4th To Top D-League Selects, 86-78
The Timberwolves coaching staff warned its players they could have their hands full against the NBA Development League Select team on Saturday. The D-League squad might not have the same talent level as their NBA counterparts, but they make up for it with hustle and, at times, crisper decision that comes with their extra experience in the league.
And for a half, the D-Leaguers looked every bit the part of spoiler in their Summer League matchup against the Wolves. But Minnesota composed itself in the fourth, started getting timely defensive stops and battled back from a 14-point deficit to earn an 86-78 victory at UNLV’s Cox Pavilion.
The Wolves held the D-League to 33 second half points and pulled away by outscoring them 30-18 in the fourth.
“The D-League team, I understand the concept behind it because I ran the D-League operations for two years, and you know how you prep those guys to come up and prepare and compete and show that they belong in our league,” Wolves coach Shawn Respert said. “So I knew that those guys were going to come after us and once they got some momentum they tried to ride it right on through. What we showed them is exactly why we’re pros tonight.”
Respert and David Adelman are rotating head coaching responsibilities every other game this week, and this was his first victory as a head coach at any level. Guard/forward Wes Johnson had a lot to do with it, as he returned from missing Thursday’s game with an ankle injury and poured in 28 points.
He looked comfortable from the very beginning, particularly from distance. He finished 5-of-7 from 3-point range on the night—including a 4-of-5 showing from beyond the arc in the first half.
“Wes made shots, he came out with a lot of energy,” guard Corey Fisher said. “That’s just a good game. That’s a good game to come back from injury and have a game like that.”
Johnson tweaked his ankle in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s loss to the Bobcats, and at the time of the injury he was in the midst of a 14-point fourth quarter. That was Respert’s first game at the helm, and Johnson said he made it a personal goal to help Respert pick up that first win in his second night at the helm.
“We had to get it for him,” Johnson said. “I got hurt the game we lost, so when we came out tonight and he was coaching I had to redeem myself, too. And we got a good win.”
Derrick Williams chipped in 15 points on the night, while guard Kammron Taylor scored 11 off the bench and Luke Sikma added a burst of energy to the tune of eight points and five boards as a reserve. In all, seven bench players scored points on Saturday totaling 36 points.
For the D-League, Mardy Collins finished 7-of-10 with 20 points, Marcus Dove scored 13 points and Kenny Hayes and Leo Lyons each had 11 points.
Built Ford Tough Leader of the Pack
Wes Johnson got the start at small forward tonight after missing Thursday’s game with a sore ankle. He picked up right where he left off on Tuesday by scoring 28 points against the D-League Selects on an efficient 9-of-14 night from the floor—including a 5-for-7 showing from 3-point range. Put those numbers together with his 14-point fourth quarter on Tuesday against Charlotte, and Johnson has scored 42 points in his last five quarters.
Johnson said the biggest key for him is he’s playing calm and composed on the court.
“[I’m] just relaxed playing basketball,” he said. “It feels good for it to go in, so I’m just out there being assertive and relaxing when I’m shooting the ball.”
Highlight of the Game
With the Wolves beginning to take control of the ballgame, forward Luke Sikma was responsible for one of the biggest momentum swings of the evening. Down 64-58 with 8:50 to play, Sikma crashed the boards on a missed 3-point attempt by Wes Johnson and threw down a rim-rattling slam but cut the D-League’s lead to four. Sikma hung for a moment on the rim, then looked to the Wolves bench with a fierce stare as he ran back down the floor.
The Numbers Game
- Wes Johnson didn’t shy away from the big shot during the fourth quarter, either. While the Wolves took control in the final frame, Johnson was a major contributor on the offensive end. He finished the fourth shooting 3-of-4, including 1-of-2 from beyond the arc, and collected nine points. He also hit both free throws, finishing 5-for-5 from the line on the night.
- The D-League came out firing in the first half and built a 45-35 halftime lead, but it was a different story in the final two frames. The D-Leaguers scored just 33 points in the second half, and their shooting percentage dropped from 50 percent at halftime down to 41.7 percent for the game.
“Our rotations were all messed up and we were really quiet out there,” Johnson said. “Once we got talking, once we got a little bounce in our step, everything started changing in our favor.”
- Derrick Williams continues to make an impact by driving to the basket and creating foul shot opportunities. He went to the line 10 times on Saturday, going 6-for-10 from the stripe, and he has now gone to the free throw line 50 times in four games.
Guard Corey Fisher has been giving Williams some advice about perimeter play given Williams is learning to play the small forward position. One thing Fisher told him is that he will be at his best when he can get to the hoop.
“Just don’t settle,” Fisher said. “Even if you don’t score a basket, you can either draw a foul or draw help and kick out. When you’re a good player, you’re always going to draw a second defender.”
- The Timberwolves trailed in most statistical categories at the half. In particular, they trailed 30-8 in points in the paint and 13-0 in fast break points. They closed the gap in the final two quarters, tying the Selects 16-16 in the paint and holding the D-League to six fast break points in the second half.
Quote of the Night
“Wesley grew up tonight….Sometimes he lets the defense put him in bad situations and pass the basketball. But what we see tonight is with all the things that he probably struggles with creating for other people, he made shots. He was 9-of-14, made five 3s. This is what Wes Johnson has to do for us to be good next year and compete for that playoff spot.” --Summer League coach Shawn Respert
The Timberwolves wrap up their Summer League schedule on Sunday at 7 p.m. CT against the Memphis Grizzlies at Cox Pavilion. The Wolves are 3-1 heading into the contest.