Playoffs 2018 West First Round: Rockets (1) vs. Timberwolves (8)
Karl-Anthony Towns looking to make adjustments, find rhythm in Game 2
HOUSTON — Like any good movie or television show, the second viewing always provides a different perspective you might have missed the first time around.
The same goes for the playoff debut of Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns.
Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau had one view in the immediate aftermath of the Timberwolves’ Game 1 loss to the Houston Rockets Sunday night, when Towns struggled in his playoff debut, scoring just eight points on 3-for-9 shooting, well below his season average of 21.3 points.
Thibodeau said his big man had to be more active to deal with he swarming and double-teaming defense the Rockets threw at him. But that uncharacteristic performance — Towns was held to fewer than eight points just twice in the regular season — looked much different after a thorough study of the film.
“After watching the film I thought he made a lot of good plays,” Thibodeau said after the Timberwolves wrapped up practice Tuesday at Rice University. “We’ve had a hard time guarding them in the regular season and there’s still a lot of things we have to do better. But offensively, I thought he made good plays. I think he understands what he has to do, he’ll be fine.”
The Timberwolves need Towns to be better than just “fine” in Game 2 Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT), particularly if his Rockets counterpart, Clint Capela (24 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks in Game 1) continues to play at a high level in this series.
Towns clearly didn’t take offense to Thibodeau’s initial review of his performance, agreeing with his coach after Game 1 that he’s “got to be better on both sides of the basketball.”
But he reiterated several times Tuesday that his objective is to stick with the game plan rather than getting caught up in any game inside the game, just to satisfy someone else’s expectations of what a player of his considerable talents should be able to do in this setting.
He did, however, acknowledge the strategic differences between the regular season and postseason atmosphere, and he’ll be sure to adjust accordingly.
I think he understands what he has to do, he’ll be fine.”
Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau on Karl-Anthony Towns
“I felt good out there, and I never take anything too high or too low. I always stay even-keeled,” he said. “It felt to me like a regular game, but it’s more about playing chess this time, you know. It’s not about playing checkers, it’s about playing chess. And it’s a game about who is the more disciplined team, who sticks to their game plan the most and finds ways to adjust on the fly.”
Those adjustments for Towns must include taking advantage of the Rockets’ endless switching on defense, situations where he ends up with a much smaller perimeter player matched up on him. He’ll need to be more aggressive offensively, even if it requires a slight tweak to the game plan he mentioned repeatedly Tuesday.
“You’ve got to do it when the game seems that it can be taken, or when its getting out of hand,” Town said. “I have to do a better job of assessing the situations and adjusting on the fly quicker, especially in the playoffs.”
It helps that the Timberwolves were within striking distance at the end on a night when they didn’t get the best out of Towns.
The same way the Rockets don’t expect to struggle through another 10-for-37 shooting performance from beyond the 3-point line or for their superstar point guard Chris Paul to turn the ball over the way he did, the Timberwolves don’t foresee another subpar performance from one of the league’s elite big men.
“Just makes us more hungry, more confident,” Towns said. “We felt we played well, but we made some mistakes here and there and it ended up costing us in the end. But if we can tweak things here and there, I think we can be something really special and we could possibly win the series.”
As for any suggestions that he needs to be more of a priority, as suggested by TNT analyst Charles Barkley after the game, Towns and his teammates were careful to sidestep any outside influence on the situation.
Jimmy Butler issued a quick, “nope,” when asked for a response and ended his media obligation immediately after that.
Towns took a more nuanced approach.
“I mean, we almost won the game,” he said. “So you’ve got to take it as its given. You’ve got to go with the flow of the game. It’s about following the game plan. We went with the flow of the game, had ourselves a great chance to win at the end. We were up with six minutes left, so our game plans were working. We cost ourselves as players, not as coaches, late in the game not getting some stops and James (Harden) making some tough shots. You can’t control that. It’s just great defense and better offense.
“It happens sometimes like that, it doesn’t matter when it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s game one or game 82, playoffs or whatever. Sometimes the basketball gods don’t play in your favor that night. I think we did everything we could in that game to put ourselves in a position to win and that’s all you can ask for at the end of the day.”
Well, that and maybe for the focus to shift just a little bit more on the best big man on the floor.
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