No Sweat: Thoughts on the Wolves Win Over the Heat

Jeffrey Becker / USA TODAY Sports

I wonder what it feels like to lose to the Miami Heat. Somehow, of all teams, the Wolves have not lost to Miami since 2017. Even more fun is the fact that the Wolves have won the last 2 head to head matchups with Jimmy Butler while he has had vastly superior teams (and not 3rd stringers), and Karl-Anthony Towns got his 1st win over Butler in games where they both played since JB left town a couple of years ago. All of these side stories do not really matter in the long run, but they certainly made a rousing 119–111 victory over Miami more enjoyable, and some of the performances in the game may mean something for the future of the Wolves. Here are 5 thoughts on a big Wolves win:

 

 

In a game with so many positives, let’s get the recurring negative out of the way. This team still cannot figure out transition defense. The way the Wolves players run back after a missed shot or turnover without matching up with anyone is absurd. Opponents know this and are feasting off of corner 3’s in transition. The most egregious example was at the end of the 3rd quarter the Wolves missed a shot with around 6–7 seconds left in the quarter. It should be pretty simple, sprint back and match up with anyone because you only have to defend for a few seconds. Well, no one stopped the ball so Jimmy Butler was able to freely dribble all the way down below the 3pt. line before someone got in his way where he kicked it out to a wide open Goran Dragic for an easy 3 from the corner as time expired. Several Wolves players were standing in the lane without guarding anyone. It is the most maddening thing about watching the Wolves right now. Their half court defense is actually not too bad under Chris Finch! When they are able to set up and find their matchups the Wolves are able to make life difficult on opposing offenses for a little while, and they certainly did against the Heat. Heading into next season, transition defense needs to be a teaching point. Get back quickly, find a man, and get set up. Rant over.

 

A TEAM effort? It certainly was! Karl-Anthony Towns said as much after the game. Instead of a Wolves win stemming from a dominant performance from one of their heavy hitters, the Wolves received contributions from all over their rotation including Jarred Vanderbilt, Juancho Hernangomez, and Naz Reid. Of course the engine of the team, Karl-Anthony Towns, was his usual awesome self recording 24 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists in only 26 minutes, but with D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards only combining for 23 points the Wolves needed others to step up. As has become the norm lately, the head coach put his bench players in positions to succeed, and they took advantage. With Vanderbilt back playing his correct position (PF) he was able to wreak havoc on the interior offensively and defensively. He is a great fit off the bench provided he is playing alongside Naz Reid. Vando brings the right level of chaos to pair well will Reid’s finesse. Those two big men were huge late in the game grabbing offensive rebounds (9 combined in the game), getting buckets inside, and generally making life miserable for any Heat players who wanted to get to the rim on offense. Juancho chipped in 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists off the bench as well, and played more of a small forward role for much of the game. That may be a position that suits his game a bit better in the right matchups. Overall it was great to see the Wolves win without heroic performances from their stars. It makes some of these surprise wins feel a bit more sustainable.

 

 

The Heat are a bad matchup for the Wolves rookies. And that is perfectly fine! Miami plays a cerebral yet bruising style of basketball. Right now, a player like Jaden McDaniels impresses with his length and smooth athleticism. The Heat, and Jimmy Butler in particular, know exactly how to combat a player like that. McDaniels ended up in foul trouble immediately and never quite caught a rhythm from the jump. Once again, that is just fine. Jimmy Butler does that to a lot of players in the NBA. As Jaden gets more reps defending bigger wings like Butler, he will learn what they want to do and be able to better defend them. As for Ant, the Heat are built incredibly well to defend players like him. They have strong and switchable isolation defenders like Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Trevor Ariza and they collapse hard on any players who drive into the paint. Miami wants players like Ant to shoot pull up 3pt. shots, and early in the game Ant was doing just that. He adjusted to a more patient approach in the 2nd half, and ended with a modest 12 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assist night. The box score does not stand out, but he transferred that energy to playing better defense and moving the ball on offense. He was also a +19 in the game and only had 1 of the Wolves 17 turnovers. Ant did have one huge play in the 4th quarter where he drove off of a Towns screen and scored over Adebayo to make it a 10 point lead for the Wolves. I grabbed two screenshots from that play to exemplify the young Wolf’s strength in finishing through one of the toughest rim protectors in the league.

 

 

Notice where Ant and Adebayo meet, on the right side of the lane with Bam going straight up to contest Ant’s shot. Now in the 2nd screen shot, look where Bam ends up as the ball goes through the net. Ant is going to be special.

 

 

 

Wolves fans have a complicated relationship with Jimmy Butler. For me personally, if I turn on a Heat game with Butler playing I generally like seeing him succeed on a basketball court. We know his story, and we know he has worked hard for everything he has gotten in the NBA (although the 2am “practices” seem a little crazy). It was amazing watching him lead the Heat through the playoffs and into the finals, and going toe to toe with LeBron and the Lakers. But anytime he plays against the Wolves, Jimmy is going to get plenty of shade thrown his way, as would any player that demands a trade away from your favorite team. I do not really blame Jimmy for wanting a trade. He didn’t sign here, he was dealt here without a choice. By all accounts he likely gave Thibs plenty of private notice ahead of time that he wanted out. Mostly I blame Thibs for letting it fester and not getting a single future 1st round pick in return for dealing him. Sure, Jimmy’s “3rd stringers” practice and subsequent staged interview with Rachel Nichols IMMEDIATELY after was ridiculous, so that is why Wolves fans reserve the right to dislike the guy. Personally, I’m a fan of his most nights, but definitely not when he flops 94 feet away from the basket from a soft touch by Jarred Vanderbilt.

 

 

Chris Finch keeps working his magic. First of all, check out this awesome parody by @Wolvescast and @Jakesgraphs on Twitter. Amazing. In the Wolves wins, a common theme is the right levers being pulled by the head coach. Against Miami, it was the insertion of Jarred Vanderbilt to play power forward next to Naz that turned the game around. He also continues to impress by riding with the hot hand for his closing lineups. Wolves fans like myself are starting to feel something resembling confidence when Minnesota enters crunch time late in a game. Early in the season, the late game offense was broken. It was almost amazing to watch the shear lack of ability to get a good shot, and commonly ended up with D’Angelo Russell hoisting shots in isolation. Obviously it helps to have Karl-Anthony Towns back, but Chris Finch has the offense doing much more than maintaining the status quo in the 4th quarter. In their last 5 wins, the Wolves offense has scored 31, 32, 34, 30, and 31 points in the 4th quarter. Mind you, this is typically when defenses are locking in and trying to make life difficult on the offense. Along with the wins, in their last 3 close losses (excluding the Nets & Bucks games where the 4th Q was garbage time) they have scored 30 against the vaunted Sixers D, 43 against Indiana, and 27 against Boston in the 4th. If the eye test did not make you think the 4th quarter offense is better, those numbers should stand out against some of the dismal performances we saw earlier this season. For reference the Wolves scored 19 points in the 4th quarter of their heartbreaking loss against Orlando. Chris Finch is an awesome coach, and I feel lucky to have him here.

 

 

-Jerry W.

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