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Jeff Teague's answer for struggling Timberwolves: 'Fight fire with fire, man'

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jeff Teague (0) attempts to score as Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul (3) and center Clint Capela (15) defend during the second quarter in game two of the first round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs earlier this week in Houston. Troy Taormina / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS—The Minnesota Timberwolves offense was one of the best units in basketball this season.

The Wolves scored 110.8 points per 100 possessions during the regular season, marking the NBA's fourth most efficient offense. The challenge for Minnesota in its first-round playoff series against top-seeded Houston was supposed to be slowing the Rockets' high-powered offense. The Wolves' points would come.

Or so everyone thought.

The Wolves, who struggled all season on the defensive end, have held Houston to 104 points and 102 points in Games 1 and 2 of this series. The Rockets were held to 104 points or less in 19 regular-season contests this season, going just 10-9 in those games.

As the best-of-seven series heads back to Minnesota for Game 3 at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 21, Houston leads 2-0 because, oddly enough, the Wolves can't score.

"It's pretty different, right? We usually score the ball so easily," Wolves point guard Jeff Teague said. "All year we talked about our defense, and our offense was clicking. We've got to figure out a way to get it going."

It was suggested to Teague on Friday, April 20, that the fact Minnesota has been so good scoring all season should make it easier to get the offense going. But Teague countered by pointing out the Wolves also have no previous experience overcoming offensive struggles.

But he has a few ideas for potential remedies. No. 1 is to get out and run. Heading into the series, slowing the game down seemed to make sense against a high-powered Rockets offense. The fewer the possessions, the better chance the Wolves figured to have to steal wins.

Instead, Houston's stellar defense has thrived in the half-court game. Teague thinks making a conscious effort to get out and run off Rockets misses and turnovers would get Minnesota's wings some easy baskets and potentially get Karl-Anthony Towns out of his funk.

"Pushing the ball up, on makes and misses," he said. "Trying to get the ball up as fast as we can. And get our wings to run along. If we do that, we can get some easy scores. And just get their defense shifted a little bit."

That Teague is suggesting a faster pace isn't a surprise. He has pushed for such a style all season, to no avail. Minnesota averaged just 98.31 possessions per game during the regular season, giving the Wolves' the league's 22nd fastest pace. In this series, that pace is even slower, averaging just 97.43 possessions.

"What we've been playing like hasn't worked," Teague said. "We lost both games, and we played a slow pace. I think we played right into their hands."

The Rockets have snuffed the Wolves' half-court offense. Houston is blitzing Jimmy Butler with two defenders to force the ball out of the All-NBA guard's hands. The Rockets have frustrated Towns by pushing him off his spots in the post and sending double teams to limit his effectiveness. In Game 1, Towns wasn't really part of the Wolves' offensive game plan. In Game 2, attempting to get Towns involved stunted any offensive flow.

In Game 2, Teague said the Wolves just eyed Towns down in the post as precious seconds drained off the shot clock. When they finally did get the all-star center the ball, Houston would send a double team. By then, Towns was forced to kick the ball out with only a few seconds left on the clock, leaving someone to throw up "some miracle shot." It wasn't pretty, or effective.

"It's not working for us," Teague said.

Moving forward, Teague said the Wolves need to "make multiple plays, and multiple efforts" within each possession. They have to swing the ball and drive into the paint. If they do that, and Towns ends up sealing a player on the interior, then Minnesota can get the ball to its center for an easy bucket.

Teague thinks Minnesota has been more focused on stopping what the Rockets can do offensively than what the Wolves can do on the offensive end. He said the Wolves have to play "our game" which is pushing the ball with the guards attacking and the bigs scoring in the paint to reestablish a rhythm.

"We have to fight fire with fire, man," Teague said. "They can score the ball, but we can, too. ... If we do what we can do, I think it will be a better game."

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