Locked in a tight battle Wednesday, Feb. 17, the Minnesota Timberwolves went more than three minutes without an empty offensive possession.
Eight times Minnesota went down the court, and eight times the Timberwolves scored, racking up 19 points. And that still wasn’t enough for them to take down the Indiana Pacers at Target Center.
“We scored eight times,” veteran point guard Ricky Rubio said, “but we didn’t get the win because they scored more than eight times, I guess.”
Not quite, but point taken. The Wolves were up five in the final minute of regulation at the end of their offensive surge, but couldn’t get a stop from there, allowing the Pacers to force overtime. Minnesota, when healthy, has a wealth of offensive weapons — from Karl-Anthony Towns to Malik Beasley, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell. But that won’t add up to much if the Wolves don’t get stops.
Such has long been the story of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
It’s why Towns is focused on “setting the standard” for the organization moving forward.
“We gotta set the standard and we gotta set the culture of what the Wolves want to be. And if we wanna be what we say we wanna be, and we want to change the direction of where this organization is going, and how this season is going, there has to be a standard and a foundation set,” Towns said. “And I feel the foundation needs to be more focused on the defensive end.”
If the Wolves can get “the defense right,” Towns said, “we can be special.”
“And it takes every single person in our locker room to choose to be special. To want to be special,” he said. “And these guys want to do it. So we’re learning every day, we’re learning every day, we’re growing every day.”
The Wolves actually have played fairly well on defense over the past month. In that time, they’re 16th in the league in defensive rating, giving up 112.1 points per 100 possessions. Jaden McDaniels and Jarred Vanderbilt have established themselves as strong, versatile defenders.
But many of the Wolves’ recent strong showings have come against bad offenses.
Indiana exposed Minnesota on Wednesday, as Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis dominated the game, particularly late as Brogdon got open looks from deep as a result of defensive miscommunications.
“When you’re a veteran team, you cover that with a lot of talking,” Rubio said. “And I think we’re missing that — talking a lot on defense, because there is a lot of things that we’ve got to think, as a young team, we’ve got to know that winning time, you can’t make any mistakes. The momentum can change so much, and I think we’ve made a lot of mistakes down the stretch.”
That is to be expected when a team is playing a bunch of players who are barely of the legal drinking age, and a couple who aren’t. Towns is taking it upon himself to expedite that learning curve. He certainly has elevated his defensive play this season, and is trying to help those around him do the same.
“It starts with me. You can’t be lookin’ — ‘Well defensively he didn’t do that, he didn’t do that, he didn’t do that.’ That’s what losers do. Winners say, ‘OK, what’s the problem? Our defense is not there. Ok, what can I do to help us be a better defensive team?’ ” Towns said. “Let’s start with the person who’s talking first, and then let’s start trying to fix everyone else’s (stuff). I gotta start with myself. And defensively I have to be more engaged. I have to be showing my stance better. I have to help the guards as much as possible. During the game I always tell our guards and I tell (defensive coordinator) David Vanterpool, our coach, ‘We have to be in constant communication of what’s happening. Because if you see something, I’ve got to know, so I can help you alleviate that problem. And if I see something, I have to immediately communicate it to the person, so we know, so we’re all on the same page.’ ”