MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Minnesota Timberwolves fans weren’t quite sure how to feel after Sunday night’s Game 1 loss to Houston in the NBA Playoffs.
On the one hand, the Timberwolves took the No. 1 seed Rockets to the final possession of the game. Even had a chance to send it to overtime with a made 3-pointer. On the other hand, two of Minnesota’s best players barely got the ball and were quiet when they were needed most.
On TNT’s postgame show, hall-of-famer Charles Barkley, an analyst for the network, was highly critical of the Timberwolves in what ended up being a winnable game. It was an opportunity you couldn’t pass up when the stakes were already highly stacked against the Timberwolves.
“Let me just say this one thing about the Timberwolves – They’ve got to be one of the dumbest teams I’ve ever seen in my life. The Houston Rockets switch every pick-and-roll. There’s mismatches all over the floor. They never take advantage of any mismatches.”
Here are four takeaways from Sunday’s loss.
Zero Points Off Turnovers
The Houston Rockets committed 10 turnovers in the game, including leading to the Timberwolves’ last shot. Minnesota didn’t capitalize on any of them, collection zero points off any of those turnovers. Chris Paul inexplicably threw a pass out of bounds to give the Timberwolves their final shot. Jimmy Butler got the ball, but even had his shot gone in, his foot would’ve been on the 3-point line and the Timberwolves were trailing 104-101.
The Timberwolves didn’t take advantage of the chances they were given. It’s something they have to do if they have any chance to scare the Rockets.
A Karl-Anthony Towns No-Show?
One thing the Timberwolves and their fans certainly weren’t prepare for was their best player being a virtual no-show. It was the team’s first playoff game in 14 years, and Karl-Anthony Towns finished with eight points and 12 rebounds in 30 minutes. What’s more concerning? He went 3-of-9 from the field. He got nine shots in 40 minutes, including two missed 3-pointers. He’s one of the more dominating power forwards in the game, and he struggled against physical defenders in Clint Capela and Nene. Towns needs to get more shots, whether he goes and gets his own shot or has a play drawn for him.
Similarly, Jimmy Butler finished with 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting. Butler had a tough task of guarding James Harden, arguably the best player in the NBA. But he’s got to be more aggressive on offense. When your two best players combine to shot 7-of-20 from the field, that’s not good enough to win. Especially when the Rockets, other than Harden, were shooting a combined 3-of-25 from three-point range. That won’t happen again. The Timberwolves let a golden opportunity slip away.
Derrick Rose, Jamal Crawford Extended Minutes
Another puzzling statistic from Sunday’s loss: Minutes played for both Derrick Rose and Jamal Crawford. Rose, whose best days are behind him, played 23 minute and took 14 shots. Fourteen shots. Crawford played 26 minutes and scored 15 points on 11 shots. His shot selection often leaves a lot to be desired in contested 3-pointers or long two-point shots. He’s also a liability on defense. They both played more than they should have with Jeff Teague in some foul trouble, but Rose took the second-most shots Sunday night. He was a nice spark off the bench, but that can’t happen if you have any chance to beat Houston.
Defending The Rockets
James Harden torched the Timberwolves for 44 points, shooting 15-of-26 from the field and making 7-of-12 from three-point range. Every time the Timberwolves made it close or even took the lead, Harden made a big shot or created one for a teammate. Butler had a tough night against Harden, but that happens to everyone in the NBA. So do you try to slow him down, or let him get his shots and limit the supporting cast?
There isn’t an easy answer there, but the Timberwolves have to at least attempt to run him off the perimeter. Harden got whatever shot he wanted Sunday night. And he made every big one, that’s what great players do. Towns and Butler had no answer on the other end for what was taking place.
The unfortunate reality is that the Timberwolves probably gave Houston their best punch Sunday night, and it wasn’t enough to win. They need their best players to step up if they have any chance to win a game, much less the series. This is also why fans need to celebrate that the Timberwolves are in the playoffs, because that celebration is likely short-lived.