The Timberwolves, a young maturing team still a year off real contention. The Warriors, grinding toward history and looking to keep their near-perfect home record intact before welcoming stiff competition to end the year.
Golden State would welcome fantastic news: finally practicing with their full squad on Monday before featuring its complete core in uniform for the first time in weeks. There were a set of great challenges to have: who would get minutes? How would the rotation look? Would the starters finally get the rest they have been looking for? We take you through the running diary:
The starting five returned, Andrew Bogut returning after his injured ribs. He had an immediate impact with the block on Wiggins, and a great pass out of the post. His impact is often overlooked but he makes the game easier. We would learn he is not playing 100% even though he x-rays were negative, but he seems to be dealing with multiple injuries.
Harrison Barnes hit his first three threes — big for the struggling scorer. Would the in-person heartbreak of watching his Tar Heels lose to Villanova on Monday help his game? Credit two of those threes to fantastic passes by Draymond Green out of the post and off the drive and kick. With this full offense in place, Barnes can do what he does — stand at the arc and hit open shots. The Warriors would increase the early lead off Barnes' shooting and the T-Wolves' clanking. Golden State would finish the quarter going 11-for-20, shooting 55% with many of those being dunks and layups.
Andre Iguodala would get a standing ovation in his return — great to see the ankle looking healthy and back on the court to get some work in before the games start to count. He was tasked with covering 2015 NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins right off the bat, a great task to get your legs back under you.
When Minnesota learns to play defense, they will be dangerous. Karl-Anthony Towns' — assumptive Rookie of the Year — great touch from the outside opens up his game so much. Zach LaVine has talent to jump out of the gym, and a constant motor. The odd man out? Ricky Rubio, who should be flipped for a defensive shooting guard to complement LaVine with the ball. Rubio might not have a place in the current NBA given that he can't play defense and can't shoot. The Timberwolves also have no bench, which became obvious when Towns hit the bench and the ball stopped moving on their end of the floor.
The end of the quarter would end up slightly sloppy, with too many turnovers for the Warriors and a bit of forcing the offense to get the returning pieces back into place.
Score at the quarter: 28-19 Warriors
The bench mob would take over to start the second, with contributors Marreese Speights and Brandon Rush getting run in fighting for rotation minutes going into post-season. Could they make an impact with the featured Warriors returning? Barnes (18 its in the half, 7-9 shooting, 4-5 from deep) would continue his hot shooting, including this nasty outback dunk:
Bogut, who reportedly lost his lunch between quarters, returned to the court to try to help the struggling offense. Speaking of starters, Stephen Curry simply could not get a shot to fall in the first half. His saving grace? Some fantastic passes to Shawn Livingston and Green for easy dunks. Great for Curry to become the distributor when he shot was not falling. He would walk away with 10 assists at the half.
The Timberwolves would continue their poor shooting, settling for jump shots instead of attacking the basket. They would inch their way back into the game taking advantage of Warriors turnovers which lead to fast breaks and easier buckets. Shabazz Muhammad, Warriors killer, would put in his usual aggressive performance cleaning up on the offensive boards and overpowering Golden State in the post over smaller forwards. Their top scorers at the half were Towns with 11, Muhammad with 13 and Wiggins with 7.
Curry would miss shot after shot, ending the half 0-8 from the field with 2 points (both on late free throws). The team was saved by Thompson (12 pts on 5-9 shooting).
Score at the half: 55-46 Warriors
The Timberwolves would start the second half hot, taking advantage of more Warriors' turnovers to get easy baskets for Wiggins and crew. Curry would finally hit his first three, a bomb on the break over Wiggins to evoke a huge cheer from the crowd and a mocking "thank you" to the heavens from Steph.
Every time the Wolves would make a run, Golden State had an answer. Too many wide open shots given up by the Wolves on bad rotations, leading to easy threes and momentum shifts. The highlights? Consecutive putback dunks by Bogut and Green on lazy block outs during broken plays. The Warriors might handle chaos better than any team in the NBA, turning lose balls into huge advantages because of their high IQ.
Despite a Curry scoring barrage to end the quarter, the Wolves would start to get to every lose ball and find ways to put the ball in the basket on fast breaks and corner threes. It wasn't pretty, but Minnesota started to look like the team that wanted the game more where the Warriors were thinking they would go away. Muhammad would finish the quarter with 12 points to make the game closer than it should be.
Score at the quarter: 86-78
Could the Warriors' reserves create a cushion for the starters and fend off the Wolves? The answer was no.
Steve Kerr watched helplessly as the Wolves worked their way back into the game, forcing Kerr to insert his starters earlier in the quarter than expected. The team visibly struggled to work their starters back into the game, with Iguodala losing fights for lose balls and forcing bad passes. Minnesota would work its way with efficient offensive sets and taking advantage of miscues.
The Wolves would tie the game at 94 on a Muhammad three, then trade baskets in a sloppy back and forth with the Warriors, keeping the game within five. Both teams couldn't miss, but Golden State would slowly build the advantage behind the home crowd and some fantastic finishes by Steph and Klay. Down the stretch, the Warriors would continue to turn the ball over, yet Minnesota would continue to miss layups. It appeared at times like neither team really wanted to win the game, resulting in a sloppy final seven minutes.
The Wolves ended on a 8-2 run to tie it up, with the clincher being a signature Wiggins spin move to knot it up.
The Warriors would fail to get a shot off at the end of regulation after the Wolves forced Curry to pass up the final pass attempt. Klay had a shot at the rim. but passed it up in favor of Iggy in the corner.
End of Regulation: 106-106
The Warriors would start overtime with a turnover. The Wolves would start overtime getting to the line on an aggressive drive. This would seem to be the theme as this game wound down. But give credit where it's due: the Wolves played excellent defense on Curry, causing many bad shots and poor decisions. 24 total turnovers for the Warriors would be symbolic of a team still trying to perfect their game. Once Draymond fouled out with a minute to go, Towns was let free to get to the rim at will, and did with some huge baskets in the final two minutes.
Overtime was full of a few fleeting hopes as the Wolves would miss just enough free throws to keep the Warriors in it, but the final score would be dictated by missed threes missed opportunities.
Final Score: 124-117 Wolves
Big moment: Controversial reversal of the foul call
The key moment of the game was the overturned offensive foul call on Towns. Towns appeared to get an and-one call on a layup with Curry taking the change, but the call was overturned to an offensive foul call after the review. First time I've ever seen that.
- Watching Curry struggle through his shooting woes was hard to watch. He was deferring in the first half, but tried a bit too hard to get it going.
- The Warriors struggled to work featuring new lineups on the court with their returning pieces. Kerr might have been better to go with the familiar down the stretch and sit Iggy, who was pretty much ineffective all night.
- Four games to go and the Warriors will need 4 wins to reach 73, including two against the Spurs. A long shot... but not out of the question. The push returns Thursday with San Antonio coming to Oracle.