The Timberwolves Go Hard in the Paint to Defeat the Wizards | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

The Timberwolves Go Hard in the Paint to Defeat the Wizards

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Updated: March 14, 2018

Washington Wizards Head Coach Scott Brooks does not display a tremendous amount of anger in front of the media after losses. He’s usually muted and measured in his comments, typically first saying he has to do a better job coaching, then adding that his team has to do the same. In fact, he used that exact logic to explain why the Wizards played so poorly in their 129-102 loss to Miami this past Saturday night.

Brooks was not nearly as magnanimous after the Wizards’ 116-111 loss to the Timberwolves.

He didn’t raise his voice and slap the podium like the late Denny Green so famously did back in 2002, and he wasn’t dismissive and condescending with his retorts the way Gregg Popovich routinely is after bad losses. But given the brevity of his responses, and the accountability he told the media he was not seeing from his team, it was clear that Brooks was more than a bit miffed.

“We’re getting beat on backdoors, we’re getting beat off the dribble. If you do that, you can’t expect your bigs to protect you every time. You got to guard, you got to guard the ball. You can’t keep saying the same things every game. It’s been four games now, and we’ve given up over 60 points in the paint. It’s a personal pride. I got to find the guys that are going to do it.”

Brooks had every right to be upset with his team given the events that transpired leading up to the game. In the aforementioned 27-point loss to the Miami Heat, the Wizards trailed by as many as 38 points, committed 15 turnovers and allowed the Heat to score 76 points (38-of-52) in the paint.

According to Brooks, both the turnovers and the points in the paint were points of emphasis in the Wizards’ last practice—a practice Brooks characterized as “good.” Before the game, he reiterated that his team’s ability to limit both of those factors were key to a victory against the Timberwolves (and them playing well overall heading into the playoffs).

But instead of heeding their coach’s words, the Wizards let those very factors determine the outcome of the game, and not in a good way.

In fairness, the Wizards did seem to have their turnover problem under control against the Timberwolves. They committed just 11 turnovers, which was four less than they did against the Heat, and just one more than Minnesota. But with 11 seconds left in the game, when they trailed by just three points, the 6-foot-5 Bradley Beal, who had a game-high four turnovers, allowed himself to get pinned near the out-of-bounds line by 7-footer Karl-Anthony Towns.

Beal maintains that Towns pushed him, which forced Beal to throw a bad pass, but there was plenty of open real estate on the left and right side of Towns, and the Big Panda could have easily used his dribble to break free. In fact, one of the biggest improvements Beal has made to his game is his ability to get by his man using hesitation and sharp changes of direction with his dribble. He employed neither against Towns, and threw the ball away to Jeff Teague who dunked the ball emphatically to put the game out of reach.

As bad as that game-ending turnover was, it was small potatoes compared to the points the Wizards allowed in the paint: 64 of the Timberwolves’ 116 points were in the paint, they shot 68 percent while they were in there, and they were relentless from the opening quarter, where Minnesota scored 18 of their first 24 points in the lane.

Even in the second quarter, when a strong push from the Wizards’ starters and bench propelled them to an eight-point lead, the Timberwolves would get a dunk from Taj Gibson, two layups from Jeff Teague and tip-in from Gorgui Dieng to keep the Wizards from pulling away before halftime.

Yes, the Timberwolves got insanely hot from the 3-point range in the fourth quarter, thanks to Nemaja Bjelica (3-3) and Towns (2-2), but it seemed like the baskets that broke the Wizards’ collective backs came via the paint.

When the Timberwolves went on a 14-0 run in the middle of the fourth quarter to turn their seven-point deficit into a seven-point lead, eight of those 14 points came via layups and dunks. And both times the Wizards fought to get within one basket, they allowed Jamal Crawford and Jeff Teague to get in the lane for easy layups.

Ian Mahinmi had his moments against Towns, despite a single blocked shot; Marcin Gortat did an effective job at putting his body on Towns, too. Markieff Morris and Otto Porter also forced Taj Gibson to give up the ball deep in the paint on more than one occasion. But the Wizards’ perimeter players did not hold up their end of the bargain, whether defending the perimeter players or preventing them from penetrating and throwing entry passes. Markieff Morris blamed it on his teammates being “a step behind,” while Beal said the Wizards needed to be more effective in “contesting shots.” Meanwhile, Brooks just came out and said that he would “find the guys willing to do it”—the “it” being preventing entry to the paint. That could have been a knee-jerk emotional reaction after the game, or it could mean Brooks is looking to make personnel changes.

The good news is that the Wizards will be in Boston tonight, where they will face a Celtics team without Kyrie Irving, Daniel Theis, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and maybe Al Horford—all of whom are adept at scoring in the paint or maneuvering their way in there.  The bad news is that the Celtics game is still the second in two nights, and on the road after a bad loss—too soon for the Wizards to forget? And if Coach Brooks decides to shake up the rotations due to what he believes is a lack of defensive effort from his current core of players, it could very well lead to yet another disappointing loss.

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Rashad Mobley
Reporter/Writer at TAI
Rashad has been covering the NBA and the Washington Wizards since 2008—his first two years were spent at Hoops Addict before moving to Truth About It. Rashad has appeared on ESPN and college radio, SportsTalk on NewsChannel 8 in Washington D.C., and his articles have appeared on ESPN TrueHoop, USAToday.com, Complex Magazine, and the DCist. He considers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a hero and he had the pleasure of interviewing him back in 2009.