Just 21 days after pulling out a victory against the Miami Heat, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ lack of composure and bench play led to a loss on Friday night.
Every time they play Jimmy Butler, from now until he retires, it will be must-see TV. The hostility was on full display between the five-time All-Star and the Wolves. Minnesota received five technical fouls during the game, which is uncharacteristic for the young squad. Whether it was the refs’ call-making or Jimmy chirping at Karl-Anthony Towns, one way or another, there’s always going to be some drama when the Wolves face Butler.
“They’re grown men. They were just having a regular conversation if you ask me,” Anthony Edwards said of KAT and Butler’s exchange. “You all come to see us compete. It’s no competition if we’re not talking shit to one another. They were having a regular conversation.”
Although the rookie has every right to that opinion, Towns isn’t typically called “a loser” and “soft as baby shit” on a regular game basis. Butler knows what buttons to push on his former teammate, and he mashed those buttons on Friday night.
It also didn’t help that Minnesota’s current best playmaker, D’Angelo Russell, got ejected for complaining to the refs about some very questionable officiating. KAT and DLo play with emotion and, with time, will be better at bottling their excitement. Situational awareness is fundamental in sports, and Russell getting his second tech in the third quarter of a tightly contested ball game hurt Minnesota.
“It was very frustrating out there for everybody, certainly in the white uniforms,” Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch said postgame. “We tried to play through it the best that we could. We lost our cool a little bit but understandably so. I think that they had every right to be upset. I certainly was upset. And then the barrage effect may have been a quick trigger, but it is what it is.”
The whistles not going in Minnesota’s favor, which caused multiple technicals and the ejection of DLo, ended up exposing a glaring weakness on the Wolves — their bench play.
In their April matchup, the Minnesota bench outscored the Heat 52-25 thanks to big games from Juancho Hernangómez and Naz Reid. Fast forward to Friday night, Miami’s second-unit outscored the Wolves 57-19. Tyler Herro couldn’t miss.
If that doesn’t tell the story of the game, I’m not sure what does.
The Wolves have flip-flopped their starting rotation throughout the season due to injuries because they were trying to find some chemistry with the starting unit. Lately, Russell has been coming off the bench to provide some firepower for the second unit. However, the bench has struggled to offer punch or momentum in games like last night’s, where Finch elected to start Russell.
With only five games left in the season, I’m not sure the coaching staff will do that much more tinkering with the starting unit. But Minnesota desperately needs to find some players to come off the bench to provide a spark.
Jarred Vanderbilt has worked himself from the bench into the starting lineup with his hustle and efficiency. A rebounding machine, the “Vandy Man” pulled in 11 boards, five steals, and two blocks in the loss to the Heat. The 22-year-old forward could provide the Wolves with a nice boost off the bench next season.
“You guys see it. I feel like we’ve got something really special here,” Edwards said. “It’s not just us three, we’ve got a whole team, all 15 of us, everybody is very needed on the floor night in and night out. It’s not just us three. We probably carry the load, but everybody else does the dirty work, and we’re just here to help.”
When looking at the top bench-scoring teams in the league, it’s clear that you need some playmakers in your second unit to help out when the starters are off or out due to injury. The Los Angeles Lakers have Montrezl Harrell and Kyle Kuzma. The Utah Jazz have Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles. And the Los Angeles Clippers have two savvy scorers on their second unit, Marcus Morris and Luke Kennard.
Fun fact: All three of the teams listed above are damn good. Minnesota has a long way to go, but consistency from the role players is imperative if they want to see their second winning season in the past 18 years.