After a long monologue on the Brooklyn Nets situation, Ryen Russillo turned his attention to the Minnesota Timberwolves on his latest podcast. He started his “tales from the couch” segment with Minnesota’s game against the Phoenix Suns last night.
We’ll start in Phoenix. No DeAndre Ayton, 84-73 heading into the fourth quarter. Minnesota is, going into last night’s fourth quarter, plus-7 in fourth-quarter point differential. That’s No. 1 in the NBA. They’ve won every fourth quarter they’ve had this season, and they did so last night.
But not enough. Phoenix started the fourth all-bench squad. Jock [Landale], Cameron Payne, Torrey Craig, who I actually still kinda like, [Landry] Shamet, Damion Lee. And then, for Minnesota, they had a little bit more of a combination. 18-point lead to a two-point lead, 87-85 Suns.
Worth noting here? For all of Minnesota’s third-quarter struggles, they’ve taken care of business in the fourth. But the Phoenix game is a good example of why that’s not enough. In the next two paragraphs, Russillo goes in-depth on the gameplay in the fourth here. If you vividly remember the game, feel free to skip ahead. But it’s worth looking at what he highlights here.
And then, guess what? All the starters came back in about eight minutes or so, I think. Towns, I think they tried to split up Gobert and Towns a little bit. None of it really mattered. Gobert sat for like two-plus minutes, it was very brief, 6:20, came back around with four minutes left. And then it turned into a Chris Paul takeover, so it was a nice little night in the Russillo casa, getting to watch that again.
Before Gobert was taken out, Chris Paul went at him. Drop coverage, Gobert went too deep, and Chris Paul likes going at Gobert. But you know who he likes going at even more? Karl-Anthony Towns. So he hits that midrange against him, Paul hadn’t really been scoring much at all, but he hadn’t been turning the basketball over until he finally got called for one late, he got called for a technical. But that’s just his feistiness, raw. DMX-style.
Russillo loves Paul. Once said he’d be proud to call him his son (dead serious). We get it. But Paul was great last night.
Alright, so then Paul drives on Karl-Anthony Towns, Towns backpedals like he’s 100 years old on the play. And then, as he skips the pass over to the corner for a three, a Cam Johnson three, he ducks. Towns is also like scared by the pass. It was just a bad play.
And, again, it goes back to this one scout that I’ll never forget when Towns was coming out, I said, ‘He moves pretty well.’ And he goes, ‘Yep, in a straight line. He can run. Because he’s not an athlete.’ And that’s his biggest issue, he’s actually not a super-athletic guy like some of these other big guys that we see that have these perimeter skills.
I’ve never heard this anecdote before, but it’s an interesting observation from the scout. KAT is a modern big and a great shooter, but he is getting exposed defensively almost nightly. Players like Paul especially know how to exploit his weaknesses.
And then it took into a constant ‘take advantage of Karl-Anthony Towns’ night. Like Bridges went right past him. 18-6 run with the starters in for Phoenix. They just kept going at him. And they used Cam Johnson to screen Chris Paul’s defender, get Paul to switch onto Towns. And even with Gobert behind Towns, it just didn’t matter, because Towns was always gonna lose at the point of attack.
Once the game was kinda over, they switched it again, and Towns, for whatever reason, decided to pick up Paul at half-court and started to pressure him. In this stretch, too, he took a step-back three that was really kinda forced [with] 15-14 seconds left on the shot clock. So there you go.
What does this mean? Is all hope lost for the Timberwolves? They emerged from the easy part of their schedule 4-3. Now things get real.
Minnesota’s 24th in offense as of this morning, and they’re eighth in D. Minnesota still has the best fourth-quarter offensive efficiency. I think they’ll figure some things out. I guess I just don’t like that they don’t have a true hierarchy offensively, and at times defensively, they will be exposed because of some of the other guards that will go at them.
Again, it’s gonna happen, whether Towns and Gobert are out there, or Towns is getting switched that many times. It was fairly obvious what they’re trying to do.
The hierarchy is going to be critical for the Timberwolves. Anthony Edwards is still too inconsistent to be considered the runaway No. 1, but he has to be for the Wolves to have playoff success. Until then, Minnesota’s offense will probably scuffle along, and teams will take advantage of Towns’ deficiencies on defense. Phoenix was a wakeup call — not just for Towns, but for the entire team.