The Wolves Have A Foundation To Build On For Game 2

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

After losing Game 1 to the Dallas Mavericks 108-105, Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels sat at the podium answering questions. A reporter asks if it was difficult to adjust to playing Dallas.

“We came out flat today,” Edwards replied, “found our energy, then went back to being flat.”

McDaniels nods.

“Everything was on us,” Edwards concludes.

The Wolves went from an emotional high after their Game 7 win in Denver to a lull following the loss at home to Dallas. Minnesota was in control of Game 1 and led for most of it. However, Luka Doncic‘s star power ultimately appeared to be too much for a flat Timberwolves team to overcome. Even late, the Wolves were in a position to win after Edwards’ pull-up three caused the home crouch to erupt.

Immediately following Edwards’ three that extended the lead to four (102-98), Doncic took a dribble-handoff from Dereck Lively II, rose up, and zapped the life out of a raucous Target Center. With the Mavs trailing by one, Doncic stripped McDaniels on his drive to the rim. The ball found Kyrie Irving. He zipped it to a wide-open P.J. Washington, who knocked down the three, making it a 104-102 Mavs lead. A couple of possessions later, Doncic picked off an errant Conley pass, and the Mavericks called time out.

Doncic knocked down a stepback mid-range jumper out of the timeout to extend the lead to four at 106-102.

The Wolves and Mavericks exchanged free throws before the game ended in a three-point Timberwolves loss. Doncic laid fingerprints all over the game. He scored 15 of his game-high 35 in the fourth quarter. After Doncic took over the game late, it’s important to evaluate what the Timberwolves did well against Irving and Doncic and what adjustments they could make in the series.

Minnesota started the game exactly as expected. McDaniels embraced the difficult task of guarding Doncic, and Edwards picked up Irving. Throughout the first quarter, the Wolves had a feeling-out process that comes with a Game 1. Within minutes of the game, Dallas’ strategy became clear. They tried to wear down Minnesota’s perimeter defense by running as many screens as possible. Doncic or Irving would initiate the offense at mid-court before calling up a screen. If they didn’t get the switch on the screen, they would dance behind the screen and reset for another one.

Just as body blows fatigue a boxer, Dallas’ screens appeared to frustrate and wear down Edwards, McDaniels, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. As the Wolves got tired, the Mavericks would try to speed up the pace with deep passes after baskets. At the 5:32 mark, Doncic subbed out for his first-quarter break with four points in just over six minutes. Until this point, Minnesota’s defense was up its first-place standard as they held a 16-10 lead. However, this quickly changed. Irving and the Mavericks began to relentlessly attack Edwards off the screen plays.

Whether it was fatigue impacting Edwards or hangover from Game 7 in Denver, Irving’s attacking resulted in him scoring seven points over the next three minutes, culminating in a finger roll that would give the Mavericks a 23-21 lead with 2:24 to go in the first quarter. The Wolves scrapped back and finished the quarter on a 12-6 run. Surprisingly, Kyle Anderson led the attack, scoring seven straight points. Defensively, he held Doncic to two points after he checked in at that 2:24 timeout. Ultimately, the Timberwolves carried a 33-27 lead into the second quarter.

The second quarter began with Doncic immediately enforcing his will, hitting a pull-up to cut the lead in half. After that early blemish, Minnesota’s defense returned to their typical excellent form. They held the Mavericks to nine points over the following six minutes of play. The Wolves worked hard around screens and scrambled to return to Dallas’ All-Star guards. It also came as Minnesota made similar gambles as they did in their series win over the Denver Nuggets. That means they frequently chose to guard Irving and Doncic over less consistent shooters like Washington and Derrick Jones Jr.

Minnesota’s strategy paid off. They led lead 43-39 at the six-minute mark of the second quarter. However, in the back half of the quarter, the Wolves defense appeared to slip. Irving and Doncic combined for 11 out of 20 points scored for the Mavericks. Again, Dallas seemed to wear down and frustrate the Timberwolves with the amount of on-ball screens they ran and the physicality that they played with. The Wolves clung to a 62-59 lead going into halftime. However, the Mavericks have shown that in the back half of quarters, they were able to find success against the Wolves.

As halftime closed, the Mavericks almost immediately picked apart Minnesota’s defensive adjustment. The Wolves appeared to come out of halftime with the intention of having Gobert come out further to help on screens. That resulted in back-to-back Mavs buckets as their guards found Daniel Gafford open for alley-oops. Kyrie’s off-balance pass and a Gafford layup followed, giving him six straight points. With the score 66-65 Wolves, they appeared to scrap the idea of Gobert pressuring more on the screens and helping on drives.

The change back resulted in the game slowing down again as each team battled for good offense. Dallas’ pick-and-roll-centric offense slowed as they stagnated again, scoring only six points over the next three-and-a-half minutes. With a score of 75-71 at the six-minute mark, the Mavs offense sparked again. This time, Doncic came alive, drawing a foul on McDaniels and making both free throws before hitting a step back in response to a Gobert dunk. Kyrie hit a floater, and Dallas tied the game 77-77 only 90 seconds into the back half of the third quarter.

Minnesota lined up Anderson on Doncic in the final four-and-a-half minutes of the quarter. A combination of Alexander-Walker and Edwards guarded Irving when he was in the game. Anderson’s size appeared to bother Doncic, and he would go scoreless for the rest of the quarter. Anderson had the bulk to fight through screens, and his chemistry with Naz Reid allowed them to corral Doncic when he found space. The third quarter ended with the Wolves clinging to an 83-82 lead.

The fourth quarter started with a bang when Reid drilled a three-point shot. After a couple of Irving free throws, the Wolves responded with a McDaniels three to extend the lead to 89-84. The referees reviewed Mike Conley‘s offensive foul and upheld it, sparking the crowd into a frenzy that carried Minnesota’s defense to maintain that score until the 10:22 mark when the Mavericks took a side out. That side out marked the beginning of the Doncic takeover.

He hit a fadeaway jumper and a midrange stepback on back-to-back Mavericks possessions. After Alexander-Walker missed from beyond the arc, Doncic would strike from three, forcing the Wolves to take a timeout, down 91-89 with 9:07 to go. Towns missed from two out of the timeout, and Jones made a layup off a Doncic assist. On the next possession, Lively got a putback score off Doncic’s miss. Edwards sailed a pass out of bounds, and the Wolves returned to their starting lineup down six with 7:38 to go.

Doncic hit a couple of free throws to extend the game to eight, and the Wolves mounted a comeback. They went on a 12-1 run and took the lead (99-98) after a deep Towns three. That caused the Mavericks to call a timeout. Irving missed a three out of that timeout, and Edwards hit a pull-up three to extend the lead to 102-98.

Unfortunately, that was the last of the good vibes for the Wolves. Doncic would respond 23 seconds later by daggering a three of his own off of an offensive rebound by Lively. Edwards missed a three, and the Mavericks found Washington on the perimeter for an open three to give the Mavericks a two-point lead and cap off a 6-0 run. Doncic extended it to four, and the final 49 seconds of the game resulted in free-throw trading until the buzzer sounded at 108-105, Mavericks.

While the Wolves struggled against Dallas’ two stars, who scored 63 points, and Doncic took over in the fourth quarter, Minnesota had some bright spots defensively. At the beginning of the quarters, the Wolves hounded Dallas defensively and navigated screens well. Anderson also proved to be a valuable option against Doncic because his size appeared to throw Doncic off rhythm. Anderson finished at an even plus-minus of 0 in 17 minutes off the bench.

Game 1 was a feeling-out process for both teams, and the Wolves were able to learn a few things. Anderson proved to be a valuable player in this series, and the Mavericks clearly intend to wear down the Timberwolves with screens. Sometimes, Doncic is just going to go out and win a game.

“We’re gonna have to make adjustments,” Towns told reporters post-game. “We will have a good practice tomorrow and get back to the drawing board.”

The Timberwolves have a lot to build on, and adjustments will be needed if the Wolves hope to salvage game two Friday night. Most importantly, though, the Wolves cannot come out flat again.

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