Timberwolves

The Wolves Must Revitalize KAT To Win Game 5

Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Karl-Anthony Towns held himself accountable for his 5 of 18 night in Game 4. “Things weren’t falling today,” Towns told reporters after the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Denver Nuggets 115-107, “so I take full responsibility for that.”

After sweeping the Phoenix Suns in the first round, the Wolves went up 2-0 against the Nuggets on the road to open the second round. However, the Timberwolves dropped their first playoff contest in Game 3 on Friday 117-90. They needed to respond after receiving their first counterpunch in the postseason. The Wolves needed a total team effort, but that never materialized.

“I know I put the work in,” Towns explained after Game 4. “I feel good about the work I put in, and it’s shown a lot in this year’s playoffs. Obviously, it’s unfortunate on Mother’s Day, I had a shooting performance like that, but it’s the way they game goes. It’s not a fun game sometimes, but it definitely has a great reward. So I am excited to go back out there in two days and find ourselves hopefully on the right side.”

The Timberwolves lost by eight points in Game 4. It wasn’t the complete dismantling we saw in Game 3, but the loss still forced many fans to leave their expensive seats and head for the Target Center exits early. Anthony Edwards recorded his fourth career playoff game with 40 or more points, and Naz Reid scored 11 points on 5 of 6 from the floor. The rest of the team went a combined 18 of 51 (35.3%) from the floor, though. Towns had the worst shooting night amongst his colleagues, going 5 of 18 (27.8%) from the floor in 38 minutes.

However, that isn’t how the series started for KAT. He looked like a revitalized version of himself through the first two games. As the Wolves head back to Denver with their season hanging in the balance, Towns’ success will be pivotal for his team to advance to the Western Conference Finals and knock off the defending champions.

The former Kentucky Wildcat scored 20 points in Game 1 against the Nuggets; he scored 27 in Game 2. Towns was a consistent scoring presence from the opening jump ball to the final buzzer. He also had 28 points in the close-out Game 4 against the Phoenix Suns. KAT had three straight games of 20 or more points for the first time in his playoff career. However, his efficiency during that stretch was even more impressive and contributed more to his team’s total domination.

Between April 28 (Game 4 vs. Phoenix) and May 9 (Game 2 vs. Denver), Towns was one of the league’s most efficient, high-volume scorers. Below are his shooting splits and the corresponding league-wide rank, courtesy of StatHead.

  • 64.4% FG (1st with a minimum of 30 FG attempts)
  • 66.7% 2P (1st with a minimum of 30 FG attempts)
  • 60% 3P (2nd with a minimum of 10 3P attempts)
  • 72.7% FT (1st with a minimum of 10 FT attempts)

Sure, Towns was connecting on open shots during that stretch. But the plays Minnesota’s coaching staff involved him in were the driving factor in setting him up for success.

In the example above, Edwards and Rudy Gobert engage in a pick-and-roll from the left-side wing with Towns spaced from the right-side wing. Once Gobert receives the entry pass, he takes a gather dribble, makes a good read, and kicks it back to KAT. Towns has just enough space to fire up a high-percentage triple. With the defensive attention Ant receives in PnR sets, spacing Karl one pass away is incredibly valuable to keep the defense as honest as can be.

The Wolves used KAT most productively out of the corners, particularly in Game 2, which isn’t where they typically place him on the court.

 

When the Wolves spot Towns up from the corners, it decongests the middle of the floor and gives Gobert or Naz Reid more room to operate in screening situations. It also puts the opposing defense in a tremendous bind. KAT will burn them from deep if they fall asleep on rotations and leave him open. Even if the defender is applying pressure, chances are that Towns will be able to blow by them for a finish at the rim along the baseline.

The Wolves had a successful recipe for KAT in Denver. However, they didn’t prioritize giving him the same touches in Game 3.

Towns logged the second-most minutes on the Wolves in Game 3, with 33 minutes of action. However, he finished with 14 points on 4 of 7 from the floor and 4 of 5 from deep. Twelve of those points came in the first half, where KAT went 4 of 4 from three-point range. He was Minnesota’s only source of offense from deep in the first half but attempted only one shot through the third and fourth quarters.

The Timberwolves needed another source of offense, but they didn’t prioritize it. Surprisingly, on the first possession of the second half in Game 3, Minnesota’s coaching staff drew up a gem of a play that featured many productive scoring possibilities and KAT operating from the corner. But that didn’t indicate what would come for the rest of the game.

The play above opens with a traditional horn set featuring the 4 and 5 near the elbows or three-point line, forming the appearance of horns. Towns sets a screen and forces Aaron Gordon to switch onto Mike Conley. Then Gobert runs to the weak side corner to screen for Edwards. Jamal Murray made an excellent read, helping off the screen and removing what would have been a wide-open triple for Ant. While that is happening, KAT fans out to the strongside corner. McDaniels seals Michael Porter Jr. and rolls to the rim for an open slam.

Towns didn’t receive enough productive touches in Game 3, particularly from the corners. Instead of trying to tap back into the plays from outside, which granted the Wolves so much success through the first two games, they force-fed the ball into KAT down low too frequently.

“I think he rushed a lot of things,” Finch responded when asked what contributed to Karl’s poor shooting splits in Game 4. “The physicality got him off his spots a little bit, and he rushed it.”

In Game 4, six of KAT’s 18 attempts came in post-up situations. He connected on two of those low-post looks. Historically, post-ups are not great looks for Towns. Opposing defenses know that he has issues operating out of double teams. Therefore, they frequently send two or even three to the ball when Karl turns his back to the basket in an empty corner of the floor.

Even though his passing out of double teams has improved, there is only so much Towns can do when players like Gordon, Porter Jr., or Christian Braun are being ultra-physical with him down low. Instead of posting KAT up, which has negatively impacted the Wolves, they need to run more horn sets, PnPs, and actions out of the corners to get the most out of KAT and allow him to return to the form we saw early in the second round.

If the Timberwolves do that, they will be in a much better position to win Game 5. Then, they can return home with some momentum and advance to the Western Conference Finals in front of their hometown fans.

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