Recap: Timberwolves 98, Cavs 97 (Or, Wolves eat rabbits and lazy perimeter defense)

December 26th, 2010 by John Krolik

Overview: The Cavs suffered their closest loss of the season after Michael Beasley made a game-winning layup with five seconds left in the game. The Timberwolves only shot 39% from the field, but made more than half of their 23 three-point attempts and over 90% of their 22 free throws.

The only way the final score could have been better is if the Cavs had won bullets:

- Well, the Cavs started hot. The team was in a groove early, with Mo knocking down some open three-point looks, the Cavs forcing some turnovers, and the Cavs moving the ball well and looking to get layups. Instead of just running their perimeter weave and looking for three-pointers, the Cavs were looking to get to the basket on Sunday, both with dribble-drives and backdoor action.

- Normally I’d be praising the Cavs’ decision to try and get some things going towards the basket rather than just whipping it around the perimeter and settling for threes, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t make three points about the shift in the offensive¬†philosophy:

1. The Timberwolves are freaking horrible at defense. I honestly can’t envision a team that plays worse defense than the Cavaliers have for most of this season, but according to defensive efficiency the Timberwolves have played SIGNIFICANTLY worse defense than the Cavaliers. And the Timberwolves’ only good defensive player was limited to 18 minutes of play. So any offensive success the Cavs had on Saturday should be taken with a shaker of salt.

2. Jamario Moon replaced Boobie in the starting lineup, and that had a huge impact on the spacing. To Jamario’s credit, he didn’t want to take open threes, and quickly passed whenever the Wolves threatened to close out on him. However, Minnesota was able to force him into taking five open threes, and none of them were particularly close. The three best athletes on the team (Varejao, Moon, and Hickson) have shown that they have the ability to make open outside shots and make some plays, but when they miss one or two jumpers they lose all confidence in their shot. And this team is not exactly a breeding ground for confidence right now.

3. The “let’s swing the ball around the perimeter and jack threes” offense’s saving grace is that the Cavs don’t commit turnovers — coming into the game, they were the league’s best team at holding onto the ball. When the Cavs got more aggressive on Saturday, they committed 16 turnovers, including a whole mess of turnovers in the second quarter that led to the Cavs blowing their early lead.

Honestly, the Cavs could’ve won this game if it wasn’t for lazy turnovers and lazy defense. They threw the ball away way too many times, and I can’t even tell you how many times the Timberwolves hit a three because the Cleveland defender simply neglected to close out all the way to the three-point line and contest the shot — at one point, Jamario watched a shooter make a three directly in front of him because he didn’t put his hands up. The Wolves made 12 of 23 three-pointers, and they honestly weren’t moving the ball that well; it seemed like most of their threes were open because the Cavs weren’t expecting them to take a three in that situation. Not good stuff.

Let’s talk late-game execution. It was poor on both ends. With 8 minutes left, the Cavs were up by 14. After that, they gave up a mid-range jumper, a layup, and four three-pointers, with the last two threes being off-the-dribble threes from Luke Ridnour. Instead of trying to score, the Cavs went into a run-out-the clock offense down the stretch, which led to an¬†embarrassing¬†24-second violation, then Mo threw it away, Kevin Love cleaned up Luke Ridnour’s miss on the ensuing fastbreak, and the Wolves went up 1 with 24 seconds to go.

After that, Antawn put the Cavs up one by exploiting Michael Beasley and hitting a floater over him.Then Beasley exploited Jamison by making a strong drive to his off-hand and laying it in with 5 seconds to go. With the game on the line, Jamison went to exact move he’d made 20 seconds ago, but this time Beasley was in position. Jamison threw up a sloppy shot and tried to draw a bail-out whistle, but it didn’t come. Game over.

Individual notes:

I really liked what I saw from Jamison, who drove aggressively all night, took those floaters a little closer to the basket than he normally does, and showed really good touch on all of them. Unfortunately, he forced a few 20-footers, which kept his True Shooting from going above his usual 50% range. Him and Beasley are a lot more the same than different — they can make jumpers, they’re good off the dribble, and they can get a shot off from anywhere, but they don’t really see why good shot selection is important and aren’t the best passers or defenders.

AP had a great game filling in for Boobie. He made his threes, was money from midrange, controlled the boards, and made a lot of really nice passes. I know I’ve made this point before, but you can’t be the best player in a professional basketball league without being able to do it all. Even though AP was never that athletic and has lost more than a few steps, the guy still has all the tools.

Watching Varejao and Love battle for loose balls was a pleasure. If you could combine Andy’s size and athleticism with Love’s skills, you’d have a heck of a power forward.

Sessions and JJ showed some signs tonight, although the latter made his customary mistakes. I’d really like to believe that Sessions can become a critical and effective part of this team’s rotation, but he keeps doing things like attempting to make his first three of the year when the Cavs have a two-point lead with a minute to go in the third quarter.

Hey, Jawad made some threes!

Alright, that’s all for me tonight. Until later, everyone.

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