Trae Young led the Hawks with 41 points with Onyeka Okongwu adding 16 points and 14 rebounds off the bench. For the Timberwolves (playing without Karl-Anthony Towns) Anthony Edwards scored 32 points, Mike Conley added 21 points.
Affairs were proceeding smoothly by the mid-point of the first quarter, the Wolves leading 17-15 with just over six minutes played in the first quarter. Within the next three minutes the Wolves established a double-digit lead and never looked back, scoring 40 points in the first quarter before very quickly running their lead up to 20 points with 8:47 remaining in the second quarter. Though the Hawks brought the lead to 13 briefly in the fourth quarter, the hosts never threatened and the lead was a consistent 20 or so points for basically the entire way.
So, how did things go so wrong in the first half?
It was a tale of two sides: the Hawks committed a ton of first half turnovers (10) and the Wolves racked up 20 of their 24 fastbreak points in the first half and scored some very easy transition baskets.
Some of these came directly from Atlanta turnovers, which is where we’ll start.
For Minnesota’s first basket of the game, Young turns the ball over at the three-point line after dribbling the ball off his foot, and Jaden McDaniels is the beneficiary as he collects the ball ahead of the ensuing pack and scores at the rim:
Dejounte Murray racked up four first half turnovers, the first one coming here on the drive and the Wolves collect the ball and Kyle Anderson delivers a crisp bounce-pass to the streaking Edwards who finishes at the rim:
After a missed shot by De’Andre Hunter, Okongwu is unable to find a teammate with his save and the Wolves again score in transition, this time Edwards finding former Hawk Taurean Prince for a three-pointer:
In the pick-and-roll, Edwards telegraphs the direction of the ball from Murray, steals the ball and scores at the rim in transition:
The Wolves also ensured they were quick to punish any missed Atlanta shots, turning the Hawks’ misses into their gains.
Off of a missed Young shot, the Wolves come in transition and the ball ends in the hands of Edwards who finishes at the rim:
A lot of pointing around here for the Hawks trying to communicate this one out but one pass to Edwards undoes them.
When Bogdan Bogdanovic misses a three, Prince ends up with the long rebound and manages to get between both Okongwu and Saddiq Bey to set up a 2-on-1, with Prince scoring on the return from Conley:
Another missed Bogdanovic is picked up by Nickeil Alexander-Walker and taken all the way to the rim as he outpaces Bogdanovic to score at the rim:
After a wild Bey drive, the Wolves come the other way and Alexander-Walker finds Luka Garza under the basket for another two points in the paint:
This one falls on Jalen Johnson, who allows Garza to slip in behind after hesitating with Alexander-Walker and when Okongwu has to step up Garza is free.
When Johnson misses a three-pointer, the Wolves pitch the ball ahead to Prince and he makes a tough layup at the rim:
Then add to those the instances where the Hawks just made life easy for the Wolves, such as this possession where the Hawks don’t communicate and McDaniels just slips in behind for the easy dunk:
I think this falls on Clint Capela, who doesn’t need to linger near the perimeter with Rudy Gobert the opposing center and should be the one to track with McDaniels. It was just a poor job by the Hawks setting themselves up.
Another easy shot the Wolves walk into with Jordan McLaughlin as Murray lags behind just a tad on the play and McLaughlin pulls the trigger on the pull-up three:
In the first half, the Timberwolves scored 76 points on 62.5% shooting from the field, hit six threes and shot 10-of-16 from the free throw line, but their success was very much in transition/off of turnovers and in the paint, scoring 13 points off the Hawks’ 10 first half turnovers, 20 fastbreak points and 48 points in the paint:
The Hawks allowing the Wolves to shoot 76% shooting at the rim in the first half is just not good enough. It’s essentially where the game was decided, as the Hawks and Wolves largely traded baskets for the second half. I think the two sides were quite even for a decent chunk of the game...the only issue was that the Hawks were already 20 points down when this was the case.
In the end, while the Hawks conceded just four fastbreak points in the second half, they conceded a season-high 82 points in the paint in a 21 point loss — a fair reflection on the game as a whole.
Obviously the Hawks’ turnovers leading to the Timberwolves’ points in the first half was a main talking point and a key part of this game getting away from the Hawks, something Hawks head coach Quin Snyder acknowledged but, while not taking any moral victories from this blowout defeat, he also took heart from the Hawks’ improvement in the second half in figuring out a few things.
“Obviously we played poorly — probably an understatement — in the first half,” said Snyder postgame. “Turnovers early, not only live-ball turnovers end up in baskets and they’re also really deflating. I thought that really made it hard on ourselves out of the gate. They’re big and long and they were getting into the paint too. I don’t know how many points in the paint they had, it was a lot.
“As the game went on we started to figure out a few things. I don’t know what the second half score was, that’s not a moral victory in any way. I was glad that we began to play the way we can play — being more efficient offensively and on the defensive end I thought we were more aggressive where we didn’t let them punch, we got into them and made it harder in a lot of situation where they were just walking to the rim.”
The Hawks — who have been a low-turnover team for most of the year — finished with 16 turnovers leading to 23 Minnesota points, with Snyder pointing to the Wolves’ length as a key reason for the number of turnovers that perhaps wouldn’t occur against other teams.
“Defensively, they’re really long, they’re big” said Snyder of the turnovers. “Passes that may on a different night be completed, they’re going to tip those balls. That means really fundamental stuff. You’ve got to ball-fake, you’ve got to create space, you’ve got to make passes. All those things. We kind of figured that out after a while but we have to be stronger with the ball, we weren’t really, we were loose with the ball and we were punished for it. Those things too, they impacted our psyche as well, we were deflated and it showed up on the defensive end as well.”
Snyder admitted that the Hawks gave little resistance getting back and defending at the rim, which was extremely clear in the clips we’ve watched where the Wolves easily got to the rim in transition. When mentioning this, Snyder mentioned a concept called ‘unders’ that required an aggression on defense that he’s waiting to see more of from his side.
“You can’t really defend against a live-ball turnover, it’s virtually impossible,” added Snyder. “I didn’t think we were getting back and providing early resistance so that they see bodies where there aren’t lanes to the basket. We did a better job with unders. But you can’t just—unders, you have to be strong and get into your man, and if you go under it then it has to be at the point of the screen. Because you’re going under it doesn’t mean that you’re not aggressive. They’ll counter that, they’ll play pick-and-roll and you’ve got to get up into your man. It’s a sequence of defensive fundamentals that’s required in order to have success but it starts with aggression and us being more aggressive defensively and making them feel us more.”
There was no lack of aggression from Trae Young in this game, scoring 41 points on 15-of-25 shooting from the field and 10-of-10 from the line (though, Young was consistently unhappy with the lack of calls all game long). Young was only one of a few Hawks who enjoyed good games, the other being Onyeka Okongwu, who scored 16 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, nine of which were offensive.
Effectively, everyone else struggled in this game for the most part and this, Snyder believes, was no coincidence with how the Wolves set themselves up, and led to the Hawks’ shooting 4-of-22 from three.
“I’ve been through this a hundred times,” said Snyder when originally asked about the Hawks’ low assist numbers (only hitting double-digit assists with 4:06 in the third quarter). “You’re not going to have a high assist game when they literally aren’t leaving anybody. You’re going to throw the ball to the corner and they’re not open. So it become a 2-on-2 pick-and-roll game. There’s a reason O had eight offensive rebounds, there’s a reason Trae (succeeded) in the lane and DJ eventually too.
“You get cracks on them offensively and you shoot off the dribble threes and we started taking those. Guards have to keep their dribble alive, you can’t pull in one dribble and settle, but if you keep your dribble alive you can eventually get on the rim. Or, eventually they’ll pull in and you may have a kick to the corner. I don’t know what we were from three, but you have to make a shot to get an assist too, so that has something to do with it. If you’re 1-for-13 like we were at halftime, hopefully we can get four more assists.
“It’s a good question, I get it, but that’s the way you have to attack a team that plays in pick-and-roll like that. And we have some guys that can do that and they had to figure it out as the game went on. I was glad DJ really picked it up in the second half and he started making some of those plays as well.”
Young echoed Snyder’s assessment, adding that the Wolves took away the lob threat which helped Young into the many floaters he took and, by extension, limiting assist numbers.
“They did a lot of staying with our guys on the wings and trying to make it a 2-on-2 game with the guy in the pick-and-roll and the big,” added Young. “That’s why I was able to get a lot of floaters off. Rudy was playing a lot of the lobs instead of my floaters, I wasn’t able to get the lob tonight.”
In essence, the Wolves were happy for Young to go off so long as no other Hawk did...which was pretty much what happened. Hunter scored 16 points on 6-of-17 shooting but the likes of John Collins were taken out of the game (six field goal attempts) while Dejounte Murray shot 5-of-15.
The Wolves’ bench outplayed the Hawks’ bench in the decisive first half: 24-14, 10 of those points coming from just Okongwu. Bogdanovic nor Bey could find their shot last night, and AJ Griffin did not appear until garbage time (where he hit one of the Hawks’ four total threes).
The Wolves were ultimately very much worth their win, which was all done in the first half really. The Hawks played a much more even game in the second half but couldn’t bring this game below 10 to give themselves half a chance of completing a comeback. It was a poor showing on their home floor. Adjustment wise, they obviously tightened up the leaks that saw the Wolves score as easily as they did in transition but it was too late to rescue anything against a team very much in a similar boat: dealing with high expectations heading into the season, not living to those expectations and hovering at .500 trying to find a way to the playoffs.
The Hawks (34-35) are back in action on Friday when they take on the Golden State Warriors (36-33).
Should certainly be an entertaining affair.
Until next time...