CHARLOTTE, NC – Miles Bridges catches the ball on the left wing from a pinpoint Terry Rozier pass right into his shooting pocket. Bridges settles and pulls up from 27-feet to drill a three on the game’s first possession not even 17 seconds into the game. The Hornets went on to start the game hot by continuing onto a 19-4 run led by six points and five assists from Terry Rozier. They were playing at the desired pace James Borrego instills in this team to get them playing at their best.
Without Cody Zeller, Bismack Biyombo got the start in the middle and was tasked with the job of attempting to neutralize the elite, versatile big man in Minnesota’s Karl Anthony-Towns. Bis retained KAT well through the game’s first six minutes, forcing him to only get perimeter touches and not allowing him to get to his spots on the three-point line and around the paint. Miles Bridges brought good energy early on the defensive end, rejecting an Andrew Wiggins layup and drawing a charge on Towns a few minutes later.
Initially, it seemed Charlotte carried over their success on both ends of the floor from Wednesday night’s win over Chicago – playing at a fast pace with the ball being whipped around at a high rate and playing physical team defense. Biyombo checked out of the game with 5:43 left in the first quarter, holding KAT to just 2-5 shooting. Marvin Williams replaced the native of Congo, and Towns immediately took advantage of the mismatch, drawing two early fouls on Williams, physically imposing his will on the smaller Hornets forward. The Timberwolves’ big man finished the last five minutes of the quarter shooting 3-4 from the field, willing his team back in the game, leading them on a 24-11 run to close out the period.
The Hornets ended the first quarter leading 32-30, shooting 13-20 from the field as a team. Despite shooting 65 percent from the field in the period, eight turnovers in the game’s first 12 minutes allowed Minnesota to come back from a 15 point deficit.
Rozier’s three early fouls throw the Hornets out of rhythm
Postgame, James Borrego explained two key factors that let the Timberwolves get back into the game and get a lead in the second quarter. “Turnovers, that really allowed for them to get back into the game and foul trouble,” Borrego said. “I thought Terry had good rhythm, he was playing well, and he picked up three early fouls that really hurt us in the second quarter.”
Terry Rozier committed his third foul of the game with just 35 seconds left in the first quarter, causing him to sit out the entire second quarter. Being the point guard of this team, Rozier controls the pace and rhythm of the game with his play. He pushes the ball up the floor off misses, pushes the tempo, and gets the Hornets at the speed where they play their best basketball.
Devonte’ Graham and Miles Bridges carried the load offensively while Rozier sat. Graham continued his hot shooting from downtown, finishing the first half leading the team with 15 points including making all four of his three-point attempts. His confidence continued to show as Towns got switched onto Graham on one possession. He waved off his offense to get a one-on-one against KAT and drilled a three in his face from the left-wing. Outside of Graham, however, no one could provide much offense in the absence of Terry Rozier. Without their quarterback manning the offense, the Hornets struggled and allowed for the Timberwolves to take a 58-56 halftime lead.
Minnesota’s hefty 3rd quarter run seals the game
After missing the entire second quarter, Terry started the 3rd quarter right where he left off in the first, dishing the ball to P.J. Washington on a pick-and-roll for a slam, and then two possessions later, he drew Towns and Teague so he could give Bismack a baseline skip pass for a dunk.
Minnesota led 75-72, and that was the smallest deficit they saw the rest of the game. A Karl Anthony-Towns led Timberwolves continued to go on a 26-4 run in about six minutes of game time starting with 7:37 left in the third. They never looked back.
The T-Wolves started the second half shooting 13-16 from the field, led by Towns pouring on 17 in the quarter on a seamless 5-5 shooting, including two made threes. He kept getting mismatches by Hornets guards being switched onto him, and he would take advantage by making an easy bucket or drawing a foul. The Hornets did not plan to get KAT on switches, Borrego said their game plan was to fight through pick-and-rolls. They tried throwing double teams at Towns, which he also took advantage of as Miles Bridges explained postgame. “He was finding people off the double team, and that is something he really improved on because last year he was turning the ball over a lot (on double-teams).” Towns found open teammates off double-teams en route to his eight assists on the night.
Terry Rozier also talked about Towns’ ability to create offense despite being doubled, saying “We tried to front him and double team him on the backside and he made a lot of reads on the cuts,” adding, “We had a plan to trap and front and it just didn’t work out. Sometimes guards got switched onto him we just got to guard that better as a team and we didn’t do that.”
Minnesota ended the quarter outscoring the Hornets 45-25 – the Hornets’ second straight game allowing a 40-point third quarter. They led 103-81, shooting 16-22, forcing the Hornets to get out of their offensive flow by playing at a slower pace due to their successful shooting.
The Hornets attempted to make a comeback to start the fourth but essentially failed, throwing out the Martin Brothers, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Jalen McDaniels to close out the remaining five minutes of the game. Minnesota continued on with their lead throughout the final period, winning the game comfortably, 121-99, led by Karl Anthony Towns’ 37 points, 15 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals, and 2 blocked shots.
Minnesota’s shooting success destroyed the Hornets’ pace
In order to control the pace of the game offensively, you need to get stops on defense. The Hornets could not do that during that Timberwolves’ third-quarter run, and it resulted in the team resorting to their half-court offense – their Achilles heel.
“Our main thing is to play with pace, and when you’re not getting stops and you have to keep taking the ball out of the net, it takes away from us getting out in transition,” Devonte’ Graham explained postgame when discussing the T-Wolves’ third-quarter run. “One of our best attributes – being a young team – is we run, so it’s hard to do that when you don’t get stops.”
During the third quarter, the team took plenty of low-percentage mid-range and contested three-point jump shots along with isolation drives to the basket being met at the basket by multiple defenders. The team shot 9-20 in the third quarter en route to a 20 point swing in Minnesota’s favor.
Borrego echoed the same sentiments as Graham explains, “When we were getting stops in the first half, we were doing fairly well offensively. Playing with great pace, moved the ball up the floor well… When they started making shots in the third, we lost our rhythm and our pace offensively. We can’t just come down and walk it up the floor and expect to get good shots offensively.”
Once the Hornets get slowed down into half-court sets, they struggle. Ball movement stalls, and players look somewhat lost on the floor, causing turnovers to ramp up. This young team plays at their best when they are going fast but need to improve on their half-court offense because they won’t be able to play superb defense and control the pace on a nightly basis. The Hornets’ best offense is their defense – being able to get stops, get out in transition, push the ball up the floor, and move the ball side to side.
Borrego fully acknowledged the team’s inability to create offense in the half-court. “Obviously we have to get better in the half-court because teams are going to make shots, and we got to get into the half-court and execute much better and get better shots – I didn’t like our shot selection tonight.
“The NBA is a long game – it’s a 48-minute game and one quarter can cost you, and the third quarter cost us.”