Don’t be (April) fooled by a late game garbage time run that helped the Minnesota Timberwolves save a little face at home by cutting their deficit to 14 points (113-99); Toronto Raptors (45-30) dominated Minny on Wednesday night. Not only did they shoot 55.3% from the floor and sport seven double digit scorers, but they held a 26-point lead when Dwane Casey opted to empty the bench (the garbage time squad was outscored 15-3 from there).
In reality, the game just wasn’t in much doubt after halftime, at which point the Raps led 60-46 thanks to a 19-4 run to start the second quarter. While it wasn’t exactly a defensive clinic (Toronto allowed the Wolves to shoot 53.2%), Wednesday’s game showcased the club’s depth and ball movement, with the Raptors making 42 of their 76 shots and registering 25 assists. Five Raptors had four or more rebounds, six had two or more assists and four made two or more three-pointers.
Against an injury-riddled Timberwolves’ roster that started three rookies (Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Adreian Payne) and two waiver wire pick-ups (Justin Hamilton and Lorenzo Brown), the Raps’ seven double digit scorers collected 103 points on 38-61 (62.3%) shooting. Lou Williams and DeMar DeRozan both made more than half their shots while finishing with 18 and 17 points, respectively, but it was guys like Jonas Valanciunas (15 points on 7-9 shooting), Greivis Vasquez (14 points on 5-6 shooting, game-high +26), James Johnson (13 points on 5-7 shooting) and Tyler Hansbrough (10 points on 3-3 shooting, 11 rebounds) that provided the real efficiency.
The final end-of-season push means trudging on and dragging yourself through plenty of fatigue if you’re an NBA player. That’s why nights like Wednesday are so anxiously welcomed, where the Raps kept their foot on the gas pedal and put the game away early. Valanciunas and Amir Johnson played less than 20 minutes, Vasquez and Terrence Ross played less than 30 minutes and DeRozan had his shortest outing since a Feb. 27th blowout loss to Golden State.
Amir rounding into form
I haven’t said anything about Johnson’s performance on Wednesday, considering he wasn’t one of the aforementioned double digit scorers. Furthermore, I haven’t really said much about him all season in what is his potential walk year – not good enough to praise while not playing poorly enough to criticize. Of late, however, there are signs that he’s slowly, subtly rounding into form ahead of the postseason. His eight-point, six-assist, four-rebound performance was exactly the type of outing that makes his value to the club so immeasurable and will make his contract negotiations fascinating this off-season.
Garbage time gang
It’s hard to care about a group of third-stringers that are playing out the string of an already-decided game. More likely, as is the case with most Raptor garbage times, we emphasize the small positives (ie. any positive Bruno Caboclo moment) while ignoring any mistakes. Still, it’s pretty glaring to see how bad the club’s garbage time effort was in Minny. Greg Stiemsma missed an easy lay-up and finished with a -14 in just 4:57 of floor time, while Caboclo and Landry Fields were both -12 in 3:33. At least Bruno put two points on the board, his first score since his celebrated NBA debut back in November.
Casey earned his 150th win as head coach of the Raptors, good for the second-highest wins mark in franchise history among head coaches. He currently sits six wins behind Sam Mitchell for the No. 1 spot, a total he isn’t likely to match this season (the team would have to go 6-1 the rest of the way) but a milestone he should reach early next year.
Have the Timberwolves stumbled into one of the league’s best rebuilding situations? Kevin Love’s unhappiness and ugly divorce linked up with the perfect storm around LeBron James’ return in Cleveland to enable the Love/Wiggins deal that has made Minnesota the envy of other NBA bottom feeders. With their new face of the franchise about to win Rookie of the Year honours and still learning how to play alongside LaVine, Minnesota can now focus on bolstering their front court through the draft, where they could be in position to land Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor.
It’s time for the Raps to take a foray into the race for the No. 8 spot in the East, getting set for a road back-to-back in Brooklyn on Friday against the currently eighth-seeded Nets (7:30pm, TSN2) and on Saturday against the Celtics, who are half a game back.
Prediction: Nets 107, Raps 103 (record this season: 49-20)