MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves appear to have the Clippers number. But what exactly is that number?
In January, even without Chris Paul, Los Angeles outperformed Minnesota in practically every statistical category, yet 18 turnovers were their undoing. Their second matchup two weeks ago was another the Clippers seemed to have in hand until Derrick Williams and Michael Beasley put on an unprecedented shooting display, combining for 54 points and just five misses. On Monday night, the Wolves escaped with a 95-94 victory after Paul missed the third of three free throws that would've tied the score in the final seconds.
Despite the loss, the Clippers are still clinging to the West's third-best record. However they're perplexed by their struggles with a Minnesota team that wouldn't even make the playoffs if they began tomorrow.
Kenyon Martin did his best to explain postgame.
"It's a team thing," Martin said. "I've been around this league for a long time and I've seen it. Sometimes a team gets hot and sometimes they just have your number. Seems like it's that kind of situation."
Known for their fast pace and quick triggers from deep, the Wolves earned themselves a reputation as marksmen last season, converting 37 percent of their 3-point attempts, the league’s fifth-best percentage. This season however, Minnesota’s 3-point attempts per game has risen and their success rate has taken a nose dive. They’re currently making only 32 percent of their attempts, 21st in the league.
Regardless, 3-point shooting has certainly played a role in this lopsided series, as Minnesota has shot exceptionally well from deep in every game except the first, in which Kevin Love’s buzzer-beating three was still the difference. On Monday, the Wolves finished 11-for-28 from beyond the arc, led by Love who made 5-of-10 threes, en route to 39 points and 17 rebounds.
Paul definitely took notice.
"It always seems like they kill us from the 3-point line," he said. "They have shooting bigs and guarding the 3-point line has been tough for us all season long, but this team here, they get into the paint and they score on us. We've gotta figure out a way to manage it. Luckily this ain't the playoffs or we'd be in trouble right now."
Minnesota boasts three players 6 feet 9 or taller who can shoot from the perimeter in Love, Beasley and Williams. On Monday they combined for nine of the team’s 11 threes.
The Clippers imposing front court of DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and Martin has held a clear advantage in the paint, where they’ve out rebounded Minnesota, the league’s third-best rebounding team in all three contests. However when those big men are forced out to the perimeter to defend, Minnesota thrives.
Williams is one of Minnesota’s worst 3-point shooters, connecting on a paltry 31 percent this season. However his agility and ball handling have been quite handy in evading Martin. He has shot a combined 7-for-12 from three in his three appearances against the Clippers.
Williams acknowledged that he and his teammates are more comfortable attacking from long range against Los Angeles.
“I think it might be the matchups. Myself and Beasley and Kevin, it's hard to guard guys that can put it on the floor and can shoot as well," Williams said. "No disrespect to any of their players, it's just hard to guard with Deandre and Blake out there. Plus we're just hot every time we play them.”
If this is indeed the case, then the Clippers have to experiment with their defense against Minnesota in the final matchup next month. Because if they’re waiting for the Wolves to miss, it might be a while.