HOUSTON – In case you’ve forgotten these past 14 years, the NBA playoffs are all about adjusting from one game to the next.
After Game 1 of a first-round playoff series against Houston, the question is how much more the Timberwolves will feature All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns than they did Sunday, which wasn’t much.
The same player who averaged 16.2 shots from the field and 23.7 points a game against the Rockets in the regular season took only nine shots and scored eight points in Sunday’s 104-101 loss that was all about what could have been.
TNT analyst Charles Barkley called the Wolves “one of the dumbest teams I’ve ever seen in my life,” in large part because they didn’t exploit the Rockets’ switching of screens that often left Towns with a smaller player on him.
Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose and Jamal Crawford all took more shots than Towns, who often went to the court’s corners to space the floor and give veteran Jeff Teague and the Wolves’ other guards room to get into the paint and attempt to exploit mismatches against Houston’s bigger players.
“We all know KAT didn’t get his touches like he wanted to,” said Rockets superstar James Harden, who scored 44 points in Game 1. “So he’s going to come out looking to be extra aggressive.”
After practice Tuesday, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau praised Teague and Towns for making the proper plays Sunday.
They did so in a game when the Wolves only made two fewer three-pointers (10-8) than the freewheeling Rockets, led by a point with 6:49 left and could have forced overtime if Jimmy Butler hadn’t had his foot on the three-point line and missed, too, a shot with 1.5 seconds left.
“We’re on the road, we’re an eighth seed and we have a chance to win,” Thibodeau said. “Six minutes to go, we had the lead.”
But Teague called exploiting his mismatch against the Rockets’ Clint Capela and their other big men at the expense of getting the ball more to Towns “playing into their hands.”
“They’re trying to eliminate KAT,” Teague said. “We have to figure out a way to get him the ball against those smaller guys. Get some deep seals and get him some easy baskets. When they switch, make quick decisions, tell him to bury the guy in the post.”
Towns spoke repeatedly Tuesday about maintaining “discipline” and following “the game plan” on a night when he took one shot in Sunday’s fourth quarter.
“Whether the game plan is to shoot 30 shots or five shots, I’m going to stick to it as much as possible,” Towns said.
“I’ve got to do a better job assessing situations and adjusting on the fly quicker, especially in the playoffs.”
After analyzing game video, Thibodeau praised his team for defending the Rockets better than it did in the regular season and Towns for making good offensive decisions.
“He made a lot of good plays,” Thibodeau said. “He understands what he has to do. He’ll be fine.”
Thibodeau also credited Teague’s attacks when the Rockets switched defending screens for the 28 free throws his team shot, five more than the Rockets shot.
“He was in the paint, making easy plays,” Thibodeau said. “He made the game easy.”
Teague, though, said he and his team must vary their approach and get Towns more involved.
“We gave them a steady diet of the same thing,” Teague said. “Next game, we have to give them some different looks where KAT actually posts up a couple times and we still get our spacing.”
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni expects the Wolves to do so.
“You don’t really limit Towns,” D’Antoni said. “Teague was scoring, going one-on-one and doing his thing. If you go to Towns, Teague’s not going to score.
“They’ll go to Towns. I’m sure he’ll have a better game like we have a bunch of guys we hope will have a better game.
“We didn’t do anything on Karl-Anthony. He’s a great player. He’ll score.”
Butler declined to comment when asked about Barkley’s criticism, but Towns replied.
“I mean, we almost won the game,” Town said. “We had a great chance to win. We were up with six minutes left. Our game plan was working. We cost ourselves as players, not the coaches.
“We did everything in our power to put ourselves in position to win and that’s all you can ask for.”