There are a huge number of NBA players who are firing away from three-point land simply based on the analytical arithmetic, not on the fact they possess significant talent as outside shooters.
This has led crabby old hoops fans to pine for the days when those shots could be anticipated from marksmen such as Trent Tucker, Dennis Scott and Reggie Miller, and not from any glorified bricklayer who happened to be open 25 feet from the basket.
We old crabs cringe as 30 shots go ricocheting off the rim in the hope that 12 or a couple more than that rattle in to make the math work.
On Monday night, the Timberwolves went to Utah after a pair of dreadful home losses and played with a vague resemblance to the basketball the Wolves played when coached by Flip Saunders and the playoffs were a regular feature from 1997 to 2004.
OK, they did shoot 38 threes in that game in Salt Lake City, with Flip’s son Ryan as the coach, and that would have been an unheard of total during the Kevin Garnett Era.
The good news was that their best outside shooter, center Karl-Anthony Towns, was able to take 15 of those, making seven and badly outplaying his 7-foot-1 rival, the rugged Rudy Gobert.
The Wolves also took 51 two-pointers, made 27 and came away with a 112-102 victory — while minus Andrew Wiggins.
On Wednesday, the Wolves and the Jazz were matched again, this time at Target Center. Utah arrived with a determination to make the evening more difficult for Towns.
This plan was for Gobert to chase Towns to the perimeter, to deny those clear looks that KAT had 48 hours earlier.
“Rudy was tremendous tonight,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “He has a lot of pride.”
This was a reference to Monday’s mismatch in Towns’ favor. On Wednesday, it was almost the opposite.
Gobert was assisted when Towns got a couple of quick fouls, then another in the second quarter, and played only 13 minutes — with two shots — in the first half. Still, that needed room that KAT enjoyed Monday … it was gone as Gobert decided to take the fight to the three-point line.
“Playing KAT … it’s different,” Snyder said. “Rudy did a really good job getting out on him. And our other four did a much-better job helping.”
Eventually, Towns was able to get off a handful of what has become his patented step-back threes in this new Wolves’ approach to offense. He wound up 4-for-7 on threes; eight fewer than he was able to launch and three fewer makes than Monday.
Gobert had 12 points on eight shots compared to Towns’ 14 points on a meager 10 shots. Rudy also had a 15-12 advantage in rebounds, and had five blocks to one for Towns.
Round 2 goes to Gobert in the back-to-back clashes of two-thirds of the Northwest Division’s sensational centers (with Denver’s Nikola Jokic being the third).
And yet it wasn’t Gobert that flat-out won this game 103-95 for Utah; instead, it one of those pure shooters who were so exciting to watch — before the days when every Tom, Dick and Treveon was sending a 22-ounce object airborne in the general direction of a 30-inch hoop, with a prayerful wish that it tumble in for three points.
Utah added veteran Bojan Bogdanovic, a 6-8 small forward, during the offseason on a four-year, $73 million free-agent contract. The Jazz also traded for veteran Mike Conley to replace Ricky Rubio at point guard.
Conley’s duties as point guard are to run the show, including finding Bogdanovic.
The Wolves were within 88-85 with four minutes left when Conley passed to Bogdanovic in the right corner and he hit a three. Conley and Donovan Mitchell also hit threes, and then Conley hit Bogdanovic in that same corner for another three.
That made it 100-89, and when it was cut to 100-94, Bogdanovic took a pass from Mitchell down there — and the crowd was groaning before the ball left his right hand.
Bogdanovic was 3-for-7 on threes and scored 18 points Monday. This time, he was 6-for-11 on threes and scored 30.
And in this new NBA age where everyone fires and falls back, it was reassuring to see a pure shooter — a visitor from another time.
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