LOS ANGELES – When coach Chris Finch took over as Timberwolves coach, he wanted to simplify things on the defensive end of the floor.
This involved less thinking for players, an increased focus on protecting the paint and using athleticism to make up for mistakes that happen.
The results for the Wolves haven't been better so far under Finch than they were under Ryan Saunders. Finch took over just before the All-Star break, and the Wolves defensive efficiency under Saunders was 23rd. Under Finch it's 30th, last in the league.
If you take away Finch's first five games before the All-Star break as a sort of grace period for him to install some things, the Wolves are 29th. Any way you slice it, it wasn't good under Saunders and hasn't been great under Finch.
The Wolves have won some games in the second half of the season despite the horrid defense because their offensive efficiency has improved. Under Saunders, who didn't have Karl-Anthony Towns available for 20 games, it was 28th. Since the All-Star break it is 15th.
Finch's emphasis on trying to limit drives to the basket carries with it an inherent cost — the possibility that the Wolves will leave shooters open.
Have they ever.
The Wolves have the worst three-point shooting defense in the league, a problem the Clippers exploited at will in their 124-105 victory Sunday.
Los Angeles shot 50% from three-point range, 56% through three quarters before the Clippers emptied their bench in the fourth. The Clippers are the best three-point shooting team in the league, but their good shooting night isn't atypical against the Wolves, who have the worst-three-point shooting defense in the league (39%). Since the All-Star break, that number is 41%.
One of the main issues the Wolves have is in contesting threes when they are closing out.
"I think the scramble out part is there, but the meaningful contest is probably not where we need it to be just yet," Finch said before Sunday's game. "We're there and we think we have a hand up, but it's probably not impactful enough against some of this great shooting. We gotta get a little bit better contests."
The Wolves did a poor job containing drives, which led to easier than usual kickouts for three Sunday.
"It's just a willingness of wanting to compete on the ball," Finch said. "Sometimes we do it, and sometimes we don't. Against a team like [the Clippers], who have a bunch of guys who can rise up and get their own offense, you've got to make it as hard for them as possible. At times they're going to make shots. We know that. But you've just got to have the courage to do it again next time down the floor."
Too often the Wolves tend to let a bad possession roll over into more bad possessions. Guard Josh Okogie said the Wolves also have to make sure they defend through an entire possession, something they don't always do.
"It's on us to make those multiple efforts to be able to close in on the drives but also get out to shooters," Okogie said. "We're good at making the first effort and second effort, but I think we need to get better at making the third, fourth maybe fifth effort that same possession and finish it off with a rebound too."
Along those lines, the Wolves are 27th in second-chance points allowed with 14.4 per game. Not every night is going to be like Sunday, but most nights are too similar for the Wolves' liking.
"If you want to shut down the three-point line, and fly everybody out to the three-point line, you're going to give up a lot of paint points," Okogie said. "If you're going to do one, you have to make sure you have multiple efforts to take care of the second as well."