Lillard Time and A Closer Look at 2 for 1’s

I didn’t plan on writing this article, but something in my morning routine caught my attention. When catching up on my favorite NBA team – the Minnesota Timberwolves – and how they did last night, one play sequence spurred me on delve deeper into something that has bothered me about the Wolves this season.


They suck at 2 for 1’s. At least that’s what it felt like. I have started to pay attention to it later on in the season and in my mind, the Timberwolves always mess up at the end of quarters.

If the Wolves shoot 8 seconds later, it doesn’t give Damian Lillard time for a quick 2 for 1 shot. The Timberwolves led by 8 when they could have taken the 2 for 1, meaning that they could ensure a lead of minimum 5 points going into the 4th quarter. At most, they could drain two 3’s and get a stop on the Blazers’ final possession, resulting in a 14 point lead.

Instead, Lillard gets a quick 3, the Timberwolves get blocked on their last possession and Ed Davis scores a put back to end the quarter only leading by 3. It was a complete momentum changer and Portland ended up winning the game by 9 points.

Having fast forwarded through a lot of the game, I went back to check the 2 for 1 situations in the three first quarters. The Blazers got the 2 for 1 in all of them. They only made the one shot that Lillard took in the 3rd, but that’s exactly why you go for 2 for 1’s.

Driven by the anger I felt by the Timberwolves losing another winnable game and this now slightly supported theory of Timberwolves sucking at 2 for 1’s, I went through every single game they had so far and checked the final 40 seconds of each quarter. I took note of every time a team took a shot with between 27 and 35 seconds left on the clock.

It slightly changed my view of Timberwolves’ end of quarter skills and gave me a lot of insights into 2 for 1’s in general. Here’s what I found:

Who got the 2 for 1’s: 

Timberwolves: 68
Opponents: 81
Neither: 44

This was actually better than I expected of the Timberwolves. For large parts of the season, they actually had more 2 for 1’s than their opponent. My intuition was right about the current trend however, as the opponents took the 2 for 1 lead around the same time the schedule got harder. Go figure.

It wasn’t all that difficult guessing which teams and players would be the best at 2 for 1’s. Lillard might be the single best at it in the league. Unsurprisingly, in the 3 previous games between Timberwolves and Blazers, he had gone for and made 2 for 1 shots before. Quite a lot of them. He was involved in 9 out of the 12 chances he had at a 2 on 1 against the Wolves.

Lillard 2 for 1 attempts (vs Wolves):

3/7 FGs, 3/5 3PTs, 2/2 FTs, 1 assist, 11 points total.

Lillard Time™ isn’t just the final shot in the 4th quarter, it’s the final 40 seconds of every single one of them. I’m starting to believe he actually has a watch on him when he’s pointing to his arm.

The best players make them, but most of the best teams seem to get more 2 for 1 chances as well. By going through every Timberwolves game this season, there were a couple of teams that stood out to me.

Teams Who Looked Good at 2 for 1’s


Now I’m not sure if there are stats on 2 for 1 shots anywhere on the internet, but I haven’t found them. It would be interesting to see which teams are better at getting them (and making them) than others. These teams stood out to me in my subjective view. A lot of them are not all that surprising.

I’ve mentioned the Blazers and Lillard, but the Raptors might have been the most impressive team in 2 for 1 situations. They know exactly when they have a shot at a 2 for 1 and they design plays that end up getting a good shot at that 30-32 seconds left sweet spot.

Rockets too are really good at this, but didn’t get as many chances to show it against the Wolves. They also got some very high percentage shots with around 40 seconds left and you don’t give up an uncontested dunk for a chance at a 2 for 1.

The Warriors could just run up the floor and throw high percentage bombs, unsurprisingly. No need to draw anything up with the shooters they have. More surprisingly for them, Iguodala drained a pull-up 3PT shot with about 30 seconds left in one of the games.

It feels like getting 2 for 1’s is mostly up to good coaching or just having a ball-handling scorer. I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you that Westbrook got a couple of quick shots up too. The guy loves a green light to shoot and has the athleticism to turn a 35 seconds left 2 for 1 shot from the opposition, into a 30 seconds left made basket of his own.

Similarly, I kept track of which teams that stood out as bad in 2 for 1 situations.

Teams who looked bad at 2 for 1’s


The team that was the most surprising to me was the Miami Heat. They play through Goran Dragic and have a great coach in Erik Spoelstra. The Jazz I chalk up to the Timberwolves playing them early in the season before my boy Donovan Mitchell took over for my other dude Ricky Rubio. Mitchell incidentally airballed a 2 for 1 shot in Timberwolves’ home opener.

The Bucks are not surprising. Sure, Giannis Antetokounmpo can handle the ball, but being a good shooter is obviously a big advantage to be a good 2 for 1 player.

The Suns and Hornets might be because of bad coaching. With players like Devin Booker and Kemba Walker, they should be getting plenty of 2 for 1 opportunities. Stan Van Gundy is on a tight leash with the Pistons, maybe because they suck at taking 2 for 1’s?? They don’t have the ideal players for it either.

The Nets didn’t have D’Angelo Russell when they faced the Timberwolves, but I was surprised Spencer Dinwiddie didn’t drain some late quarter shots. Apart from the game winner he got in the 4th quarter that is. I’m sure 2nd year head coach Kenny Atkinson will figure it out, if he hasn’t already.

LeBron is the most comfortable driving into the lane and likes to survey the whole defense, photocopying it for future reference and then make his move. He chose to forego a couple of 2 for 1 opportunities to get the best shot possible instead of two quick ones. That might not be the best strategy for most people. LeBron is not like most people though and created a good play almost every time.

How Efficient is the 2 for 1 shot?

Don’t get me wrong, this article is about as far away from analytics as you get, but I did keep track of whether the 2 for 1 shots went in or not in Timberwolves games. Well, at least after I thought of doing that when watching the November 17th game against the Mavs. The results are very surprising.

2 for 1 Attempts: 118
Field Goals Made + Shooting Fouls: 60
Field Goals Missed: 58

Instead of being a hurried and inefficient shot, the 2 for 1 attempts led to good results more times than not. It certainly points in favor of getting off two quick shots to end the quarter rather than one normal one. The analytics backs it up.

Obviously, as a Timberwolves fan, I felt like the shot went in more often for the opponent than it did for the Wolves. I didn’t keep track of that however, so I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that they weren’t all that bad at getting them, they were just another casualty of Lillard Time™.