A back and forth battle came down to who wanted it most. But bewildering rotations in crunch time left the fans going home after a disappointing loss to a Tyreke-Evans-less Kings squad. It was a tough loss, especially being the home opener and all, but there were plenty of positives to take away from the game. Oh, but there were some negatives too.
Despite a putrid attendance for a season opening game — I blame it on our weak opponent, — the Target Center was filled with excitement. Of the tens of hundreds of fans in attendance — literally, — they all created a special buzz and backed our team up when they needed it most. Seriously, the Wolves have created an environment that is fun to watch basketball again. And having a roster with some players that have the ability to get people outta their seats helps immensely.
As for the game, though, it was an awfully familiar sight for Wolves fans tonight: poor execution in half-court sets and a defense that was nothing short of embarrassing. The surprsing part is that this is what the Wolves did so well in the postseason, where they posted a 6-2 record.
“All preseason, that’s kind of what carried us and we hung our hat on,” Luke Ridnour, who led the team with 20 points tonight, said. “It seems like once the lights came on we just didn’t execute and do the same things we’ve done all preseason.”
Ridnour was outstanding in his Wolves debut sinking 20 points. He effectively led fast breaks and coached the offense to points in the half-court. Ridnour was lethal with 18-footers all night, coming off pick-n-rolls from the top of the key — something Jonny Flynn struggled with greatly last season. Critics lashed out at David Kahn when he essentially traded a young, talented Ramon Sessions for an aging back-up in Luke Ridnour. His breakout season last year playing behind Brandon Jennings in Milwaukee was no fluke, guys. Ridnour knows the game and plays with passion, showing it after every play he made tonight by pumping up his fellow teammates.
As for the rest of the team, everyone sorta chipped in their weight to help but no one took the game over. It looked as if Wes Johnson was going to do that in the third quarter, after nailing home a dunk and a silky mid-range jumper along the baseline. But after the hype settled, he was pulled for Wayne Ellington. Buzzkill.
Kevin Love, after being silenced in the second quarter, started to heat up in the third. He hit a big three pointer to bring us within three at one point. He played through the fourth but was pulled in favor of Anthony Tolliver with about eight minutes left in the fourth, giving him a grand total of nine minutes played in the second half. He never saw the floor again the rest of the night. Either Love really screwed up somewhere that I didn’t notice or Rambis is going to play the same mind game he did last year with Love.
“Love, wanna go in?” Rambis says.
“Of course, coach!” Love replies.
“Sit your ass down, I’m kidding.” Rambis says back. Ouch.
I won’t knock, no, I CAN’T knock Tolliver because he played exceptionally well tonight. Mr. Versatility recorded 14 points in 28 minutes and also grabbed seven rebounds. One play that made everyone rise from their seats was one of Tolliver’s four blocks. After blowing by a flat-footed Beasley, Donte Greene rose up for the one handed slam only to be met by Tolliver’s big paw that sent him packing. It was almost as if Beasley intended to let Greene by so Tolliver could block it. Almost.
As for Beasley, he was, well, himself tonight. He really is Mr. Inefficiency and drama queen to boot. Either he just loves making poses when he takes jump shots or he really does have the worst mechanics I’ve seen in a while. Multiple times tonight, Beasley would think he had room to go up for the shot but leaned to the side or hopped off one foot to make the shot. But with Beasley, the bad always comes with some good because there’s no denying his talent. Whenever he puts the ball on the floor and attacks the rim, no one can stop him. A few times tonight he had his defender off balance, took advantage and took it straight to DeMarcus Cousins’s grill. The few times it did happen came in the fourth quarter when we needed it most and generated the most buzz around the arena. But just like Love, Beasley found himself sitting on the bench in the final minutes of the game; Just another reason to question Rambis’s coaching strategies.
But no matter how much I want to blame tonight’s loss on Rambis and his crazily concocted rotations (I truly feel that a set core of guys working together will benefit the team more than random lineups that have guys seeing the floor when, well, they shouldn’t be in the future), it comes down to the players showing effort and energy on the defensive end, no matter who’s on the court. Guys like Anothony Tolliver and Wayne Ellington earned their minutes because of pure hustle on the defensive end. Guys like Darko Milicic and Love sat on the bench during crunch time because of their lack of effort on the defensive end — or just because they have no awareness on the end of the court at all. Darko was the number one culprit of poor hustle and energy tonight. He seemed to have his head buried in the ground after making a bad play and, maybe even worse, he never acknowleged a bone-headed mistake of trying to tip a rebound in instead of grabbing it down and putting it back up, even with all the time in the world. Darko did little to help out in the paint aside from his four blocks in about six minutes and was dominated at times by rookie DeMarcus Cousins — he is the real deal, everyone. Darko’s poor effort on defense — again, aside from a brief six minute stint he had in the fourth — was mirrored on the offensive side as well. I think that’s enough about him for now because more will come this entire year on Darko’s effort…
Ultimately, the Wolves lost tonight because they lost focus on defense. The Kings went to the line 45 times tonight and shot 45% from the field. The Wolves will work on this in the future, but if this is any picture of things to come, a duplicate of last season is in effect. But what really impressed me tonight was our offense and Ridnour’s command of this team. He’s becoming a vocal leader on the court as he should as the oldest player on the team. Our uptempo pace will play to a lot of team’s weaknesses and will result in some wins this year. But it’s not all about running and offense; The game of basketball is played on both ends of the court, not one.