The new era I speak of doesn’t relate to the losing ways of old. No, we still lost and it was heartbreaking; rather the new era is one with glamorous hope, heavy on the glam, by the way.
But Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams made big impressions in their NBA debuts depsite losing to Kevin Durant and the Thunder 104-100.
In the most anticipated opener for the Wolves in the last seven years, the Wolves rode that high provided by the 19,000+ fans in the Target Center tonight. The game started off chippy — a shove here, a shove back — but all within reason. Michael Beasley came out shooting (Shocker!) and dropped 11 points to lead the Wolves to a 24-23 lead at the end of the quarter.
The second quarter was a much different story. Beasley kept shooting but the Thunder kept contesting. Russell Westbrook and Durant formed the deadly one-two scoring punch, taking it straight to the gut of the Wolves’ defense.
(Note this crossover; Luke Ridnour was taken to a nearby hospital after this accident*)
*He wasn’t actually injured on the play.
Now this is where the Wolves of old would normally lose all hope, all ability to persevere. They’d walk poutingly into the locker room and come out in even worse ‘a shape than before.
But these Wolves are different. Behind newfound leadership in guys like world champion JJ Barea and the elevated vocalism from Kevin Love, they came out of the locker room looking to put up a fight. And that they did.
Trading blows, back and forth, with Durant and the Thunder, the Wolves slowly picked at the lead, thanks largely in part to Barea’s kamikaze-like efforts. Barea posted an impressive +13 while on the court, justifying the type of spark he injects into this team. Even covering larger players like James Harden, Barea fought through screens, contested shots and then made defenders pay by slashing into the paint at will.
The Wolves eventually cut the lead to one when and eventually captured it after Rubio ran a break down court and sliced a precise bounce-pass between two defenders to a slashing Williams, who took it up for an uncontested reverse slam. Unfortuantely, the Wolves didn’t take advantage of the momentum for long, as the Thunder went down court and Daequan Cook nailed a three-pointer to go ahead by two.
It just got to be too much for the Wolves. A couple questionable calls and Durant-daggers later, the Wolves fell to the hands of the impressive Thunder.
But like I said, this wasn’t your average loss we’ve come to know. This one harnessed special qualities: first off, it was fun. The Target Center was trembling at times from all of the screams and hollers. Secondly, the team looked good. You can tell that Adelman is a better coach than Kurt Rambis will ever be. The offense clicked more efficiently and was much more fluid than the “triangle” ever was. And lastly, this team has some special players. Beyond what Rubio and Williams did tonight, we saw great things from Darko Milicic — yes, Darko — and Barea.
This team is much better equipped to challenge great teams like the Thunder throughout the league — Miami may be a different story but we’ll find out on Friday. Rubio is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. His repertoire of passes is unmatchable and he sports an intelligence to culminate it all together. After defending Rubio for a majority of the fourth quarter, you could see the frustration on Westbrook’s face. After beating him on a back-door cut — and I mean beating him bad — Westbrook had a few words to say to the rookie. Rubio’s response? How about a pass between Westbrook’s legs to Love turning Westbrook red. It sure was a beaute. It’s that kind of mentality that will elevate him into the starting lineup — perhaps as early as tomorrow night. But then don’t forget about the big additions of Williams and Barea, both of which played great games and won minutes in crunch time at the end.
It’s unfortunate it had to end the way it did. Before everyone goes off, checks the boxscore and blames Beasley and his 27 shots for this loss, don’t look past the little things he did. His 27 shots did turn into 24 points, and, although that may not seem very efficient, he made up for it by playing pretty decent defense on Durant all night. Durant was just ridiculous at times — even that could be considered an understatement, — but Beasley always made sure to at least get a hand in his face. Beasley’s way at going about scoring is worth a head-scratch but just don’t forget: this is game one and this is vintage Beasley. You’re just gonna have to get used to it.
That’s all for now. Great game from the Wolves, they definitely earned the attention of the league tonight and, who knows, maybe they can turn these types of efforts into wins this season unlike last year.