In the huddle with just six seconds left, head coach Rick Adelman warned the players of a lob to Dwyane Wade for the go-ahead basket. He knew it was coming, the man’s obviously been around the block a few times. But in just two seconds time, Wade lept and caught a beautifully thrown pass from Lebron James, rolling it off his fingers into the net to take the lead.
It was as if Adelman had predicted the future and did his best attempt to stop it. But what happens happens, especially when you stick two rookies and two reserves on the court for the final seconds of the closest, most nerve-racking games in recent Wolves’ history.
The Wolves’ answer to the go-ahead lob? A contested long two-pointer by no other than . . . Wayne Ellington?! Well, make that 0-3 in game-winning/tying buckets this season.
You can’t blame it on the players. The sheer talent of the Miami Heat are a difficult task to overcome. Game-changing alley-oops have been in their repertoire since last season and no one has done much to stop them. But it hurts; it really, really hurts.
As for the rest of this one, it’s hard to come up with something to say; something that can properly portray the emotion and passion that went into this game. For starters, I’ve never seen the Target Center so packed before in a very long time. Granted there were glimpses of red and black all over, but the majority was there to support Rubio and the Wolves. Kevin Love had great stats (Who knew?) and Derrick Williams showed spurts of his versatile inside-out offensive onslaught.
If ever there was a statement made by Rick Rubio to the coach saying ‘Hey, I should be the starter,’ tonight was the night. Rubio’s immaculate play hyped up the crowd to full-capacity and kept the Wolves in this one the whole way through. Even when things were rough — The Heat really started to pull away in the second quarter — Rubio was the glue that held it all together by making himself and others around him better (Who knew Anthony Randolph would go off for 14 points and play stellar defense; he was a whole new man with newfound confidence.) Sure, Rubio made major mistakes, ones that costed the Wolves dearly but never detrimental enough to count them out for good. The dazzling passes and assists were to be expected but the two three-pointers, one of which that blew the roof off the Target Center late in the fourth that added onto the Wolves’ itty-bitty lead, were novel and special. It’s time for the kid to start, give ‘em a shot.
But you really have to hand this one to the defense and reserves. As stated earlier, Adelman left the hot hands in the game, all the way from about five minutes left in the fourth all the way down til the clock struck 0.0. Rubio and Williams were in for obvious reasons — it’s different watching a coach stick with the best players in the game’s most critical moments — but Anthony Tolliver? Wayne Ellington? They seem questionable to someone that didn’t watch but from my perspective, they earned their burn to be in during crunch time. Tolliver played some of the best defense I’ve seen in a long while on Bron Bron, and Ellington did a great job of sticking with Wade off of screens, one of the most difficult tasks in the NBA, honestly (Wade, despite Ellington’s defense, was still able to hit shots, including a step-back jumper that tied the game late).
But still, what more can you really say?
At what point do you start to say that moral victories don’t matter anymore? The Wolves have now played three very close games — two of which came against the NBA’s best — and really had a chance to actually win. But the petty mistakes — turnovers and bad fouls — keep them from reigning victorious.
Sidebar, and please, respect the sidebar: I don’t want to excuse the Wolves for their mistakes; the turnovers and fouls are on them. But it is the lack of balanced officiating, especially when smaller teams like the Wolves face-off against superstar-studded teams like the Heat, that really gets to me. There were plenty of questionable calls that didn’t go the Wolves’ way, and that’s to be expected. It’s to be expected because you’re usually granted a similar call on the other end of the court. The Heat lacked in the ‘questionable call’ department tonight in comparison to the Wolves. It is not the reason the Wolves lost — again, turnovers, fouls and missed free throws is why they lost — but you can’t look past games like this with bad officials in a league where officials are known to “influence” games before. Just sayin’.
So how much more can the Wolves take? Again, three very close losses may look respectable, especially taking last season into account, but to a player on this “new” Wolves squad, at what point do they lose this momentum and confidence and start to fall back with nothing credible to show for it? Many believe we’re “turning that corner” but these losses are truly heartbreaking and potentially damaging to this young team’s psychè. It’s a tough question to address but a fair one at that.
Coming up the Wolves take on some of the best of the West in the world champion Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies. There must be at least one win our of those three games, otherwise the Wolves could stare straight into a decline, both mentally and emotionally.