After the Timberwolves finished eviscerating the Spurs in front of a quiet Monday night Target Center, Ricky Rubio addressed the crowd.
“You guys are awesome!” he gushed, haltingly. “Thank you to come tonight.”
*insert the sound of fans’ hearts melting*
The Timberwolves offense, especially in the first half, was INCREDIBLE. Shooting 68% through the first two periods, and stretching the lead considerably in the third quarter, the Wolves were able to power through a fourth quarter shooting slump with some tight defense to put away San Antonio 106-96.
One of the most important takeaways from Monday is this: all of the talk about Minnesota’s advantage in a shortened season was not exaggerated. On the second night of a back to back, Minnesota looked fresh, excited and ready to go. In fact, they looked much readier than the Spurs, who had last night off.
But let’s get the negatives out of the way early, and the first is a big one: Manu Ginobili’s broken hand. He looked to be in a lot of pain in the second quarter, and one hates to see any team lose a star. I know I’m not alone in wishing him a speedy recovery.
In other injured hand news, Michael Beasley really struggled, though it’s hard to blame him. He was clearly having trouble catching passes and holding onto the ball due to the massive amounts of tape on his left hand. But even though Beasley missed frequently, he was still getting to the hoop, taking just one mid range jumper, and one open corner three. The rest of his shots, according to the NBA StatsCube, were all in the paint.
The Wolves still struggle to defend the perimeter. For three quarters, the Spurs got far too many open threes. Richard Jefferson went 4-7 for the game. He was the perfect storm for Minnesota: a player who thrives on corner threes, an area the Timberwolves really struggle to defend.
Also, Tim Duncan KILLED Minnesota from midrange. Darko Milicic couldn’t get out to defend him at all and I’m honestly not sure why Duncan didn’t continue to fire away. He was making all of his long twos before he stopped shooting and passed up at least four. I can only imagine that his ultra-efficient mind balked at the idea of continuing to launch such a classically inefficient shot.
At the end of the third quarter and into the fourth, Adelman played Ridnour and Rubio together in the backcourt, and something very strange happened: the offense went stagnant.
It’s the first time I’ve seen the offense do that this season with Rubio in the game. Rubio seemed hesitant to take control of the offense with Ridnour on the floor, and the rest of the team seemed confused as to what offensive set they were supposed to be running. Lots of standing around ensued, and the picks that were set were weak and had little to no success. Perhaps it would be more effective if Ridnour ran through a series of screens the way Boston runs Ray Allen around, attempting to get him an open look, but Rubio seemed to just want to defer to Ridnour, who wasn’t able to create much late in the shot clock.
This negative, however, leads us to our first positive: while the offense was stalling like a car on the train tracks, the defense was throwing the car into neutral and pushing it safely to a win.
Guys? Minnesota has the ability to really defend well. They may not put it together every night, especially early in the season, and for the first three quarters, the defense broke down often. But in the fourth quarter, shots were contested on the perimeter, in the lane, and on the fast break (including one earth shattering swat by Rubio that nearly brought the house down). It was incredibly heartening to see the potential havoc this team could wreck at its best.
That’s not to say that nothing good happened until the fourth quarter. The third quarter spoke volumes to both Adelman’s talents and Kurt Rambis’ failures as a coach of this team. For all but roughly 30 seconds of the period, Adelman played his starting lineup, including Darko and Ridnour, two players who most of us (myself included) figured would sit the bench much of the year once Rubio got acclimated to the system. It was an exact replica of last year’s team.
And what happened? The lead stretched. The bench was engaged and enthusiastic, cheering on the starters, who pushed a seven point lead to 10, then to 15, then (for one brief, mind numbing moment) to 17 before San Antonio got things back to respectable double digits for the rest of the game.
Look, it’s not news to say that Kurt Rambis did a terrible job coaching this team, nor that his Triangle offense was an unmitigated failure as a system. But with last year’s best lineup, Adelman directed this year’s Wolves to a convincing win over one of the league’s most established winners.
Adelman’s best attribute as a coach seems to be his ability to spot things that are working and things that aren’t within a lineup. Is a Barea/Rubio backcourt scoring? Keep them in together. Let them play. Darko, Ridnour and Wes Johnson are pouring it on? Don’t mess with it. Let them play it out. Second night of a back to back? Last night’s main contributors seem a little tired? Let fresh legs run the floor. There’s a reason David Kahn was willing to pay this man $5 million a year without the guarantee of a season in the first year, and we are seeing the benefits already.
But beyond Adelman’s coaching expertise, what else did we learn from that third quarter? This team is DEEP. Incredibly deep. At any given time, Minnesota can trot out two entirely different, very effective lineups. Again, the Timberwolves’ ability to survive a packed schedule can’t be overstated.
One last thing that I noticed, being present at the game tonight. In the third quarter, Darko bulled his way to the basket and made a layup, forcing the Spurs to take a time out. As Darko lumbered back to the bench, Rubio came running out, full of every kind of enthusiasm. Darko said something that cracked Rubio up, and they walked to the bench together.
This is a team that is HAVING FUN. They are loving the newfound enthusiasm within the Target Center (seriously, just check their Twitters). They are enjoying each other. They love the new system. They are playing hard, and suddenly realizing that if they do the little things right, they really can win basketball games. I mean this in all sincerity: if this team can put together their offense from the first three quarters with the defense of the fourth, Minnesota is going to blow out some really, really good teams.
The only caveat I have for celebrating tonight’s win with abandon is how disheartened San Antonio undoubtedly felt when the notoriously fragile Ginobili went down again. The competition tonight seemed a little depressed.
But the positives (developing chemistry, the progressions on both defense and offense, the resilience on back to backs, the incredibly deep lineup) utterly outweigh the negatives from the Timberwolves’ perspective.
Minnesota basketball? Thank you to come back.