I just…I can’t…gahhhhhhhhhhhhh.
It was the third quarter, and Minnesota was up by 18. I was cracking my knuckles, totally excited to write this recap. I was contemplating the best adjective for Kevin Love’s performance (“should I go with ‘scintillating’ or ‘intriguing?’”). I was imagining that this time the Wolves really would put the game away, that they would secure a big win against a good team. With their offense flowing, shots falling, and the defense stifling the Hawks, I thought the Wolves were about to finally learn how to put their foot on the throat of an opponent and step down.
I was, of course, very wrong.
The Hawks ended the quarter on a 10-0 run, cutting the lead to single digits. Every three seemed to be falling. The Wolves couldn’t score against a zone (leading to Rubio’s most Rubio quote ever: “We didn’t know how to offense the zone.”). The legendary Ivan Johnson, with some help from his teammates, finally managed to slow down Love. Suddenly, the Wolves were pretty clearly going to lose.
This is what happens to teams with only two scorers. Rubio has proven himself to be more capable of scoring than we could have dreamed possible. Love has been dominant, and he showed tonight exactly how unstoppable he can be if he works to get shots down low rather than settling for long jumpers.
But with Beasley and Barea out of the game, the Wolves had nobody who could create their own shot. Worse: they had nobody who could hit an open shot when Rubio created it for them. Minnesota went icy cold, the Hawks capitalized by making every big three, and eventually the lead became a deficit, the final points coming from Ivan Johnson hitting two big free throws to give Atlanta their final margin.
And yes, I do think that Johnson fouled Love on that final play. He appeared to lower his shoulder and crash forward into Love’s chest, knocking him flying. Love dressed it up a bit by throwing his arms out, but there was clearly contact.
That being said, the Wolves should not have lost this game, and it wasn’t thanks to the officials that they did, no matter what Anthony Tolliver might think on Twitter. They lost because of their shoddy execution down the stretch, and some very, very hot shooting by the Hawks.
On to the bullets:
- If there is any good news to be gleaned from tonight, it’s this: Minnesota would have won if they could have figured out that damn zone. That’s a concrete problem that Adelman can make them improve on in practice. The Wolves don’t have to try and fix some mental road block, they have to figure out a way to beat a zone. This is something a good coach like Adelman should be able to do.
- I’ve been critical of Love’s shot selection, so let me clarify: I have no problem with Love shooting jumpers. He is very good at them. I have a problem with him SETTLING for jumpers. I want him to make them a supplement to his post game, rather than the focus of his offensive weaponry. In the last two games, he has done that, and he has gone for 30 in both. This is not a coincidence.
- Jeff Teague did something that Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and John Wall all failed to do this season: he punished Rubio on offense with his speed. Rubio really made the other three work for their points by cleverly moving his feet, but Teague seemed to be able to get by Rubio at will, which was startling and a little worrisome. Was Rubio feeling tired after playing 44 minutes against New Orleans? It’s hard to say. But Teague definitely didn’t seem to struggle against him.
- I love watching Dominique Wilkins highlights on YouTube (here, have some), so when I saw he was doing the Hawks color commentary, I decided to watch the game on mute so I wouldn’t come out quite as full of hatred as I did last night. And it worked!
- On my wish list for the Wolves offensively: a player who can reliably hit a corner three. Love creates so much havoc in the post and Rubio forces defenses to help whenever he drives, but Minnesota often fails to capitalize because the defense doesn’t need to respect the shooters. Tonight for example: Minnesota shot 4-21 from three point range. 19% folks. That will almost never get it done.
- On the topic of missing three pointers: Wes Johnson. Today I was busily tweeting about how Wes is awful, can’t ever hit his shots, and all the usual things when Rubio tossed a beautiful floating alley-oop to Wes who finished it off with style. It was the second time in two days that Rubio made that pass to Wes. If Minnesota could just figure out a way to insert him into the game right before Rubio makes that pass and take him out immediately afterward, we would be in business. But unfortunately, Wes continues to miss open threes from all over the perimeter, wasting nice passes from Rubio that find him completely open. Sigh.
- But for real though: in that last quarter, Ivan Johnson destroyed Kevin Love. Take a look and compare Love’s shot chart in the third and fourth quarters, remembering that Johnson guarded Love for much of the fourth. The worst part? Johnson had some trash to talk about Love after the game: “My thing is I don’t watch basketball, so I don’t know who anybody is…but even if I did (know who Love is) I wouldn’t be afraid.” This, of course, begs the question: what DOES Ivan Johnson fear? Sharks? Tanks? Nuclear missiles? ANYTHING?
- Luke Ridnour has played two bad games right in a row after his career night against Chicago. Last night he was 4-13 with one assist, but those numbers don’t capture how uncomfortable it felt watching him run the offense when Rubio sat down. Tonight was the same story: 3-8 from the field with two assists and two turnovers. It’s not just that he missed shots, it’s that the shots he missed were big ones, potential momentum changers. It’s that when he’s missing shots, he’s essentially useless for Minnesota, since they clearly don’t have him in for defensive purposes.
- I mentioned in my preview how important getting off to a quick start would be for the Wolves, and it certainly worked to their favor until those disastrous late game runs by the Hawks. Minnesota came out swinging at the beginning, which really felt like a vast improvement. It would be nice to see that trend continue.
- Not a whole lot of playing time for Derrick Williams in Michael Beasley’s absence, as he saw just 8 minutes tonight. That can’t be easy on a rookie.
That should roughly sum things up. Minnesota’s next two games are against Detroit and Sacramento, both very winnable. And if anybody knows how to offense a zone, Ricky could use some pointers.