Resilience: Wolves beat Clippers at the buzzer

This picture is relevant.

This feels relevant, somehow.

I was watching the Clippers/Wolves with some friends, and when Randy Foye drove into the lane, avoided two defenders in midair, and scored a tough layup to put the Clippers up by 12 in the fourth quarter, I considered packing it in and watching the end when I got home to write this recap. 12 points was too much for this team, no matter how resilient they had seemed, right? I began thinking of positive things I could say (“well, at least we know what Darko could be if he was good at basketball!” or “at least it wasn’t Ryan Gomes punishing Minnesota!”).

But then a couple of shots fell, it was under 10, and I thought “aww heck. What’s another ten minutes?”

Twenty minutes later, we tensed up as Rubio pushed a three into the air, and yelled “YES!” simultaneously as it hit nothing but net. We all thought the same thing: “20 seconds…dammit, that’s too much time to leave for Chauncey.” We winced as Chauncey fell down, perked up as no foul was called (correctly, I might add), and buzzed about Rubio’s ability to move his feet and stay straight up and down under pressure. We froze as we saw DeAndre Jordan lose Kevin Love in the shuffle of that final out of bounds play. We gasped as Love rose and fired. And we screamed as the ball fell through.

Look, I know it’s one game, but we deserve to gush. We deserve to be hyperbolic, looking at Minnesota’s near .500 record and wondering about the playoffs. We deserve to be irrational because Minnesota honestly deserves praise for their performance.

The Wolves defeated a quality (if banged up) opponent on the road. They withstood Mo Williams’ second straight torrid game. They battled back from big deficits, and back-breaking shots (seriously, don’t try to pretend you thought the Wolves still had a chance after Billups hit that three to put the Clippers up 96-90).

And perhaps best of all, they executed on a final play. Derrick Williams’ misdirection led defenders away from Love, who backed up, getting a solid screen from Wayne Ellington, and found himself with enough time to set, rise up, and bury Los Angeles.

And yes, I’m aware that the Clippers were without Chris Paul, and that this game probably would have been different if he had been playing. In fact, it probably never would have become a single possession game. That’s what a great point guard like Paul does: he creates his own shot and scores when the offense is breaking down. The Clippers’ offense was in shambles by the end of the fourth quarter. It’s very rare for any offense to be in shambles when CP3 is in.

But even without Chris Paul, this Clippers team is dangerous, especially at home, where the fans are engaged and waiting for the next Blake Griffin alley-oop. More importantly, this win wasn’t like the San Antonio game. The Wolves didn’t shoot unsustainable numbers en route to a misleadingly lopsided victory. They won by grinding. They kept taking the Clippers’ best punches and kept coming back, until finally the game was tied, and the Clippers didn’t have any more punches to throw.

And Minnesota still had one more.

Let’s do some bullet points:

  • For my money? Rubio’s shot was more pressure filled than Love’s. If Rubio misses, everyone questions his shot selection, Los Angeles gets the ball, and Minnesota has to foul, giving the Clippers the chance to make it a two possession game from the free throw line. But if Love misses, the game goes into overtime, Los Angeles’ is totally reeling, and Minnesota has all the momentum going into a pressure packed 5 minute overtime period.  Who do you think had more to lose?
  • Rubio’s celebrations are hilarious. If you can find it, re-watch the actual broadcast of Love’s three, and look for Rubio right afterward. For those of you who don’t know, soccer players aren’t allowed to pull their jerseys off anymore after they score a goal, so they will grab the bottom of their jersey and flap it up and down like a small flag. Rubio did this while running after Love to hug him. Also, that little girl-esque skip thing he did after he hit the tying three? Pure gold. As my friend put it: “he’s even adorable when he’s being cocky!” Somebody show Rubio this clip. I want to see him do the DMC pimp walk.
  • Mo Williams had a real case against the foul call that eventually got him ejected (Rubio pretty clearly slipped, from what I could see), but can you think of a worse time to lose your temper? Mo was on fire for his second straight game, he already had a technical, and his team was caught in a hard-fought matchup at home. Just a bad decision.
  • On a broader note, does any team complain to the refs as much as the Clippers? Between Mo, Chris Paul when he’s playing, Chauncey Billups, and Blake Griffin, I honestly have a hard time thinking of one. Although in Griffin’s defense, it’s hard to tell when he is complaining about a foul call and when he is just frustrated with himself, because in both instances, he does this.
  • The good news about last night? The Wolves won a big game on ESPN. The bad news? The sheer volume of people about to jump on Minnesota’s bandwagon. Wait, what am I saying? Minnesota has a freaking bandwagon. EVERYBODY! WELCOME!
  • Last night was the second game in a row that this has happened, so I don’t feel quite as weird bringing it up: Wes Johnson attacked the rim a few times, once even getting a basket plus a free throw. On the play before, he worked his way to the basket and got hammered, with no foul call. Is it possible he was pissed off by the no-call and decided to take it to the hoop again? Did Johnson do something aggressive? Good on yourself, Wes! Keep it up.
  • Darko deserves his own bullet point, so here it is: 22 points? 10-15 shooting? I’m a little worried my computer is going to freeze up as I try to type those numbers. Also, it should be noted that, even in the heat of an intense game, sitting in a room full of people cheering for the Timberwolves, one of my friends and I looked at each other and cracked up when Darko hit his last basket, that 100 mph layup. Highest of comedy.
  • The last time Minnesota won three games in a row? February of the 2009-10 season, a streak that started against the Clippers. That was also Minnesota’s last four game winning streak, which they will try to match tonight against the Jazz. The last time Minnesota was at .500 more than three games into the season? 2006. They quickly fell below .500 that year.
  • Let’s not lose sight of this: Wayne Ellington is shooting out of his mind right now. He was 6-9 for 13 points last night, which makes him 23-38 in his last five games. Obviously, he probably won’t continue to shoot 60% from the field, but it’s great to see his numbers starting to even out after a bad start to the season. Also: am I the only person who keeps forgetting he’s just 24 years old? Probably? Ok, never mind.
  • In light of the on-going Stephen Curry story, it’s really good to see Adelman continuing to let Barea’s ankle rest. Minnesota really could have used him last night, but it’s a long, packed season, and ankle injuries need time and patience.
  • Finally, random players hit buzzer beaters all the time, and immediately get overrated as clutch by the NBA’s online fanbase, one of the most sensationalist groups of people I have EVER encountered. But at the risk of sounding like one of them, please Minnesota:  just pay Love. The max. Five years. Whatever he wants. Please. Get. It. Done.
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