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“We weren’t playing to win the game (last year). This year, we are playing to win the game. We are confident. Real confident.” -Kevin Love
Hey, remember what watching the Wolves was like last year? I…me neither. I have vague recollections, but trying to pinpoint the exact feeling is like trying to remember a nightmare from two nights ago. The general theme is still around, but the details keep slipping through the cracks in your mind, and it’s tough to remember why you were so scared in the first place.
It has become redundant to point out, but with every game it becomes more abundantly clear: the Timberwolves have a totally new mentality. There is no way, absolutely NO WAY, Minnesota would have won that game last year. They wouldn’t have closed out. They would have lost by seven or eight, and we would be talking today about how well they performed for most of the game. Then we would have said something about how “we can’t wait until they learn how to close out games.”
With 3:27 left in the fourth quarter, Gary Neal buried a three on the Wolves, giving San Antonio a two point lead for the first time in quite a while. At that point I was having ‘Nam-like flashbacks, and I thought Minnesota was cooked. Apparently, every lesson the Wolves have taught me about their resiliency has been lost so far. But that shot would have been curtains for last year’s team.
Not this year.
The Wolves came storming back, scoring the last 10 points of the game. Up four, and looking for a dagger with 37.3 seconds left, Love barreled through the lane with very little time left on the shot clock and buried a floating baby hook (perhaps double dribbling on the way? Tough to tell), and it was time to party in Minnesota.
Now, this isn’t Minnesota’s first big win of the season. It isn’t the first time they’ve been a game away from .500. Heck, it isn’t even the first time they’ve beaten the Spurs at the Target Center, and the first time, they won by more. So why am I so excited about this win? Why do I feel like it was so monumental?
Because Minnesota didn’t play exceptionally well. Beasley was inefficient, Ridnour was ineffective, Darko was inactive (actually, that may have helped), Love didn’t make a three, and Ellington was 1-4 in 18 minutes of action. The Wolves didn’t blow San Antonio away by playing at an unsustainable level, like last game. The Wolves shot just 43% from the floor, and the Spurs stayed close throughout.
No, Minnesota won because, last night, they were the better team. They continued to grind and they continued to defend, holding the sixth most offensively efficient team in the NBA to 19 points below their season average, and they made some very clutch shots to come up with a gritty win.
That’s what good, confident basketball teams do, and now Minnesota has done it in consecutive games against playoff-caliber Western Conference opponents. This is something new. It’s something we haven’t seen from the Timberwolves since…well…since KG was traded. Despite his many, many well publicized blunders, David Kahn has built a real basketball team here in Minneapolis, capable of winning real basketball games.
Pinch me, someone. I want to make sure I’m not dreaming.
- For my money, this Rubio-Love alley-oop is the best Timberwolves alley-oop of the year so far, narrowly edging the Rubio-Derrick Williams reverse alley-oop from the last Spurs game. Just gorgeous.
- Ever since this minor fiasco a few weeks ago, Anthony Randolph has been comically careful to make sure he passes to his point guard before running down the court. At one point in the first half, he grabbed a rebound and started to dribble before the cogs visibly turned in his brain and he stopped short looking for Luke Ridnour. At least he’s learning!
- Martell Webster looked really good in his short return to action. He only made one shot (a three pointer) and missed a dunk that would have blown the lid off the Target Center, but his defense on Richard Jefferson bothered two of Jefferson’s shots badly, and may have helped to prevent him from continuing to torch the Wolves the way he did in the first half.
- FSN needs to stop advertising these jerseys because I’m absolutely going to end up buying one. In fact…dammit. I totally am. HOW FREAKING COOL ARE THEY?!
- Wes was unmistakably more aggressive tonight. All six of his points came nine feet from the basket and closer, including two very nice dunks. But the best play of Wes’ game came in the fourth, as he was rewarded with some crunch time minutes. Tim Duncan was working on Nikolai Pekovic in the post, and the Wolves were up one. As Duncan put up a shot, Wes came flying out of nowhere, swatted the shot, and came down with the ball himself. Smart, heads up defense from Wes in a big-time moment.
- Speaking of Pek, I had several jokes ready to go when I saw him in the starting lineup…but why use them? Pek was (I’m really excited that I get to use this totally appropriate noun to describe him…) a beast. He scored 14 points on efficient 7-13 shooting (!!) and for a four-ish minute window in the third quarter, he was the best player on the floor. Lengthy players like Duncan and Tiago Splitter still give the Wolves fits, but Pek gave Minnesota some really quality minutes.
- Hey, good defense Tony.
- Take a look at this shot chart and notice the corner threes. Last year, and even earlier this year, Minnesota would have had trouble defending the corner. But last night, they were getting to the spot and contesting really well. A very encouraging sign.
- Beasley’s back! Which means overly long bullet points in every one of my recaps analyzing him are back too (I really love me some Beas). So here goes: Beasley was inefficient tonight, which is unsurprising. Again, his best basketball happened when he was working out of the post, which has been a recurring theme. He was out-played by Derrick Williams, who had 12 points on 6-10 shooting. Two things I noticed specifically while watching: first (and really, probably not that important), as the camera panned to the Timberwolves huddle in a timeout, I watched Beasley, who wasn’t going to be in on the next play. I expected to see him staring off into space, singing the words to whatever song was playing on the speakers while Adelman discussed the next play with the team. Nope. Beas was focused, watching what Adelman was drawing up, despite the fact that he wasn’t going to be in. I don’t know what it means (probably nothing), but I liked seeing it anyway. Second: Minnesota’s announcers spent two entire possessions discussing how Beasley is too much of a ball-stopper and how he needs to “pass more on a team with Rubio.” But why? Why would Minnesota want their worst passer passing the ball? Unselfish Beasley turns it over way too much, and we spent the past 11 games pining for Beasley’s return because we missed him as a shot-creator.
- Not really a new bullet point, but the last one was getting too long. Beas DID have a really nice give and go pass to Derrick Williams. So that happened too.
- I feel like Minnesota’s TV announcers are actually pretty good about being unbiased, and that they occasionally manage to actually teach me something. Can any non-Timberwolves fans confirm/deny this statement?
- Last thought: after losing to Houston, I was really discouraged about Minnesota’s prospects of getting back to .500 any time soon, considering that their next three opponents were the Mavericks, Spurs, and Lakers. Two down, one to go…