Just one week ago, head coach Rick Adelman was just pleading for bodies, any at all, to pitch in their weight to create serviceable rotations. Tonight, Adelman pleaded for big bodies, just anything, to combat the brute force of the Lakers’ frontcourt.
Let’s just say he never really figured it out. Throw in 35 points from the greatest scorer in the league in Kobe Bryant and the Wolves didn’t have much of a prayer in this one.
But somehow they did. And somehow they made this game way closer than what it should’ve been, especially considering how atrocious they played in the first half.
In front of hundreds of Wolves fans and thousands of Kobe Bryant fans, the Wolves got off to their typical slow start. The defense never found a rhythm and Pau Gasol caught on. Gasol ended the quarter with 14 points, pressing all of the Wolves’ options; they tried Love and Pekovic on him to no avail.
The second quarter only got worse, as the Wolves’ shots continuously failed to hit net. The shots taken were all open, nearly all good shots but they just wouldn’t fall. But somehow the Wolves did just enough to stay competitive and keep it far from a blowout. The biggest reason they stayed in it all was ball control. Granted their shots weren’t falling, at least they were able to shoot them. We’ve seen high turnover rates in the last two games, mostly due to Ricky Rubio, which always ends up with the Wolves stepping all over their own feet. The Wolves finished with only four turnovers tonight and, as a result, were awarded for their controlled fast pace with 104 looks at the hoop. Also, one of the most beautiful plays I’ve seen run all season long helped keep things close late in the quarter. A Pek ‘n’ Roll, coined by Zach Harper via Twitter, freed up Rubio to drive on Bynum into the paint. Rubio’s gravitational pull drew him away from the hoop allowed Kevin Love to cut baseline to the hoop where Rubio promptly delivered the rock. Love threw in the layup and even drew the foul from Bynum, sending him to the line for an And-1. And with that, the Wolves went into half partially alive and only down eight. (Believe me, it could’ve been a lot worse.)
The Lakers’ shooting in the first half was painfully efficient but I knew in the back of my head it couldn’t last. Into the second half we go, sure enough, it does. Kobe came out firing, hitting three contested three-pointers in the grill of Wes Johnson, prompting the talk, smirks and, of course, all of the “Ooohs” and “Aahhs” all around the Target Center. As the Kobe-lover just three rows above me put it, “Black Mamba gets his!”
A change was needed at this point. The game was slipping away, things were growing uglier with every second ticking by. The crowd was non-existent with the exception to those bandwagon-ers. Adelman replied, after a fourth personal foul on Pekovic, with a change to the rotation. Clearly, going small wasn’t working with Luke Ridnour who was a glaring liability on defense and failed to hit his shot all night long. Adelman inserted Martell Webster for Ridnour and Anthony Randolph for Pekovic. Randolph hadn’t played in a few games and I feared for his efforts against the physical ogre that is Andrew Bynum tearing him apart in the post. But that’s when Adelman made the biggest change of all: the zone.
As anyone who bleeds NBA basketball, a 2-3 zone is only a temporary fix; a stretch of the imagination really, just hoping that the offense gets confused and starts taking bad shots and turning the ball over. And you’d think that a veteran-spotted team like the Lakers would take a defending zone and slice it to pieces. But that wasn’t the case tonight. The zone gave just enough pressure and the Lakers responded with poor shots from the perimeter and multiple turnovers. It worked!
This gave the Wolves just enough space to breath and gave the offense a deadly jolt, a jolt that helped ignite a 19-6 run at the end of the third. That quicker, hard-pressing lineup stayed in to start the fourth and the strategy continued to pay off as the Wolves eventually took a slight lead.
But it just wasn’t enough. The magic lost its luster and Kobe morphed back into the Mamba, nailing two huge floaters in the lane to put the game out of reach.
It truly was a valiant effort on behalf of the Wolves. The scrappiness will never get tiring and the will to win will never burn out. Some how, even up against all odds including a troublesome frontcourt, bothersome superstar-loving referees and thee Black Mamba, these Wolves find it within themselves to always fight back. And this is a big thanks to Rick Adelman. Never would you see this kind of effort last season under Kurt Rambis’ authority; they would’ve been happy to roll over and die than fight back with all they have. It’s a complete 180 compared to last season’s efforts in mighty close games like these against mighty opponents. Adelman is giving this team the best opportunity to win night in and night out. It all comes down to execution and tonight it just wasn’t enough.
If I don’t bore the hell out of you already with that exaggerated narrative, here are some bullet points to sum it all up:
- 104. That’s how many shots the Wolves took tonight. Not all were great, not too many were that bad. In large part to Rubio, everyone is getting their fair share of open shots but it comes down to hitting them and hitting them earlier on, so they’re not spending the rest of the game scaling out of the hole they created. That’s what happened tonight before the Lakers stepped on their fingers, sending them back into the abysmal, metaphorical hole I mentioned.
- I talk about how the Wolves simply need to start nailing open shots set up by Rubio. Well, how about Rubio start hitting the shots he sets up for himself? He gets wide open looks constantly but can’t hit them. He only went 2-13 from the floor tonight, telling me that the last game was a fluke and that the struggles shooting continue. All I can say is I hope he keeps shooting and we can only pray that a couple more each game start to fall.
- The Wolves desperately missed Darko Milicic tonight. Now read that again. Darko’s sheer size would’ve helped tonight. Although Randolph was impressive as was Pekovic, the minutes that Brad Miller played tonight, which was his season debut, should’ve been dominated by Darko because he would’ve helped much more on defense. Everyone was getting thrown around by Bynum underneath and Darko would’ve been able to combat that a lot more than what Miller did.
- Michael Beasley was good tonight, not great. He made open shots and his rebounding was outstanding (13). But he’s still struggling with his career-long issue of getting better shots. Just because he gets closer to the rim doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a better shot. Many of his shots inside are contested or even blocked. If only he can start to squeeze those up and in more often, his post game may actually become relevant.
- Wes Johnson posted a pitiful +/- tonight at -15, but don’t take that for granted. His defense on Kobe was exceptional (Beaz actually played fantastic defense on Mamba as well) as he forced him into a lot of bad shots. Only problem was that Kobe is Kobe and bad shots for him are still likely to go in. All I’m saying is don’t write his defensive performance off.
- Pekovic had seven offensive rebounds. What a tank?
That’s all for now. Next up is the Rockets again tomorrow night, this time in Houston. Until then, cheers.