Who would’ve thought that a tiff between Danny Granger and Kevin Love would be a huge swinging point in what was supposed to be a tight game? And who would’ve thought that swing was in the favor of the road team?
Usually those kinds of moments swing momentum in the home team’s favor but that was the biggest difference in tonight’s loss to the Indiana Pacers. The Wolves lost 109-99 to a very good Pacers team led by Granger’s big second half.
Granger proved tonight, at least to me, that he is a #1 option for a good team like the Pacers. Granger couldn’t miss a shot in the third and fourth quarters, which just so happened to come after he shoved Love after a lose ball foul.
Love swung his paw down hard over the top of Granger on a lose rebound. Granger didn’t take a liking to it and shoved right back with some words for Love and the rest of the Muskies. Shoving commenced and both sides had to be seperated by the referees. From that point on the chippiness was at an all-time high. Whistles were ringing from all around the court, which seemed to throw off the Wolves’ focus. But not Granger’s. No, Granger took advantage of that moment, where he received a technical, and lit up the Target Center up until the final buzzer.
Granger’s big night was just ridiculous. Part of it was due to poor on-ball defense from Wes Johnson and Martell Webster but most of it was just Granger being on fire. 29 of his 36 points came in the second half, including five dagger-like three pointers.
The Timberwolves — donning Hardwood Classics featuring the ABA Minnesota Muskies jerseys from 1966-1967 season — were unable to answer Granger’s play all night long. Love, who I thought was going to rejuvenate this team after his tussle, never got much cooking in the second half. His three-point stroke wasn’t working tonight, which disappointingly seems to throw off his entire offensive repertoire. And without Love hitting outside shots, Ricky Rubio’s outside options are nearly exhausted. Instead, he was forced to go through other options, such as Michael Beasley and Nikola Pekovic, who couldn’t muster up enough to match Granger’s play.
Let’s finish with some bullets:
- The Wolves’ defense was bad tonight. That patented scrappiness we’ve come to love this season wasn’t there, and when it was, it just turned into boneheaded fouls. As mentioned earlier, Johnson and Webster struggled to cover Granger all game long. Even point guard Darren Collison was using his speed to blaze by Rubio and company; it was the first time I noticed Rubio completely overmatched on the defensive end; he didn’t even register a single steal tonight, the tell tale sign that the defense just isn’t clicking or nearly as active.
- Darko Milicic officially made his bid to be Pekovic’s backup for good tonight. He went 2-9 in just 18 minutes. But those seven missed shots are way worse than you can imagine; just the ugliest, flat hook shots I’ve ever witnessed. And again, there were multiple dunk opportunities that he bypassed for a hook/layup looking shot. Just not a good game for the good guy and it may be time for him to take a permanent seat. His defensive prowess is still needed in specific matchups but he can be better utilized from the bench.
- Speaking of bench players, JJ Barea made his return tonight and it could’ve come later. Barea’s first stint on the floor after returning from injury was rough; he went 0-4 and was stalemated by the oversized Pacers’ frontcourt. Even his second stint, where his shooting and points increased, he still struggled to squeak through lanes inside. Indiana was just too big, way too big.
- Beasley followed up his 34-point night in Houston with an 11-point dud. Remember how in Houston he worked for his shots? Well, he tried to get those same looks without trying for them. It might not make sense but just check the box score and you’ll know what I mean. I did, however, enjoy seeing him get back to the free throw line. More of that, please.
- Going back to the starting center saga, check these numbers: Pekovic recorded his second double-double in the last five games. He’s also scored in double-digits in four of those five tilts. ‘Nuff said.
- The Wolves hit only three of 17 three-pointers. The Wolves had 16 turnovers. The Wolves missed nine free throws. This game should’ve been much closer between two very well matched teams but the Wolves didn’t show up with their best effort.
- To sum it all up, this was a tough loss indeed but I’m thankful it came to a really good team. The Indiana Pacers will challenge some of the East’s best like Miami and Chicago, especially if Granger can pull his weight like he did tonight. The Pacers have a deep bench and one of the most complete rosters I’ve seen in the NBA. I expect big things to keep comin’ from Indiana. Way to go, Larry; GM of the year, indeed.
The Wolves go to New Jersey Friday night. Hopefully they don’t have Dwight Howard by then, although a Pek-Superman matchup would be pretty special to watch. Definitely another winnable road game that could give the Wolves some momentum moving forward into an easier schedule over the next few games.