Who’da thunk that it’d be Derrick Williams leading the Wolves to a win in L.A. tonight and not the former UCLA Bruin, Kevin Love?
And with the help of his sidekick Michael Beasley, the Wolves’ bench thrashed the Clippers in the fourth quarter tonight, cruising to yet another big win in L.A.
Just basing this off of the body language at Staples Center tonight, these two teams are certainly rivals to be, if not already. Sure, Blake Griffin and Love share a close friendship but the on-court action doesn’t minimize their competitive nature. Griffin had the upper-hand over Love all night long, starting early and attacking him often. Griffin had his post game, albeit ugly and scrappy as can be, working against both Nikola Pekovic and Love throughout the first half. The dunks weren’t there — Griffin missed converting two early alley-oops — but he was finding his way to the rim and getting the ball to fall.
Despite Griffin’s big first half, the Wolves somehow stuck in it, staying within 10 the entire half and into the third. The third quarter is where they started to make their move behind Derrick Williams’ scoring punch. Love’s putrid night was Williams’ treasure. Williams started hitting big shots in all sorts of spots on the floor, and in all sorts of different ways; top of key spot-up jumpers, dribble drives down the center of the lane, drawing fouls on the lower block; it was Griffin who couldn’t be stopped in the first half but it was Williams, when it mattered most in the clutch, who the Clippers failed to cease.
It wasn’t all Williams, though. You can’t take credit away from Beasley, who again showed us the player he could be. After Williams took over the game as well as the lead in the fourth, Beasley cleaned everything up and swept the Clippers right on home. Beasley was fearless tonight, taking all sorts of different shots just as Williams did. He and Williams combined for 54 points on 20-25 shooting, including 7-7 from deep. I mean, just, wow. And because of these two, the Wolves’ bench outscored the Clippers’ 72-11, with the majority of that coming in the fourth quarter against the Clippers’ starters. They literally had no answers on either end of the court, and there’s your ballgame.
But it wasn’t all Beasley and Williams. They were hitting the shots but give JJ Barea credit for finding them in their spots and letting them take the reigns from there. Because of that, the Wolves had 27 assists to their nine turnovers. The assist/TO ratio has been the Wolves’ achilles heel all year long but tonight, with it in their favor, they were able to make the plays and, most importantly, hit their shots.
These performances become desperate when both Ricky Rubio and Love are all but incompetent. The scoring punch needs to come from Williams and Beasley to give Love and Pek some time on the bench, but everyone pitches in with their contribution. Barea needs to direct traffic and stay within the flow of the offense instead of forcing drives and contested outside shots. Webster needs to step up his defense on the perimeter and convert the shots he’s given. It’s all a team effort and that’s the biggest takeaway from tonight. The Wolves don’t need Love and Rubio to win every game; the bench is certainly deep enough to extend the game at the very least. Obviously, when on, those two only improve our chances, but when the Wolves can locate another scoring threat — Or in tonight’s case, two scoring threats, — especially off the bench, well, you know the result it can produce.
Next up the Wolves bunker down in L.A. for one more night as they face-off with the L.A. Lakers tomorrow night. The Lakers may be without Kobe Bryant, who suffered a broken nose and concussion in the All-Star game, no thanks to Dwyane Wade. Without Kobe, the Wolves have an enormous advantage with their starting backcourt, if Rubio regains his form, that is. With Kobe in, Luke Ridnour will struggle to guard the Matt Barnes/Metta World Peace combo the Lakers will throw at him. Let’s just hope for the former and that the momentum collected from tonight’s win transfers over to tomorrow, while Love and Rubio look to harness their true talent and produce accordingly.