In the words of our dearly suspended missed superstar, Kevin Love, “Whoa. Too close for comfort. Got it done. Happy for the team. Great win.”
But just imagine what the margin would’ve been without the Wolves’ new sterling starting center Nikola Pekovic.
Alongside Ricky Rubio, Pek dominated the game basically from start to finish, squeaking out a big home win against the Sacramento Kings.
It’s actually hard to capture what this win really means to the Wolves. For starters, the last five games or so, they’ve battled to make it to that .500 milestone. It doesn’t seem like too big of a deal but for the Wolves, hitting .500 well into the season is a tremendous feat. But tonight, they thwarted that goal and pushed it to the max by inching above the .500 mark for the season. That’s got to be a momentum builder going forward.
More to build on from this one: Nikola Pekovic. It’s premature to say he’s making a name for himself around the NBA but he’s definitely reaching towards that echelon. His post-game is outstanding; the footwork, the touch around the basket, it all comes together in an oddly attractive package; you just can’t help but love him right now. He still remains one of the clumsiest behemoths I’ve ever seen but he uses it to his advantage. One way to truly interpret his improvements in the post was a play mid-way through the third quarter. (YouTube won’t let me embed the video, sorry.)
As you can see, Pek received the ball on the lower block and was immediately double-teamed by Evans. He sensed the double-team, spun one-footed off of Cousins’ shoulder down the baseline and soared upwards for the dunk. He made Demarcus Cousins pout all night long — literally. Pek’s improvements will be ringing around the league and rivalries will start to form — He and Cousins clearly don’t take a liking to each other already, especially after he laid out Cousins last season.
But without Rubio, Pek may not have played at the level he did tonight. Rubio did a beautiful job all night of allowing Pek to gain position down low and hit him with a pinpoint pass; All Pek had left to do was toss it in. Rubio set all of his teammates up, whether it was alley-oops or skip passes for open three pointers, all of his 14 assists were simply sexy. And it could’ve been better; if the Wolves had more accurate shooters, I believe Rubio would’ve had 20 assists tonight, no problem. His court vision but, perhaps, most of all, his hustle allows plays to develop in ways they really shouldn’t in the first place.
Rubio’s hustle translates beautifully to the defensive end, too. He was scrambling for lose balls — although he did get into foul trouble as a direct result but it also paid off in five steals. But what I noticed tonight, is that Rubio’s hustle was so damn contagious. Everyone was hustling on loose balls, grabbing boards, getting knocked down and getting right back up; one play from Anthony Tolliver, who should’ve drawn a charge, hit the floor and, from the floor, swatted the ball away from a King.
Thanks to that pure hustle all over the floor, the Wolves really snuck away with one tonight. But don’t be disappointed; silver linings laced this victory. From Pek’s emergence, Rubio’s leadership and Derrick Williams’ clutch play down the stretch, it was a special win in so many ways.
Next up comes the Memphis Grizzlies tomorrow night. The Wolves will travel without Love for one more game. If I’m convinced that tonight’s win was special, a win in Memphis without Love would be astronomically important.
I’ve heard talk of the Timberwolves in the playoffs, but let’s put that idea on hold for a while and instead, let’s discuss the more pertinent optimism.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are 24 games into the season (over a third of the games have been played already…time flies on a compressed schedule!), and they are a .500 team.
It didn’t come easily, this watermark of mediocrity. Starting off the season against Oklahoma City, the Wolves were essentially assured of an uphill battle back to the middle. They lost to Milwaukee, which would have made them 1-1. They lost to Memphis, missing 3-3. A loss to Utah prevented 8-8. They couldn’t reach 10-10 against the Lakers. The Pacers prevented 11-11.
Several sites, perhaps discounting the Milwaukee loss as too early in the season, have incorrectly said that Minnesota had four opportunities before tonight to get back to .500, but in reality, tonight was the sixth attempt.
Maybe all the pomp and circumstance from writers is what made it difficult for the Wolves to get here. Maybe it’s tough to focus on the game at hand when everyone wants to talk about what winning the game would mean. Maybe every writer has been like me and spent five paragraphs talking about getting back to .500 without mentioning a thing about a big home win for the Timberwolves. (*Ahem*)
Fortunately, once all the dust settled, there was still a game to be finished.
Minnesota’s first half was everything we enjoy watching from this team. They were sharing the ball well, hitting mid-range shots, and playing energetic defense. There was a really nice alley-oop from Rubio to Wes Johnson, which has become such a staple in most Wolves games.
Adelman made a really interesting defensive adjustment, allowing Wes to guard Kevin Martin and putting Ridnour on Chandler Parsons. It was absolutely the right call, despite the obvious mis-match potential of Ridnour vs Parsons. Wes bothered Martin and took him completely out of rhythm, forcing Martin into 1-10 shooting. Parsons struggled against Ridnour. He seemed to feel the pressure to perform with the smaller Ridnour guarding him, whacking away at the ball whenever Parsons brought it down low. The aggressive defense disturbed Parsons, and he missed a ton of shots, never really seeming to get comfortable. If a defensive strategy can prevent an All-Star from beating you, role players are going to have a much harder time doing so. Adelman gambled on it and he won. Smart man.
Houston threatened the Wolves in the fourth, getting the lead all the way down to three before two plays sealed things for the Wolves. First, with Minnesota up by just five and 4:22 left in the game, Ridnour missed a three, but Pekovic got the offensive rebound. Barea cut around his man and found Ridnour open in the corner…the crack in Houston’s zone defense. Ridnour swished the three, and put the Wolves up by eight.
Then, just two possessions later, with the Wolves up six, Love drained a contested three, giving the Wolves a much-needed nine point lead. Rubio drove to the lane a couple plays later, icing the game with a layup.
This game is, boiled down, just another win for the Wolves. They are .500. They have won half and lost half of their games.
But as of right now, the Rockets are 9th in the West. And here’s my last thought: you will be hard pressed to convince me that the Wolves, at full strength, aren’t plain and simply better than Houston. In their first matchup, Minnesota was missing several key players. As the necessary pieces started to return, the Wolves won the next two. Minnesota may or may not be a playoff team. But they are pretty good.
Beating New Jersey by just three points is one of those wins. I wasn’t able to watch the game live, so following it on my phone, I was really discouraged seeing the Nets continue to fight back whenever it felt like Minnesota was about to put them away. The Timberwolves went on an 11-0 run in the second quarter and a 12-0 run in the third, and both times they failed to administer anything resembling a killing blow.
But watching the replay on League Pass, I was more encouraged. Maybe it was just the sweet pass from Rubio to Wes Johnson, maybe it was Pekovic suddenly turning into mid-90s Hakeem Olajuwon, I’m not sure. But here’s a short list of the things that Minnesota weathered to come away with their 11th win of the season:
Anthony Morrow: Destroyer of Worlds. Morrow scored a career high 42 points.
Wes Johnson fouling Morrow: Destroyer of Worlds on a three point attempt that gave the Nets a four point play and brought the game within one.
A mediocre night from Kevin Love. (He had a 20-10 double double, but needed 16 shots to do it and was bullied by Kris Humphries all night.)
15-46 shooting from the starters.
A road game on the East Coast (despite a startling number of Rubio fans…is he creating road fanboys?)
16 turnovers as a team.
An obnoxious fan who looked a little like The Situation jumping around on the sideline. I’m just impressed nobody punched him.
Deron Williams vs Ricky Rubio.
Somehow, despite all that, Minnesota pulled out a gutsy victory. New Jersey is not a good basketball team this year. But if a team has Deron Williams and a player who drops 42 points, they are a good team for the night. So how did they pull this one out?
One very big man putting together a very big statline: Nikola Pekovic.
Sometimes when a player scores a ton of points, it’s really difficult to imagine him ever scoring that many again.
For example: Michael Beasley against Houston on Monday. Will he score that many points again at some point? Probably. But 34 points on 10-14 shooting? 2-3 from behind the arc? Probably not going to continue. He demonstrated some really positive signs, posting up more often and working to get to the basket, but Beasley’s long twos historically don’t continue to fall the way they did against Houston.
Friday night’s performance by Nikola Pekovic is a little more intriguing. Pek scored a career high 27 points against the Nets in 34 minutes off the bench. He shot 11-14 from the floor and even contributed a huge assist, finding Ridnour open in the corner for a late three.
Take a look at Pekovic’s shot chart for a second. The thought that has been bouncing around in my head (and tripping me out) since last night is this: none of those shots are unsustainable. They were all easy layups or shots close to the rim, created either by a series of nice post moves that utilize his strength, or beautiful passes from Rubio. That’s the big difference between Pekovic and Darko: Pek catches Rubio’s passes and finishes them with ease. Darko lets them bounce of his fingers out of bounds.
And yeah, I know that Pek will struggle when matched up against taller, longer defenders. But there are going to be very few players who can match his strength. While expecting 27 points per game is completely unreasonable, I honestly believe that he can develop into a productive center for Minnesota.
That roughly covers last night’s game. It didn’t always look pretty but Minnesota needed a win and they got it.
Tonight, they go for .500 again. Much more coming soon.
Holy moly, Batman! You mean to tell me that the slow-starting, sometimes sluggish offense of the Minnesota Timberwolves dropped 120 points on the road against the Houston Rockets?! And Michael Beasley caught fire, scorching the net for 34 points?!? It’s almost as if they should’ve been firing on all cylinders like this all season long!
Sparked by a 42-point third quarter, the Wolves secured their tenth victory of the season and move that much closer to a .500 record for the season.
The story of this one wouldn’t take Sherlock Holmes to discover. The Wolves opened a full-onslaught of offensive power against the Rockets and never looked back. The buckets were raining down and the points kept going up, ’nuff said.
But it really felt good to watch. It just feels like Finally!, you know? The Wolves have struggled from the field for the last few weeks. Actually, the Wolves have only shot 50% just once this season against the San Antonio Spurs — They also nailed 12 threes in that one but still only scored 106 points compared to the 120 tonight; that oughta tell you something about how efficient Beaz and co. was tonight at the offensive end.
Speaking of Beaz, he was doing his thing tonight, lofting contested jumpers from anywhere and everywhere, prompting fans to yell the usual, “Cut it out, dude! Pass the ball!” The only difference to tonight was that those shots found their way through the net also prompting each and every Beaz critic, as well as Rocket fans, to shut their faces. Coming off the bench yet again, Beasley played a whole 32 minutes, scored 34 points on 10-14 shooting. To make things even sweeter, Beaz was able to shoot 12 from the charity stripe; he nailed all 12. It’s an improbable performance likely to never be repeated again but it was special. So special that it reminded me of why he was drafted only behind Derrick Rose in the 2009 NBA Draft. Keep playing like this and he’ll exceed his current value tenfold but that’s been his problem all career long. No consistency, diminishing potential and you’ve got the Beaz. Still, here’s to hoping things can turn around … for good.
Though Beaz’s ridiculous contributions were the deciding factor in this one, don’t look past what Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are continuing to do on a nightly basis. Love and Rubio combined for 47 points on 16-25 shooting. They were also a combined +42 on the floor, in large part to that incomparable third quarter.
Throw in great production from Martell Webster, Nikola Pekovic and Anthony Randolph and the Wolves put together one of the most complete games I’ve seen this season.
After losing to the Rockets just last week at home, this sorta felt like a must-win. They didn’t just deliver a win but they made a statement that they’re not to be messed with. Furthermore, they showed that an emotional loss to the Lakers won’t get the best of them on back-to-backs, even when on the road.
Not much more than that tonight … Just a fun game all-around. Next up comes the Indiana Pacers into town. That will be Wednesday night, as said, at the Target Center.
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.
“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.
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…
The first victory? Sure, it may have been as flukey as they get. I mean, a team as bad as the Wolves were last year upsetting the World Champs never comes with favorable odds.
But tonight was a statement.
Undermanned even worse than last game, the Wolves came into Dallas and found their rhythm at the end of the second quarter and into the second half to defeat the Mavericks, 105-90.
By no means do I truly believe that the Mavs are chumps but they were beaten badly by a badly beaten up Wolves lineup. Thanks to the our array of ‘bigs’ (Nikola Pekovic contributed 13 points, Derrick Williams added 10 and Darko Milicic had a block party, posting seven) the Wolves were able play physical underneath despite injuries all over the place. Remember back on Monday when the Wolves played the Rockets with only nine players? Well the same happened tonight, only worse. Although Wes Johnson made his return from illness — rumor has it that he was still struggling even — but the Wolves were without Luke Ridnour, meaning the bulk of backcourt duty had to come from Ricky Rubio and Wayne Ellington alone.
But, boy, did they respond well. I made the excuse on Monday that too many minutes for these young players is going against all pros of having a youthful squad — fresh legs, hyperactivity, hustle — but they proved me wrong tonight. Rubio responded his woeful night against the Rockets with a great outing last night against the comparable counterpart Jason Kidd. The poor shooting performances are starting to catch up with him and it shows in the box score but his playmaking isn’t tarnished. Rubio dished out 12 assists in 46 minutes of play last night. Furthermore, half of those assists set up the Wolves for big three-pointers, where they shot 9-21 (Kevin Love hit four of those six dimes from deep).
It was Ellington, though, who really came through in the clutch to push this game out of reach. Having to handle a bulk of the minutes at two, Ellington wasn’t phased by moving to the point while Rubio got his short-lived rest in the third quarter. Ellington was attacking the paint and, although they weren’t all falling, he continued to shoot knowing it was his only option. Eventually he hit a dead-away three that helped pushed the threshold even further.
As terrific as the backcourt adapted to the injuries, though, it was Love’s night. Such a fairy tale pressed for a beautiful ending, right? After signing his new, shiny contract, Love trotted out onto the court and led the Wolves with his sixth 30+ point – 10+ rebound performance of the year (In case you were wondering, the next closest player has only one game with those kinds of numbers). Love continues to work in such an efficient manner, going 9-16 from the field — 4-6 from three-point land — and 9-10 from the free throw line. To much dismay over Twitter yesterday, Love’s new deal wasn’t exactly what everyone was hoping for. After all, he’s playing like a max player but wasn’t given the deal to match. I’ll try my best to explain why it was a good deal for everyone involved later on today.
Overall, last night’s victory meant a lot to this team. It was another big road win — the last coming against the Clippers in L.A. — despite Dirk Nowitzki not being in the lineup. Dallas got rings, but the Wolves got the win, and an impressive one at that.
Next up is is the San Antonio Spurs at home on Friday at 7 pm. A little birdie says Martell Webster may suit up and even play. Just have to wait and see. Until then, get some rest, Ricky, you reeeaaaallly need it.
Despite Kevin Love’s valiant efforts, the Wolves were straight thwarted by Rick Adelman’s former team — who just happened to be led by Timberwolves’ fans greatest enemy — and lost by 15, 107-92.
The Wolves continue to dig themselves into deep holes to start off games. Tonight the Wolves couldn’t get the ball to fall through the net in the first quarter and found themselves down by nine at the end of the first. And the only reason the Wolves were even that close was because of Love.
Honestly, Love was the only player who attempted redemption after the last pitiful performance against the Utah Jazz, where he went just 5-21 from the field — 1-7 from three-point land — and only grabbed eight rebounds (Which just so happened to end his consecutive double-double streak). But tonight, Love came out guns-a-blazin’ and continued his hot first quarter start throughout rest of the night. He finished with a whopping 39 points on 13-19 shooting — 5-5 from three-point land.
The evil that prowled the opposing sideline that is Kevin McHale said during pregame that he hoped Love didn’t go off for that huge game/stat line that he’s accustomed to against them. Well, he did, and it still didn’t help. This is how bad the Wolves lost tonight: Take away 15 of Love’s 39 points, equaling his season average, and the Wolves would lose by 30 tonight. 30 points.
The Wolves did attempt to close the gap in the third quarter and eventually took a slight lead mid-quarter, thanks to the regular Rubio-to-Love three bomb. And in that stretch, the Wolves’ defense started to perk up yet again. It’s a recurring theme through the season, trail big early, fight back late and hope they can do enough on both ends to pull out the win. But it wasn’t enough tonight. The Wolves made mental errors all over the court in the fourth quarter – unnecessary skip passes that found their way into the stands, dropped balls, missed lay ups — and the Rockets cashed in on the opportunities. Literally, the Wolves handed the game to the Rockets on a silver platter lined with gold. It was a sad, disappointing sight.
Not only did the Wolves lose big tonight but it made it that much worse losing to the “Land of Timberwolves’ Misfits.” Houston’s organization is lined with ex-Timberwolves from the coaching staff — the aforementioned McHale as well as “Former head-coach-to-be” J.B. Bickerstaff — to the roster, where Jonny Flynn lies (Literally, he doesn’t play). And the ties between Minnesota and Houston go beyond that, after multiple trades in the past few seasons but I digress. Again, this lost made it extra disappointing losing big to the Rockets but consider the very obvious silver lining: the injuries.
Specifically in the last two losses, the Wolves have suffered from a lack of supporting cast to supplement Love and Ricky Rubio; Luke Ridnour and Wayne Ellington can only do so much, especially offensively (Speaking of, Ellington had been on such a hot start in the last few games, he came out and laid an egg, 2-11 from the field). The Wolves were without six players tonight; five to injuries (Malcolm Lee, Michael Beasley, Brad Miller, J.J. Barea and Martell Webster) and one to sickness (Wes Johnson). Adelman had just nine players to rotate in and out of, what I believe, was a matchup between two evenly skilled teams. The rotations were odd and the minutes weren’t equally divided, and for good reason. Love played 42 minutes, Ridnour played 36 and, in his first start as a rookie, Derrick Williams was in for 37 minutes of burn time. Even Rubio, who clearly had a troublesome outing, played 38 minutes. The luxury of a deep bench is the ability to swap in fresh legs for seasoned ones that aren’t performing. As tough as it is, Rubio needed to sit this one out and would’ve benefited from Barea being healthy. Same goes for Williams, who could’ve used breathers in place of Beasley.
Rubio and Love, specifically, visibly need some rest and they’re only going to get it once this team is fully healthy. And once the injured are healed, the bench goes on for days, giving those starters some much needed breathers. Young teams thrive on having more energy and fresh legs — we saw that especially early on this season with Rubio and co. coming off the bench — but when they’re working as hard as they are and playing as many minutes as veterans around the league, things start to fall apart, as we’ve seen in the last two tilts.
Eventually this team will heal up and it’ll practically be a new season. Here’s to believing in that idea.
Next up, the Timberwolves travel to Dallas to play the Dirk-less Mavs. Could be a special chance to steal one on the road… If the starters are feeling fresh and up to the challenge because no one, except for maybe Johnson, will be returning to action.
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.
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.
It was the third quarter, and Minnesota was up by 18. I was cracking my knuckles, totally excited to write this recap. I was contemplating the best adjective for Kevin Love’s performance (“should I go with ‘scintillating’ or ‘intriguing?’”). I was imagining that this time the Wolves really would put the game away, that they would secure a big win against a good team. With their offense flowing, shots falling, and the defense stifling the Hawks, I thought the Wolves were about to finally learn how to put their foot on the throat of an opponent and step down.
I was, of course, very wrong.
The Hawks ended the quarter on a 10-0 run, cutting the lead to single digits. Every three seemed to be falling. The Wolves couldn’t score against a zone (leading to Rubio’s most Rubio quote ever: “We didn’t know how to offense the zone.”). The legendary Ivan Johnson, with some help from his teammates, finally managed to slow down Love. Suddenly, the Wolves were pretty clearly going to lose.
This is what happens to teams with only two scorers. Rubio has proven himself to be more capable of scoring than we could have dreamed possible. Love has been dominant, and he showed tonight exactly how unstoppable he can be if he works to get shots down low rather than settling for long jumpers.
But with Beasley and Barea out of the game, the Wolves had nobody who could create their own shot. Worse: they had nobody who could hit an open shot when Rubio created it for them. Minnesota went icy cold, the Hawks capitalized by making every big three, and eventually the lead became a deficit, the final points coming from Ivan Johnson hitting two big free throws to give Atlanta their final margin.
And yes, I do think that Johnson fouled Love on that final play. He appeared to lower his shoulder and crash forward into Love’s chest, knocking him flying. Love dressed it up a bit by throwing his arms out, but there was clearly contact.
That being said, the Wolves should not have lost this game, and it wasn’t thanks to the officials that they did, no matter what Anthony Tolliver might think on Twitter. They lost because of their shoddy execution down the stretch, and some very, very hot shooting by the Hawks.
On to the bullets:
If there is any good news to be gleaned from tonight, it’s this: Minnesota would have won if they could have figured out that damn zone. That’s a concrete problem that Adelman can make them improve on in practice. The Wolves don’t have to try and fix some mental road block, they have to figure out a way to beat a zone. This is something a good coach like Adelman should be able to do.
I’ve been critical of Love’s shot selection, so let me clarify: I have no problem with Love shooting jumpers. He is very good at them. I have a problem with him SETTLING for jumpers. I want him to make them a supplement to his post game, rather than the focus of his offensive weaponry. In the last two games, he has done that, and he has gone for 30 in both. This is not a coincidence.
Jeff Teague did something that Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and John Wall all failed to do this season: he punished Rubio on offense with his speed. Rubio really made the other three work for their points by cleverly moving his feet, but Teague seemed to be able to get by Rubio at will, which was startling and a little worrisome. Was Rubio feeling tired after playing 44 minutes against New Orleans? It’s hard to say. But Teague definitely didn’t seem to struggle against him.
I love watching Dominique Wilkins highlights on YouTube (here, have some), so when I saw he was doing the Hawks color commentary, I decided to watch the game on mute so I wouldn’t come out quite as full of hatred as I did last night. And it worked!
On my wish list for the Wolves offensively: a player who can reliably hit a corner three. Love creates so much havoc in the post and Rubio forces defenses to help whenever he drives, but Minnesota often fails to capitalize because the defense doesn’t need to respect the shooters. Tonight for example: Minnesota shot 4-21 from three point range. 19% folks. That will almost never get it done.
On the topic of missing three pointers: Wes Johnson. Today I was busily tweeting about how Wes is awful, can’t ever hit his shots, and all the usual things when Rubio tossed a beautiful floating alley-oop to Wes who finished it off with style. It was the second time in two days that Rubio made that pass to Wes. If Minnesota could just figure out a way to insert him into the game right before Rubio makes that pass and take him out immediately afterward, we would be in business. But unfortunately, Wes continues to miss open threes from all over the perimeter, wasting nice passes from Rubio that find him completely open. Sigh.
But for real though: in that last quarter, Ivan Johnson destroyed Kevin Love. Take a look and compare Love’s shot chart in the third and fourth quarters, remembering that Johnson guarded Love for much of the fourth. The worst part? Johnson had some trash to talk about Love after the game: “My thing is I don’t watch basketball, so I don’t know who anybody is…but even if I did (know who Love is) I wouldn’t be afraid.” This, of course, begs the question: what DOES Ivan Johnson fear? Sharks? Tanks? Nuclear missiles? ANYTHING?
Luke Ridnour has played two bad games right in a row after his career night against Chicago. Last night he was 4-13 with one assist, but those numbers don’t capture how uncomfortable it felt watching him run the offense when Rubio sat down. Tonight was the same story: 3-8 from the field with two assists and two turnovers. It’s not just that he missed shots, it’s that the shots he missed were big ones, potential momentum changers. It’s that when he’s missing shots, he’s essentially useless for Minnesota, since they clearly don’t have him in for defensive purposes.
I mentioned in my preview how important getting off to a quick start would be for the Wolves, and it certainly worked to their favor until those disastrous late game runs by the Hawks. Minnesota came out swinging at the beginning, which really felt like a vast improvement. It would be nice to see that trend continue.
Not a whole lot of playing time for Derrick Williams in Michael Beasley’s absence, as he saw just 8 minutes tonight. That can’t be easy on a rookie.
That should roughly sum things up. Minnesota’s next two games are against Detroit and Sacramento, both very winnable. And if anybody knows how to offense a zone, Ricky could use some pointers.