A special kind of lethargy sets in when two feet of snow fall on your city. Everything seems wrapped in gauze. The world gets still and hushed. Wearing sweaters and looking out the window become important activities. This is a totally appropriate mood for things like melancholy contemplation and drinking dark beer. But when it comes to playing professional basketball, as the Wolves demonstrated on Saturday, this luxurious inertia is somewhat less useful.
Energy is most commonly associated with rebounding and defense but in the first half of Saturday night’s game in Chicago the Wolves’ wintry listlessness was most glaring on the offensive end of the floor. The Bulls present the Wolves with some unfortunate matchups. Luol Deng is long and rangy enough to trouble Michael Beasley defensively; and he is just the kind of crafty perimeter three that Beasley is unused to defending. Joakim Noah’s relentlessness and energy are a stark contrast to Darko’s chill passivity (and anyway, Darko was in too much foul trouble to really affect this game anyhow). And though he’s not yet an elite defender, Derrick Rose is obviously such a phenomenon of speed, power and skill that the Wolves’ wholly average duo of point guards had very little chance to get much accomplished.
Off the bench it was more of the same. Ronnie Brewer, Taj Gibson and Kyle Korver all confounded the Timbrwolves in their various ways. The deep, well-coached Bulls repeatedly denied the Wolves their first offensive option and, as we’ve seen before, the Wolves were unable to counter with much creativity. They trudged through their sets, very rarely generating any productive ball movement or player motion. There was just very little urgency and purpose to their offensive play. The Wolves often play too fast for their own good but it turns out that slowness and stagnation are similarly damaging to their scoring chances.
And when the game finally did open up a bit in the third quarter, the Wolves seemed unprepared. When the Bulls took to the open floor, the Wolves’ transition defense was confused and lethargic. In the third quarter, the Bulls had their pick of open transition threes; and the Wolves’ own running game was too disheveled to generate many easy points of their own.
There’s at once so much and so little to say about this game. The Wolves committed 21 turnovers (Nikola Pekovic was responsible for six all by himself and played some rotten defense to boot). They hit only 39.8% of their shots. Rose picked apart their defense. They just played really badly.
* * *
I really ought to have mentioned this after Friday’s game, but even after the Wolves’ dismal showing on Saturday, the point remains: in the past two games, Kevin Love is playing nearly perfect basketball. He’s hit 19 of his last 29 shots–and 7 of his last 13 threes–and grabbed a really incredible 30 rebounds in his last 70 minutes of play. (He picked up 22 more in Wednesday’s game against OKC) He was, unsurprisingly, unable to stay with Carlos Boozer when the Bulls’ forward faced the basket, but this was really his only blemish. In those two games Love showed a newfound touch around the basket and his defensive effort and acuity seem to be generally improving.
Most importantly, the tenacity and sheer force that he is showing near the basket are hard to fathom, even when it’s all happening right in front of you. For the most part, when a ball caroms off the rim, there’s a certain orderly process that we expect to see: one player has inside position on the other; he elevates and grabs the ball. Even if the boxed-out player rises to contest the board, the conclusion is generally close to foregone. Love routinely upsets this expectation, creating motion and disorder out of these pedestrian moments with his relentless activity. Assumptions are contested. A rebound is suddenly no longer a rebound. Already, though, these stunning performances are starting to feel commonplace. But let’s not let that happen, ok? What Love is doing right now is nothing short of incredible.