Love is a losing game: Nuggets 115, Timberwolves 113
It goes without saying that this team doesn’t enjoy much positive attention. So when the national spotlight turned to our neck of the woods last month, it was a time to bask in hopes of a bright future. For one glorious night, we’d let the numbers speak for themselves.
But now comes the responsibility to state things more plainly. 31 rebounds was a feat in itself, even for such a prodigy. Those 31 points however, well…they were the ugliest 31 points I’d seen in quite some time.
Which makes Kevin Love’s performance tonight even more satisfying.
This is a team in flux learning a complicated offense with less than ideal personnel. Such obstacles limit the triangle’s boundless possibilities to a predictable few. As the Wolves settle into a half court game their sets become stagnant and in response our pups-as many young players do-improvise in all the wrong ways. Granted, they’re admirably selfish attempts to provide for their mates, but whether by firing up threes, literally charging towards the basket, or passing at the most inopportune moments, they’re also futile.
We’re in desperate need of a scorer and that our Love will never be. He doesn’t have the arsenal to upend most defensive strategies and the 2o points we depend on him for come at a percentage disproportionate to his size. The shots he gets are mostly due to his being the best player on a bad team, but they’re experience nonetheless and through this trial and error he’s clearly finding his niche.
The other night Ben and I enjoyed a little idle chatter over a beer and some League Pass. As always, it didn’t take long for us to disagree. Despite his stunning accuracy, I took issue with Love’s three point dalliances and dismissed them as bad shots. Ben, ever the pragmatist, countered that given the percentage and availability of those three pointers, they weren’t bad at all. He was right. In fact, those are the best shots Love is going to get.
Players of Kevin’s build are supposed to be bangers, tireless hulks of flesh who intimidate their way through the lane with a yeoman effort. But that ain’t him. He’s flummoxed by bigger defenders and isn’t athletic enough to maneuver around them. A full head of steam isn’t enough to finish over most of them either. Love is most comfortable when he picks his spots, sets his feet and launches, most times without even putting the ball on the floor. Simple as it may sound, tonight he did so in a myriad of ways and found himself in more elite company.
He evenly spaced the perimeter and shot over an unsuspecting J.R. Smith, who was ready to play the passing lane. Minutes later, with just a pump fake from the same spot he drew a foul and three free throws from Nene. Next he faked a hand off to Jonny Flynn and scored two more points from 18 feet. Then he popped off of a downscreen from Jonny and fired from midrange. After duping Shelden Williams into defending the post entry, Love retreated to the corner and sunk another bucket over the late rotation.
Everything he does is due to what he can’t. He knows his deficiencies and as much as I’d love to see more polished post play, we both know that he still has to score in the interim. Obviously, he knows how to much better than I.
There are quite a few curious onlookers who question Kurt Rambis’ decision making, but in most instances I understand his rationale whether I agree with it or not. The most common complaint of late has been an outright refusal to guard the three point line and Denver becoming the twelfth opponent to make 10+ from deep certainly didn’t help matters. But a closer look would show Flynn and Beasley tangled on the block, freeing themselves just in time to see another attempt sail over Beas’ outstretched hand. Or Beasley attempting in vain to help down low, only for the ball to swing an open shooter. Or…well, you get the point.
Of course there’s also times when all five Wolves are packed within 15 feet, practically daring their opponent to try for that extra point. Why? Maybe the league’s best rebounding team is simply playing the percentages. Or perhaps if two passes is enough to imbalance the defense on most occasions, spreading them even further apart would make it harder to recover than usual. Who knows?
Regardless, with 27 seconds remaining in a one possession game, Rambis was on his feet shouting instructions to Luke Ridnour while Carmelo Anthony sized up the Beas. He clearly wanted Luke to pay attention to a lurking Ty Lawson, who was ready to shoot another trey if the Wolves collapsed on Melo. Everyone stayed at home and Anthony missed, but no one could corral the rebound and the final 3 seconds expired.
The defense did it’s job, but why Rambis didn’t call for a foul is something I doubt he could explain to anyone’s satisfaction.