Timberwolves and Thunder delay the inevitable
Kevin Durant’s arms are long. Comically long. No chest, no rib cage, just the gangly, awkward frame befitting a Tim Burton character. All arms. Upon taking the court amongst the chiseled chests and sculpted shoulders of his teammates, an uninformed observer would rightfully presume KD to be the team’s weakest link. “Look at him!” they’d exclaim, “It’s a wonder he can even move without tripping over himself!” Much laughter and mocking would ensue.
This of course would also be the scene where Kevin reveals the talent belied by his physique, carving masterpieces of the competition with an unnatural grace and precision. He’d score in bunches. He’d score from the perimeter, driving to the basket, from the line, fading away and on the occasional slam just for good measure. Having converted his tormentors, their mouths agape in awe, Durant would saunter out of the arena with the same humility with which he arrived, arms dragging behind him all the way.
Kevin Bucketarms, they’d call him. Or some other such f*ckery. It really wouldn’t matter. The box score’s filled, the credits are rolling and he’s on to the next one….
However, on this particular night our protagonist struggled mightily as the Wolves rushed out to an early lead. He was stripped in the open court by the likes of Luke Ridnour, pressured into low percentage shots and saddled with early fouls. He appeared a step slow and out of sorts, leaving us to wonder just how much that gimpy knee and ankle were preventing what was supposed to be another majestic performance. And if his game had abandoned him, so had his mates. The paint was packed, rendering Russell Westbrook powerless and the Thunder’s front court made nary a sound as Kevin Love gobbled up every rebound in sight. Before he knew it, the Wolves had built on a 40 point opening quarter to take an 11 point advantage into intermission. All hope was seemingly lost.
But we’ve seen this movie before. The Wolves taketh and the Wolves giveth away. The only suspense is which variation of the epilogue will be delivered post game.
“Obviously we did a really good job of executing our offense and moving the basketball. Then in the second half they ratcheted up their defense a little bit, but nothing that we shouldn’t be able to handle. We lost our composure, stopped executing our offense, stopped moving the basketball and got ourselves into trouble and put ourselves into situations where we’re trying to create in low clock situations and now guys are taking shots that we don’t practice, that we don’t work on. That’s not gonna work out well for us.”
So let’s not cite the officiating-which was indeed awful-and let’s not bemoan the lack of Milicic. Let us humbly accept the fact that on many nights this team is all but destined to lose, no matter how large the lead. They may bandy out of the tunnel with that charmingly youthful exuberance, their crisp ball movement and sharpshooting making fans of us all, but alas, it will be short lived. As the game progresses they will lose focus and tighten up, no longer chasing victory, but fleeing from the memories of countless other failures. Plainly put, they’ll choke. Because that’s what young teams do. And try as they might to show that they’ve learned from those mistakes, more often than not, they will fail. Because that’s what incomplete teams do.
This isn’t a defeatist attitude, but a smiling pessimism. A negative optimism. The agonizing ecstasy of knowing that this team is close.
When Ridnour and Beasley calmly exchange passes on the perimeter in order to exploit a mismatch and SuperCool sinks another easy basket, we smile, knowing that same possession would’ve been inexplicably mangled earlier this season. When Corey Brewer’s frenetic defense forces another turnover and he intuitively whips the ball cross court to a streaking Wesley Johnson, we cheer, relieved that he didn’t attempt another loose limbed and ill fated foray to the rim. When Nikola Pekovic does his best impersonation of a capable center and provides the easy points needed to prevent a drought, we perk up, realizing that our puzzling import may be finding his niche. There are plenty of things to keep us interested in this basketball team.
But when Love fails to conquer all, or even make more than one of his nine attempts in a hotly contested fourth quarter, we shouldn’t fret, we should accept his shortcomings and acknowledge that far more athletic men have failed to get a shot off over Serge Ibaka. (who snuffed seven other shots, by the way. Six of them in the fourth quarter. Egads.) When Beas can’t find the hole either and doesn’t register a single assist to compensate for missing 16 of 27 shots, we shouldn’t chastise, we should question why he and Kevin are given more opportunities to play a two man game that may hide both of their deficiencies. When Sebastian Telfair is a -17 in only 12 minutes of play, we sh…well, sh*t, there’s just no excuse for that. We can just hope it doesn’t happen again, whether he has to guard Westbrook or not.
Point being, you could see that they tried. When the lead evaporated and the crowd eased back into their seats, the Wolves attacked the basket, looked for easy buckets and tried to draw fouls that simply weren’t called. Then we saw the tempo slow, the panicked looks and the gritted teeth of determination in their opponent. No substitutions or adjustments in strategy can correct that. More often than not, they will be outmatched and they will fail. But make no mistake, this shouldn’t prevent us from seeing that a solid foundation is being laid, it just lacks a cornerstone.
“We still don’t have a leader on the team, a go to guy, a calming force that takes control of a situation. We don’t have that yet. That’s Durant for them, he calms them down and Westbrook is doing a really good job of being a leader. He’s growing as a player too, but anytime they get in trouble, they give it to Durant. Everybody else just goes, ‘Okay, everything’s good now. Everything’s fine.’ We’ve gotta reach for that guy. We’ve gotta find a guy like that.”
Now this can be considered a diss, a challenge or simply an honest assessment of what is undoubtedly an unfinished roster, but what it is not is an excuse. Our hero will either emerge from this group or our pups will have to learn how to win the hard way until he gets here.
“We’re all responsible for it. All of us are. I’m not gonna put it on anybody. We just have to get better as a ball club since we don’t have that one guy. We all have to assume that responsibility.”
So get your popcorn, we’re going to have to watch this movie plenty more times. But given the talent, potential and cap space we’ve already cast, I’m still excited for the sequel.