Timberwolves roll, Pistons fold
Playing point guard in the NBA is hard. Each possession in a professional game is a fluid landscape, a field of constant, seemingly chaotic motion. Good point guards nearly instantaneously perceive patterns in that chaos and respond with decisive movements of their own, movements intended to complete the pattern, to give final meaning and shape to all that motion. This requires, obviously, outrageous skill and quickness, but also a capacity for a holistic, practically sub-cellular physical decision-making and creativity.
Playing point guard for Kurt Rambis or Phil Jackson is even harder than that. Players are asked to make those same kinds of responsive decisions, but in foreign contexts and at unfamiliar moments in the flow of an offensive possession. It’s no wonder, then, that even seasoned vets like Luke Ridnour often require a period of some serious reorientation to play in Rambis’ offense. “Oh, it’s been an adjustment,” chuckled the very modest Luke Ridnour after the Wolves’ Friday night win against the Pistons. “I guess as a point guard you’re used to making so many plays and here you’re just kind of setting everyone in position and then everyone makes plays.” If Luke was a writer like me, he would know that it should take him two paragraphs to explain what he just nailed in one concise sentence.
Ridnour certainly seemed relieved on Friday to find himself in some familiar situations: orchestrating a pick-and-roll; leading the break off a turnover or missed shot. Whatever the reason, the guy was seriously dialed in. The nine minutes that followed Ridnour’s return to the game in the fourth quarter saw a sequence of lovely dimes, both in transition and in the half-court. It was simultaneously the most aggressive and the most patient that I’ve seen Ridnour play all year. He attacked the Pistons’ defense relentlessly, but also saw the open spaces on the floor with a soothing ease. He seemed to just allow passing lanes to open and then calmly place the ball in the obvious spot. When, after Wednesday’s frustrating loss to the Thunder, Rambis called for the kind of leadership that could bring calm and poise to his team, this is what he was talking about.
Or we could put it a different way. In Ridnour’s 38 minutes, he used only 19.5% of his team’s possessions (pretty low for a point guard); in those possessions he did use, though, he posted an assist rate of 40.1, and a turnover rate of just 8.1, to go along with a 78.4% true shooting percentage. (Compare this to Bassie Telfair’s rough numbers: 10 minutes; usage of 42%; assist rate of 10.6; turnover rate of 31.8; he did hit three of his five shots, though) This is pretty much a model (in numbers!) of egoless efficiency.
Nevertheless, the Wolves couldn’t quite pull away. With nearly six minutes left, they were still up only 89-87, just the latest in a series of tenuous one-possession leads. It was then that a posting Darko Milicic, holding the ball awfully casually as he likes to do, was stripped by Tracy McGrady; it seemed pretty clear, as the Pistons streaked down the floor on the resulting 3-on-2, that the game was about to be tied. But as Rodney Stuckey attempted to lob the ball back to McGrady at the rim, Ridnour coolly elevated and stole the ball out of the air. Without hesitating, he attacked in the other direction and hit a gentle transition jumper.
The next time down the floor, after a supreme Wes Johnson block, Darko drew a double-team on the right block and found Ridnour with a sharp cross-court pass to the opposite corner. Luke hit the three and what had looked like an immanent tie was now a 94-87 lead. Then came the final dagger. Ridnour drove off a pick and launched a little floater that missed. The rebound skipped out to Corey Brewer, who drove passed the suddenly totally passive Detroit D for one of his gangly, angular dunks. Look at the video. You can see it, right there: the exact moment the Pistons gave up.
The Falling Sickness
I feel that Myles and I are men of many talents. Not least among these is an ability to distract one another at Wolves’ games. Sometimes we argue about Kobe Bryant. On Wednesday it was “Raising Hell’s” place in the hip-hop canon. On Friday it was the twin internet diversions of elite tattooing and genius-level crossovers. Look at this clip and discover how happy it can make you.
What am I supposed to do, not watch?