Far be it from me to add to the city of Cleveland’s misery. It should be enough that their former hometown hero tortured and betrayed them on national television, and then returned home to throw chalk in their faces and mercilessly demolish their team. I’d like to think that we Wolves fans can sympathize a little. But our great divorce was amicable; and our emotional investment, by definition apparently, can’t possibly rival Cleveland’s passion and majestic suffering. None of this, however, can change the fact that the Cavs just lost by 34 to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Just another cruel humiliation to add to the list. Sorry guys.
For their part, the Wolves entered the game in ragged shape. Michael Beasley, the team’s most productive scorer, and Anthony Tolliver, their most consistent defender, were both gimpy and suited behind the bench. They’d just suffered a rather wrenching loss of their own in San Antonio the night before. Ordinarily, these things would probably be considered bad omens.
But we should have just taken one look at Beasley, enveloped in his own special glow, and known that things were gonna be fine, just fine. There he was, sitting next to fans in the stands, happily elevating his sprained ankle, doling out hi-fives and hugs to whomever passed by. There he was grinning goofily, watching his headphoned self on the scoreboard enthusiastically warbling “Unbreak My Heart”–and singing along! Singing along to his own terrible singing! Ok, I’m charmed.
Much like B-Easy, the Wolves were touched with some rare magic on Saturday. They moved the ball effortlessly inside and out and from side to side, overcoming the lack of their only true shot-creator with the kind of flowing, communal mind that Phil Jackson and Kurt Rambis must envision in their sweetest dreams of the Triangle. And once they found that inevitable open look, the Wolves were just…just not ever missing. Kevin Love hit all five of his threes (oh, and also scored 28 points and grabbed 19 boards in only 31 minutes–dude is playing with some serious, focused intensity at the moment and it’s frightening me). Wes Johnson hit three of his four, and looked amazing–so smooth and angular and emphatic–doing it. Luke Ridnour hit both of his. Wayne Ellington hit four of his six. The game seemed so easy.
The great caveat to all of this was that the Cavs were obviously already a beaten team. Those looks were open not just because the Wolves shared the ball, but because Cleveland’s defenders could not muster the effort to deny passing lanes, or impede cutters, or close out on shooters even after the Wolves had hit 11 of their 12 first half threes. They seemed listless and drained. They lacked, in coach Byron Scott’s words, “effort, execution, determination, pride, heart, everything.” That’ll do it.
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One of the strangest things about Darko’s very strange season is the way that his game is so massively transformed by his fluctuations in energy and confidence. It’s almost like his emotional state alters his physical dimensions. When he’s in those crushing, gray troughs, Darko’s shoulders slump and his movements seem almost viscous; he looks as shrunken and slow as an athletic 7’2″ guy with extremely long arms can possibly look. After one of those listless, demoralized early season performances, I would have never guessed that Darko could ever match up favorably with, for instance, the Cavs’ powerful, energetic and epically passionate Anderson Varejao.
But when Darko does feel the fire in his blood, length and quickness seem to blossom from out of him and become the assets that they ought to always be. On Saturday, Darko swallowed up the stockier Varejao, and, for that matter, everyone else who ventured into the paint. He was a spidery, energetic defender. He was an active, savvy and efficient participant in the offense. He was an effing +41 for the game. I’m not quite sure how that’s even possible.