Timberwolves 105, Bobcats 108: Night Falls

Benjamin Polk —  January 6, 2011 — 7 Comments

photo by shiftedreality

Well this game was just a hot mess. On display here were two bad basketball teams playing some unintuitive, unlovely, awfully bad basketball. The Wolves missed more than a third of their free throws. They turned the ball over in crucial situations. Their first half was a listless fiasco. I’ll allow Kurt Rambis to continue: “their bench killed us, our defense was sub-par tonight and our effort was…nonexistent for the vast majority of the ballgame.” All true.

And yet, thanks to the fact that the Bobcast are a decimated wreck of a club, the Wolves by all rights should still have won this game. The entirety of the third quarter was a 30-14 Wolves run. They were up by eight points with just under three minutes remaining and up five points at the 1:48 mark. How did this come to such a depressing end? Well, that’s actually a hard question to answer. There’s no focal point of blame for this game; things went wrong in diffuse, ever-shifting waves. Let me try to catch a few:

Point Break

The observers who note that Luke Ridnour has been hurting his team with contested jumpers early in the shot clock are right; the man does take some truly perplexing shots. But I would like to point out that, against Charlotte, Ridnour finished the game +11, compared with the alarming -14 posted by Jonny Flynn.

Single game plus/minus doesn’t always tell you anything important, but on Wenesday it was indicative of the fact that, unlike Jonny, Ridnour appeared at least moderately capable of guarding D.J. Augustine off of the pick-and-roll. On two straight plays late in the fourth quarter, Flynn took such a wayward path underneath screens that he was unable challenge Augustin’s suddenly wide open three-pointers in any meaningful way. (And I realize that Augustin had only hit one of his previous 12 shots–but that was largely because those shots were rushed and contested. The decisive threes that D.J., a career 41% three-point shooter, hit over Flynn were both open and in comfortable rhythm.) On the subsequent possession, Flynn ran over the screen–although not aggressively enough to deter Augustin from shooting–and heedlessly fouled the Bobcats point guard in the act of rising for a three. When Ridnour was reinserted for overtime, Augustin magically cooled off.

Land of Silence and Darko

Playing without both Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson, the Bobcats served up what was probably the lamest starting lineup the Wolves have faced all year. That Augustin and Boris Diaw were vying all night for first-option status–or rather, highest volume shooter with the lowest shooting percentage status–tells you almost everything you need to know. And the fact that two of the most serious draft boondoggles of the past decade, Kwame Brown and Darko, faced off for the opening tip tells you everything else.

So how did Kwame fare against our guy?  Looking fit and trim, Brown abused Mr. Milicic in the first half to the tune of 12 rebounds to four. Thanks to foul trouble, Darko went on to play only three more minutes of regulation. But, after watching Kosta Koufos and Kevin Love put forth serious effort on defense and on the glass for nearly two full quarters and looking relaxed and contented on the bench for nearly the entire time, Darko was reinserted for the overtime. Said overtime was remarkable for two impressively vacant plays.

With the Wolves trailing by two, Darko tossed an exceptionally casual no-look, over-the-shoulder pass somewhere not very close to Michael Beasley. Then, trailing the ensuing Bobcats fast-break, he planted a gentle touch foul on Tyrus Thomas as Thomas crushed home an alley-oop. Suddenly, the Wolves were down by five; Darko had made his mark.

Coach Taught Me to Sing, He Couldn’t Teach Me to Love

Speaking of Darko and strange substitution patterns. I can understand why Rambis would want to see what Darko could bring to the overtime, even after sitting for nearly the entire second half. It’s much harder to see why Rambis would leave the big fellow in the game for the crucial final possession of overtime. The Wolves were down by three with only thirteen seconds left; what could Darko possibly accomplish on the floor at that stage in the game?  Wouldn’t the Wolves have been better served using Martell Webster to spread the floor and provide another three point option?

Well, you might say, Darko could set a screen for a three-point shooter. Or he could set a back screen for a possible quick backdoor alley-oop. But he didn’t do that, he just hung out on the block doing not much of anything. In fact, there was no action at all on that play, just a simple inbounds to Michael Beasley and the mandate that he (Beasley) create an open three for himself while being guarded by the very long, very athletic Tyrus Thomas.

Rambis was obviously annoyed at being asked about Darko’s presence on that final play. His response was an icy silence followed by: “They were switching. They even switched off of Darko, they inverted that, so…they knew who we were going to.” Which doesn’t really make sense: if they “knew who we were going to,” wouldn’t it be advantageous to put more viable options on the floor, to create at least a bit of uncertainty and misdirection for the defense? And, down by three, how was Darko in any position to take advantage of a mismatch caused by Charlotte’s switches anywa

Without a doubt, the Wolves’ young, inexperienced players deserve blame for their lack of poise late in games. But it should be said that their young, inexperienced coach has been guilty of that same lack of end-game poise. Whatever Rambis’ strengths as a head coach (and I do believe there are many), it appears that in-game management is not yet one of them. There are now a nice handful of examples–not fouling down by two with 25 seconds left in Denver, very poor clock management against Utah are some recent ones, but there are more–of Rambis mishandling crucial moments late in games. Let’s see if this improves as the season goes on.

Benjamin Polk

Posts

7 responses to Timberwolves 105, Bobcats 108: Night Falls

  1. Guards guards guards. Coach is inexperienced, players are…don’t matter with out the guards.

    What’s the golden ticket in March Madness? Good guard play. You can have as good of forwards as there are in the country and the best guard teams always prevail. This is why teams like Xavier and Marquette make final four runs with 6’5 power forwards, while Purdue and Wisconson are out in the sweet 16.

    This is always why the best players in the NBA. 4 of the top 5 are all either pure guards or perimeter players.

    As long as Luke Ridnour and Wes Johnson are the best we can offer….it will not be enough and we will collapse late in games, because they are not good guards.

    you put O.J. Mayo on this team (in a trade that’s like Wes Johnson and a protected pick) we have 6 more wins this season because the guy is a confident ball handler, can hit the tough shots, and plays ballsy defense. You add Rubio with Mayo, and the playoffs might not be too far away.

    I love the front court, I think it’s top 10 in the NBA, but it really doesn’t matter at all until we address the guard situation

  2. Rambis is in a tough spot. His guards suck (see comment above) His front line is structurally flawed. Simply put, a front line of Super Beas, K Love, and Darko won’t succeed. NBA writers have anointed K Love all-star status and a likely MIP trophy, but his tip-toe defense against Boris Diaw in the first half suffocated the Wolves energy and flow. Are the Wolves at the point that Rambis “has” to play K Love even if he can’t trail a middle-of-the-road player such as Diaw? There should be plenty of minutes for Anthony Tolliver when he comes back. At some point, the Wolves are going to have to decide between K Love and M Beas. They simply can’t start two below average defensive players together unless the center is named Dwight Howard (or someone very close. Darko certainly doesn’t fit the bill. Not his fault.

    All that said, Rambis needs to manage his games closer. He needs to do a better job of anticipating late game develops and being more ready to make adjustments.

  3. Quintin, You stole the words out of my mouth. I think our front line is playing great offensively but defensively there is no way we can keep that combo together without Beasley getting way better, Love becoming stronger and Darko playing tougher. I was having the same conversation with my room mate. I could make a case for moving either Beas or Love but the bigger problem is that they love playing together and it could affect both of their games if they get traded. Maybe not.

    I like the players on this team for their passion but if they don’t move to a defensive mindset in the front court, then it’s over.

    The backcourt is just a mess. This team wins when Ridnour is making shots and thats not what we should be expecting from our point guard. Even the best point guards in the league win more games when they are dishing out more dimes than scoring for themselves.

  4. Either way, last night’s game may go down as the worst of the season. Najera and Carroll had season highs! If that doesn’t say something about our defense, then I don’t know what does.

  5. For me, the Orlando/Miami blow out road losses will be the low lights of the season. Last night’s loss seemed “par for the course” due to the inferior guard play. The names on the other team’s jersey don’t matter if the Wolves guards are kicking balls off their feet, dropping easy transition passes, and fouling shooters 24 feet away from the basket.

  6. A Tribe Called T’Wolves January 6, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    I watched the first 3 and a half quarters at home and then went to a party where the game was on in the background. I assumed we were going to win when I left (I don’t know why), and well we know what happened. This is a game we HAVE to win if we’re really going in the right direction. I know this year was suppose to be about development and not W’s, but wow it was brutal to witness. What stuck out to me is Wes going 4-for-14 (2-for-8 on 3′s) He has too good of a stroke to be that bad.

    I’m not going to blame the refs, but that offensive foul call on Love was awful. My room mate and I were in the anti-Mayo camp yesterday, but it’s hard not to want Kahn to make a move after last night. I’ve been a big Brewer fan for his entire tenure here, but he makes way too many mistakes.

  7. I legitimately think you could win with this front line (however I am slowly getting on the trade Kevin Love while his stock is high and he is talking about playing on every team but the timberwolves) if you had two legitimate NBA guards.

    If you could some how swing Aldridge or Horford Love I think you have to do it no?

Leave a Reply

*

Text formatting is available via select HTML. <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>