It’s strange to see Lazar Hayward standing on the court next to other NBA players. The slightly stiff, deliberate way he moves and his modestly preportioned body make him appear to be an emissary from the world of normal people, a world of reasonably sized arms and recognizably human leaping ability. (None of this holds true when you’re standing next to him though; then he looks much more like a professional basketball player than any normal people I know).
So it’s been edifying to see him, over the last few games, make actually meaningful contributions to the team’s effort. Hayward will probably never be confused with a slashing, dynamic finisher; he still looks a little overwhelmed by the awesome size and speed that reigns in traffic and around the basket. But recently, Hayward has also been showing off his crisp, clean shooting stroke and, much like Wayne Ellington and Anthony Tolliver, has played with a hunger and exuberance typical of the Wolves’ second unit during this recent shorthanded stretch.
Unfortunately for our boys, the Pacers also brought some serious hunger off the bench. It was embodied in Dahntay Jones, who is neither a knock-kneed rookie nor an unsung D-Leaguer, who has played real minutes in the Western Conference Finals, who looks and moves just exactly like an NBA player. Jones bullied Wayne Ellington both in the post and off the dribble. He finished at the rim; he got to the line; his jumper was pure.
Maybe most importantly, he applied intense ball pressure on the perimeter, disrupting the Wolves’ effort to initiate their offense and run pick-and-rolls. As Jones got into his one-man fourth-quarter lazer dance, the Pacers’ as a group began playing some seriously inspired, pressuring, ball-denying D. I have no idea when I last saw Indiana defend with such energy and passion, but it certainly wasn’t at any time during their recent Jim O’Brien/Troy Murphy purgatory.
And it certainly wasn’t anything the Wolves were in any position to deal with. Once again, their lack of an authentic shot creator glared. Kevin Love tried, in his way, to carry the team through its late stagnant spell. And, as he always does, Sebastian Telfair did his manly best to manufacture points with his energetic ball-handling. (Bassie may be headstrong and shot-happy, but I was certainly glad he was playing the fourth quarter over Jonny Flynn. Flynn made so many confused and confusing decisions, took so many bewilderingly awful shots…he just played really, really poorly).
But neither guy is really capable of the kind of dynamic effort necessary to beat a defense as febrile as Indiana’s was on Friday. Josh McRoberts’ epic demolition of a fourth quarter K-Love layup was telling. Love doesn’t quite yet have the footwork to get a great look on an athletic post defender like McRoberts and, as always, he lacks the explosiveness to finish with real force at the rim. As for Bassie, he was unable to either generate ball movement good enough to beat the Pacers’ over-committing D or create open looks for himself (or anybody else) off the dribble. It’s been fun watching the Wolves’ motley crue of bench-mobbers and castoffs cobble together wins and generate a little excitement, but these guys could use a little help.