Timberwolves 112, Rockets 108: the highways are colored black

Benjamin Polk —  February 9, 2011 — 7 Comments

At the moment that Kevin Love scored his 10th and 11th points of this game, notching his 38th consecutive double-double, breaking records held by folks like Kevin Garnett and John Stockton, I thought to myself: boy a double-double isn’t really much of a stat is it? After all, Love has shown us more than once that it’s possible to get one (more than one) without actually playing that well.

I was thinking this because up to that point Love looked like the physically un-well man that he apparently was. He was pale, haggard and listless. Despite his rebounding numbers, he was not pursuing the ball off of the glass with his customary anticipation and abandon. He was struggling to shoot the ball with any balance and rhythm against the massively strong, thick-legged Chuck Hayes (everybody does). He was passive and slow on defense, getting smoked both by Luis Scola, the beautifully dissolute-seeming Argentine (understandable) and by Hayes himself (not so much). (By the way, I love that these two are on a team together. If Scola and Hayes were buildings, Scola would be some boozy, debauched 4AM tapas bar while Hayes would be the last remaining rock factory in Gary, Indiana.)

But then Mr. Numb#rs himself woke up. Most days, Love gets his best looks from off-the-ball action: setting screens and then fading to the three point line or rolling to the hoop; clearing the weakside glass; floating to open space to receive the ball from a penetrating guard. And this is how he and the Wolves responded to Hayes’ rugged defense in Houston. In the game’s final minutes, Love freed himself for  a dunk and two threes and showed admirable effort on the defensive end, drawing a charge on Kevin Martin and pulling down some crucial rebounds.

The Wolves certainly needed Love’s late-game contributions, but it was awfully encouraging that playing without Luke Ridnour, Martell Webster, Michael Beasley and Darko (who else? Doug West, Chuck Person, Wally Szczerbiack and Ricky Davis were also out of commission) the Wolves weren’t forced to rely solely on whatever K-Love could provide.

I wrote on Sunday about the how achily the Wolves miss Beasley’s one-on-one skills when he’s out of the lineup, and about their unhealthy dependence on the closely guarded jumper. So, in Beasley’s absence they desperately need Sebastian Telfair and Jonny Flynn to do two things: 1) initiate crisp, decisive ball-movement. And 2) break down the defense off the dribble. Against the Raptors these two were a disaster, but in Houston they seemed attuned both to their own skills and to the flow of the Wolves’ offense as a whole. Although Flynn remains astonishingly cavalier with the ball, he has been (very) incrementally improving his ability to find open cutters and shooters. Against the Rockets, despite his five turnovers, he ran the offense with some poise and flair; for brief splashes of time he actually looked like a real point guard.

Even with that improved ball movement, a team lacking it’s only pure scorer is going to end up taking some inefficient, contested jumpers. So it really helps when you can make some of them. Both Telfair and Wayne Ellington were vivid with confidence, taking and hitting some fairly unbelievable (you could say un-advisable if you wanted) shots. There was Telfair in the second quarter allowing the ball to roll nearly the length of the court, as if conserving every precious moment of shot-clock, and then picking it up and immediately jacking a pure 25-footer. There was Ellington, with 2:27 remaining in the game and the Wolves down a point, dribbling behind a screen and launching a pristine j over the arms of the switching Hayes. Bassie and Wayne taking contested threes off the bounce is probably not a winning long-term formula but I’ll tell you, it really does it feel sweet when they go in.

But the most curious, and possibly troubling, aspect of this great win was the plainly visible surplus of energy and effort brought to the floor by the Wolves one-time reserves. Anthony Tolliver flew around the floor, tipping balls, cutting off drives and challenging shots. Pekovic and Ellington and Koufos all played with supreme zest. On its face, this is an obviously happy phenomenon. The T-Wolves would need this effort to play credible D against essentially any NBA team and it was a real relief to see evidence of it on Tuesday. Troubling though, because it made the contrast to the mellow lineups graced by Darko and Beasley all the greater.

Benjamin Polk

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7 responses to Timberwolves 112, Rockets 108: the highways are colored black

  1. Yes, Beasley can score when he wants sometimes; but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing. He takes shots when there are open teammates (and teams collapse on him because they know the odds of him passing out are slim), hurries shots, and plays little defense. Let’s uild him up some more, then trade him!

  2. Rambis had his team ready to play ball. Good job Kurt!

    Watching the all-star is truly a pleasure. Great work K Love.

  3. Hi dude,

    I don’t live in Minnesota. I like basketball. Somehow, I’ve found myself reading your blog regularly.

    It’s really good.

    I don’t know what the logistics of using game photos is (maybe you can score some via the truehoop network), but I actually think it would be an improvement over the seemingly random picture choices. If it’s not too much work you can score yourself a copy of photoshop (or the totally equivalent in function free GIMP) and make some of your own shit. Just my two cents.

    As I was saying, it’s very good, please keep it up.

  4. I found the 4th quarter lineup of Flynn, Love, Tolliver, Johnson and Ellington very refreshing. They brought a certain very fierce energy and play with abandonment and purpose we never see from Beasly or Darko.. Perhaps it shouldn’t be shocking to anyone that most times when Darko is on the bench, it sort of feels like she should just stay there…

  5. Been waiting for Ellington to turn in proformance like this. That is what they said he was doing in practice. Put some pressure on Wes and makes losing Corey Brewer a little less scary. Even though I still think you need some one like Corey coming off the bench to cool off the hot hand and enject energy.

  6. I think “rock factory” would make an excellent nickname for Chuck Hayes.

  7. I’m afraid I’m not totally buying into the Love-fest today. He is a wonderful basketball player and, yes, did nail down the lid last night…however he was outplayed by Scola and Hayes right up until he finally broke through the double/double barrier and got his 38th….that was well into the 4th and I feel the pressure to get the double “d” was preying heavily on his mind….He was a completely different player after he nailed it …the pressure was off and he effortlessly drained those killer threes when we needed them.

    I’d honestly be delighted if the Wolves blow out the Pacers and K-Love scores 9/9……then maybe we can start again and he can just concentrate on his game rather than numbers.

    I’m not saying he’s deliberately chasing it….. but it must be impossible to ignore.

    He is, essentially, a victim of his own success.

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