Timberwolves 84, Grizzlies 102: the great stupor
Well there’s very little to say about this game. The Timberwolves just did that thing that teams do from time to time: without warning or explanation, come out of the tunnel and play terrible, listless basketball. When great teams do it, they can struggle against even mediocre opposition. When the Wolves do it, they get killed by everybody. Still, there are some analytical crags to cling to. Let’s give it a try.
The Gay Blade
For a few reasons, the Wolves are having a hard time losing to the Grizzlies by fewer than 20 points. Among them: the fact that the Grizzlies lead the league in turnovers forced, while the Timberwolves are essentially tied for last in turnover rate. For all you non-math geniuses out there: that’s smells like trouble.
Also: Zach Randolph is an impeccable post scorer and rebounder; Kevin Love and Anthony Tolliver cannot guard him. Along those same lines, Rudy Gay is much too long and strong for Corey Brewer (which is really saying something) and too skilled and explosive for Wes Johnson. The Wolves experimented with a 2-3 zone during the second and third quarters–largely, I’m guessing, to hide Johnson’s shortcomings against Gay. This worked for a time; the Grizzlies half-court offense briefly became unglued as the Wolves forced a few second-quarter turnovers and long, contested jumpers by people like Darrell Arthur. But it turns out that even when playing a zone, it still helps to play with a little hunger. And especially in the second half, this was a real problem.
All parties involved denied that the Wolves were significantly impaired by entrusting the offense to Jonny Flynn and Sebastian Telfair in the absence of Luke Ridnour. Both players did have superficially decent box score stats, but it was clear almost immediately that the team was lacking an organizing presence and a sense of real purpose in their half-court offense.
All game, the Wolves struggled to make the ball move, struggled to find open players and give their offense coherence and flow. This, along with Randolph’s intense board work and the Wolves’ little turnover problem, is why Kevin Love only managed to take four shots through the first three quarters (by the way, the fact that Love managed to scrape his way to another double-double should tell you just exactly how meaningful and arbitrary that stat is). The half-court offense was simply not able to generate rhythmic, open looks for the Wolves’ best shooters.
It is beginning to seem nearly impossible to truly understand what exotic alchemy produces Darko’s wildly varying performances. But for whatever reason, the big boy was morbidly bad on Wednesday. In this case, the stat line paints a pretty accurate picture: 1-6 FG; two rebounds, five turnovers, one fairly insignificant block. Darko seemed to be once again on the timid phase of his long, strange cycle, allowing himself to be bullied by Marc Gasol and pretty much whoever else felt like it.
He rarely found any offensive fluidity; most of his shots were awkward, off-balance affairs and what easy looks he did get, he blew anyway. Most often, though, he followed this basic procedure: fumblingly catch the ball; bring the ball to his waist, or lower; hesitate for a few panicked moments before beginning his move; get stripped. Here’s a quick question. Does anyone believe that Darko will ever put these lethargic, emotionally crippled performances behind him?