Game Analysis

Timberwolves 90, Clippers 98: the pattern's torn

Photo by Chadly

There are days when it’s really difficult to be a Timberwolves’ fan. The season is grows long. The weather changes in strange ways. The accumulated disappointments and tiny humiliations, the constant losses begin to take their toll. Did you know that Rudy Gay was drafted just after Randy Foye? Did you know that Deandre Jordan was drafted in the second round, three spots after Nikola Pekovic and one spot after Mario Chalmers, whom the Wolves traded away for basically nothing?

Did you know that the Wolves’ last three lottery picks are now, in no particular order: playing on another continent; missing 21 out of their last 25 shots (and looking terrible doing it); “resting”? That the Clippers had lost consecutive games to Cleveland, Toronto and Milwaukee, allowing two of the three to shoot over 50%? And that the Wolves managed just a gnarly 35.4% against that same crew of Clips? Well it’s all true.

You can understand how, contemplating all of these sad and strange facts, a certain mental and emotional fatigue might set in. Well, it seems–no surprise here–that the Wolves themselves, mired in another long, gray season, might share it too. Doing things like missing layups and allowing your opponent to score six-points on one possession will do that to you. You heard me.

It all started innocuously enough. With 9:22 remaining in the third quarter, Ryan Gomes missed the back end of a pair of  free throws (looking ok so far). Darko gave somewhat less than Mark Madsen-esque effort in pursuing the rebound, allowing it to rest in the hands of Mr. Blake Griffin (not great obviously, but also nothing out of the ordinary). Griffin, as he tends to, immediately and forcefully attacked the basket, hit a reverse lay-up and drew the foul (things getting worse). As he was missing the free throw (that’s good!) DeAndre Jordan sneaked around Darko’s somewhat leisurely boxout, stole the board and kicked it out to Baron Davis who calmly sank a three (ugh).

Twenty seconds earlier the Wolves had been down by just a point and were playing fairly competitive basketball. Now they were down by seven and you could just see the defeated feeling seep in. Heads hung, players shot exasperated looks to the bench. Kevin Love’s face clouded with frustration–at the shoulder stinger that seemed to drain him of his impressive first half energy; at the team’s offensive stagnation and their breakdowns in interior defense and rebounding.

As for that Love/Griffin redux, it wasn’t so much that Griffin “got the better of” Love, as the beats tell it. It was more that, as he did the last time the two teams met, Griffin cast Love’s deficits in a sharper relief. Love does his best work within the already existing structure of a given game. He rebounds his teammates misses; he uses the space created by other players’ ballhandling skills to hit open jumpers; grappling underneath the basket, the uses his opponents’ strength and effort against them. On the other hand, Griffin, with his dynamic slashes and his towering dunks, is already a player who can alter game’s context and shape, who can bend a game’s contours to fit his own movements and desires (who can hit his freaking head on the backboard). This, I suggest, is the deepest and greatest source of Love’s frustration. He sees when his team goes  stagnant, when the shape of its game gets twisted and deformed, and he knows he can’t do a thing about it.

From that rotten third quarter possession on, the Wolves were a mess of inattention and wasted motion, too physically and emotionally drained, it seemed (although they would never admit to this), to play with any coherence. The game became wild and aimless. Offensive possessions became un-lovely, fragmented slogs. Wayne Ellington took jumper after contested, off-the-bounce jumper and attempted (and missed, badly) a dunk so impossible that it seemed to come out of a dream. Shots were blocked. Passes caromed off fingertips. Martell Webster fell on his head. I think it’s time for a break.

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0 thoughts on “Timberwolves 90, Clippers 98: the pattern's torn

  1. What a depressing game. Darko guarding Blake Griffin was a total disaster: he played about 6 feet off him (giving up plenty of uncontested jumpers) and was unable to box him out.

    On the positive side, there was a really decent showing of fans at the Target Center (I’ve been to Wednesday games against the Clippers in years past… let me tell you that Al Thornton doesn’t draw in the fans the way Griffin does). There was a genuine buzz near the start of the game, and I imagine they didn’t even have to inflate the attendance statistics.

    Too bad that rare fan enthusiasm went to waste during a putrid second half, which, as you say, got terrible beginning exactly with that 6-point possession.

    1. You know, I actually thought Darko was pretty solid on Griffin during the first half. If you take away those two fast break dunks, Blake was 4-9 with no offensive rebounds. I thought Darko used his length well defensively and played with a little intensity. He wasn’t quite the same in the second half unfortunately.

      But I agree about the fan enthusiasm in the first half–that was fun to see. Thanks for the comment.

  2. I have watched almost all of the games that have been on TV this season. I have started to get frustrated and barely watched this game. Between injury’s and just boned head plays by the team and coaches it’s getting harder to sit through these games. But Last week we watched the team fight for 2 wins in a row and almost a 3rd. But then this week they looked like the rolled over and played dead. They just want a break away from each other and recharge. That makes me think that Rambis is losing the team and if he can’t get them back then the rest of this season is a loss and Rambis should go. Then what? All the positives from earlier this season would be wasted as we start all over again. I hope they can pull it together and show everyone that they are heading in the right direction.

  3. First off Ben, another terrific post. I’ve been reading your stuff throughout the season and it’s interesting how the challenges and losses affect the writing itself, how a deeper examination comes about and it’s part and parcel of the team’s record of course and I’m sure you’d trade these reflections for some wins. Still, the team’s gone through a lot of changes and it’s no small thing, running the triangle or any form of it. Players will say that yeah, they know how to play that system, they did it high school or college or they’ve played against it enough times but it’s a whole other thing to commit to it on the NBA landscape and it’s telling that there’s only one guy that’s run it year in and year out for an entire head coaching career. The T-Wolves have played hard in sections, have played amazingly well at times and have confounded with lapses and late-game mistakes. It’s a trippy team and it’ll be interesting to see where it goes from here. It feels like a crossroads time and Rambis is starting to look like a guy with a lot of chips on a risky hand.

  4. I went to the game and that 6 point possession was depressing. But not as depressing as the Ellington miss dunk sequence. After he misses the dunk (when the crowd did a “whoa…ahhh”), the ball goes to a wide open Ridnour. He takes a wide open three and misses (another whoaa…ahhhh”), then Martel Webster grabs the board, goes up for a short shot and (“whoaa…ahhhh”) gets rejected; fast break the other way. We need a point guard as bad as the Vikes need a QB.

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