Timberwolves 90, Clippers 98: the pattern's torn
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.