Timberwolves 116, Pistons 105: sweet relief
As you probably already know, the Detroit Pistons are an ailing beast. Its rare that we Wolves fans can look over at the opponent and breathe a “there but for the grace of God” sigh of relief, but in this case all the ingredients are there. You’ve got the disastrous salaries for under-performing veterans; you’ve got sub-Wolvesian defense and effort; you’ve got an alarming decay of group culture.
So let’s be grateful that our situation is not this bleak; but lets also put this Wolves win in its proper context. It’s not every day, after all, that the Wolves play a team that defends the perimeter as poorly as they themselves do, or a team that’s this willing to cave when things go bad. That said, double-digit wins are rare birds for the Wolves so for the rest of this post we’ll think nothing but happy thoughts. Let the cute puppies and pretty triple-rainbows ensue.
Cute Puppy Number 1: The bench
The Wolves’ bench is not typically mentioned alongside the great benches in NBA history, but on Wednesday they looked like the second coming of Salley, Mahorn, Johnson and Aguirre (that’s heavy, by the way). They hit 21 of their 38 shots. Their average plus/minus was +12.8. They played with a joyful energy that’s been missing from recent Wolves’ games. They were magical people. Let’s get specific.
Cute Puppy Number 2: Jonny Flynn
Sometimes I worry that I’m too hard on Jonny Flynn, that I focus on his faults and ignore the good stuff. I feel bad about it because he’s a very nice guy and genuinely wants to help his team. Well, self and everybody, let the record show that, on Wednesday, Jonny Flynn played really well. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that Jonny made more positive plays in this one game than he has all year combined. After chasing down a loose ball, he quickly, intuitively hit a running-out Wayne Ellington with a soft lead pass, leading to a dunk. He found Lazar Hayward flashing to the hoop with a gorgeous left-handed, no-look pass off the bounce. After breaking down the defense, he found Anthony Tolliver for a wide open three. He showed patience in the open floor. He ran the offense with confidence and poise.
Maybe most importantly, Flynn had that rhythmic bounce in his stride, that brash, kinetic energy that characterized his play last season and in college. This doesn’t necessarily make him a more productive player–in fact, it often leads to the over-dribbling and wasted motion that makes us all so crazy. But it does give us hope that, at least for one game, Flynn feels slightly less devastatingly unconfident and lost on the floor. Is this real?
Cute Puppy Number 3: Anthony Randolph
We’ve recently seen some of the drawbacks to the Corey Brewer/Anthony Randolph deal. (The first: the Wolves gave up a defender so impressive that more than one of the league’s best teams badly wanted to pay him money to play for them. The second: So far, Randolph cannot guard the big boys.) So it was nice to see some of that fabled talent and energy that impelled the Wolves to pursue Randolph so doggedly.
Some players (I’m thinking of you, Darko Milicic) are said to “move well for a big guy,” which tends to mean that they are less slow and awkward than you would expect for someone so strikingly large. Anthony Randolph, though, this guy moves incredibly well for a big guy. He is so dynamic and fluid, displaying the skills of generally much shorter players, that, on the floor, he actually appears smaller than he is. Against the Pistons, Randolph was put the ball on the floor and finished well at the hoop. He rebounded with an energy and determination that did justice to his righteous length, quickness and leaping ability. Players like this are really good to have.
Triple-Rainbow Number 1: Kevin Love
Kevin Love has had his share of desultory, 10-point/1o-rebound double-doubles during this long, curious streak of his, games in which his team’s futility has translated into self pity and inattention. But this game was not one of them. When Love is wired in and when the team is rolling, he really is a fearsomely competitive dude. Against the Pistons, Love played something close to his ideal offensive game. He moved well without the ball, sealed the Pistons’ big men under the hoop, finished efficiently and drew lots of fouls. Of course, he utterly dominated the defensive glass but he also managed to bring great energy to the tasks of guarding bigger, more athletic players like Chris Wilcox and Greg Monroe. More please.