Timberwolves 77, Warriors 103: All things must pass

Benjamin Polk —  March 14, 2011 — Leave a comment

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Now that the least essential of his many records is safe again, Wilt Chamberlain can now sleep a little more soundly in his enormous grave. Faced with a harassing, physical Golden State Warriors defense and the sad realities of the good old “off night,” Kevin Love managed only six points on 1-6 shooting. The double-double streak–favorite of Sporscenter, inspiration for long-suffering Wolves fans–is over.

As streaks go, it was a strange bird; it tested the limits of what we consider to be really significant basketball accomplishments. For one thing, as Kurt Rambis pointed out before the Indiana game, consecutive double-doubles was not a statistical category folks gave much thought to before Love began his long march. For another, talk of “post-merger” stats notwithstanding, at no point was any actual record ever in jeopardy. Wilt’s streak of 227 consecutive–the Dipper, by the way, also has runs of 220 and 133 double-doubles to his credit–is a hoary old dinosaur; it ain’t going anywhere. (Now might also be a good time to remind ourselves that Wilt averaged 22.9 boards…for is effing career. That’s gangster.) Lastly, Love would surely be the first to admit that this streak consisted of more than a few mediocre games, games in which he played below average defense, hit (say) 3 of 8 shots and grabbed his tenth rebound on a buzzer-beating airball (this actually happened).

Most importantly, though, this streak has obscured some of the truly unbelievable things that Love has done. Dropping 11 20/20 games in one year; grabbing nearly 24% of all available rebounds while one is on the floor; scoring 20.3 points per 36 minutes with a 60% true shooting rate, all without ever really jumping. That is some serious stuff–and things that are affected not one whit by the end of this streak. But Wolves fans are desperate for things to be proud of; and so the undue attention paid the streak, plus all of those standing ovations are, although a little surreal, certainly understandable. But I’m here to tell you that tallying 53 consecutive double-doubles are the least of the young guy’s accomplishments.

It’s been said (mostly unfairly) that Love’s numbers are less meaningful, coming as they do in the service of a 17-win team. And while its probably true that Love benefits from being the Wolves’ only above average rebounder, Sunday night’s game in Oakland showed just how difficult Love’s life as a Wolf can be. The Warriors, still feeling the burn of Love’s 37 point, 23 rebound monster two weeks ago, opted to put multiple bodies on the Wolves’ forward, playing physically and raking at the ball, whenever he was near the hoop. They gambled, rightly as it turns out, that no other Timberwolf would be able to play creatively enough or finish well enough to take advantage of all the attention paid Love down low.

The Warriors boast the league’s 27th best defensive efficiency at 108 points-per-possession (just .7 ppp behind our guys), but in many ways their defense is perfectly suited to shut down the Wolves. Golden State applies serious strongside pressure–swarming ballhandlers in the paint, digging at the ball, shooting passing lanes–in an effort to create as many turnovers as possible. For the Wolves who, as we all know, are champions of the overdribble, the telegraphed pass, the low-held ball, (and who are tied with the Clips with the league’s worst turnover rate) this is pure poison. Sure enough, the Pups coughed it up 27 times. Hard to win that way fellas.

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It’s true that the Warriors’ gambling, coupled with their undersized backcourt and inattentive help defense, results in some pretty terrible team D. But, on Sunday night at least, the Wolves were rarely able to move the ball patiently or consistently enough to take advantage of this fact. In contrast, Golden State was impressive in their ability to punish the Wolves’ for their defensive scrambling. The true secret to any really successful fast paced team is that fast-break points aren’t necessarily the goal of fast play; rather, they understand that a defense is at its least coherent early in the shot clock, especially in transition. The Warriors constantly used sharp ball movement to take advantage of the Wolves’ often inattentive transition D. Once an opposing defense starts chasing the ball (as the Wolves so often do), there is a very good chance that the ball will find one of the Warriors’ many cold-eyed shooters.

The Warriors are not a playoff team and, in this current incarnation its possible that they may never be. But they have lots of things for the Wolves to be jealous of: dynamic young scorers; energized home crowds; a coherent, exciting team idea. The Wolves have Kevin Love and his rebounds. That’s not too bad; but losses like this one make the distance yet to be traveled all the more coldly apparent.

Benjamin Polk

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