Monday night was a wonderland.
The ball was flowing like wine in the offense. There was help defense, scrappiness against the best team in the West, and a care for maximizing the possession inspired by our own Spanish sommelier. And you were there, and you were there, and J.J. Barea too.
It was a flashback to last season, when we were screaming at the coach to get the bad lineup off the floor and wondering just how many turnovers had to be committed by the Wolves until we walked around Uptown punching every person you saw. What’s that? That was just me? Well then, surely you can empathize with the screaming at the coaching, yes?
I don’t want to absolve the team of any bad play because the effort from last night should be an overwhelming sense of embarrassment for them. It was the reason they’re currently on a 17-game losing streak dating back to last season. It was the reason that everybody used to laugh at the franchise, and feel bad or confused for why we’re all Wolves fans in the first place. However, the third quarter of this game was the exact feeling I felt when Kurt Rambis was on the bench.
Due to unfortunate circumstances, Rick Adelman couldn’t be with the team and I wish his family the best in this time of grieving. Because of that, we had Terry Porter calling the shots from the bench. After a frustrating first half of basketball in which the Wolves hung in the game despite playing horrendous transition defense, horrendous halfcourt defense and turned the ball over like Rick’s petition to the league got the green light, they had a chance to erase all of those bad feelings of fluster from the first half and come out firing back at the Bucks. Instead, the Wolves came out flat. The lead was quickly pushed from 12 to 19 and we all began to feel the equivalent of being a basketball POW.
The turnovers were bamboo shoots under our fingernails. The defense in the halfcourt was the drip of water on our forehead, just egging us on to unravel our last thread of sanity before giving up the gameplan and strategy the enemy side was dying to know. I kept looking back and forth between the game clock and the players on the floor. I was confounded as to why the same unit to start the third quarter and apathetically push back at a surging Bucks team would still be on the floor after five minutes. After six minutes, I started to wonder if I had accidentally fired up a game from last season, because that would be the only conceivable way to comprehend why Luke, Wes, Beas, Love and Darko would still be on the floor in a performance like this.
At seven minutes, I honestly began wondering if Terry Porter forgot he was handling the substitutions. Hey, I get it. I zone out all the time. It’s a product of sleep deprivation, and I imagine being a coach in the NBA is far more depriving of REM cycles than watching basketball and writing Boris Diaw jokes all day. At the eight-minute mark when Porter finally sent Anthony Tolliver in for Beasley, I actually was mad at the substitution. If these guys were going to play this poorly as a unit, why change at this point? Why not make a point and leave them out there for the entire quarter? It works in high school basketball sometimes. Might as well try it here, considering the effort and awareness seemed to be so inconsistent.
At one point in the second half, Stephen Jackson drove from the right side of the floor to under the hoop. He dribbled into a triple team and seemed dead in his tracks. Instead of forcing up a contested shot inside or desperately throwing a pass out to the perimeter that was begging to be tipped for a fastbreak the other way, you know what he did?
He just went straight up with the ball and made an uncontested layup. There was no resistance. There was no swarm. There was one of the easiest baskets Stephen Jackson scored all night and it was against three defenders.
As frustrating as the majority of this game was to watch, the Wolves made a run and had a great chance to steal this game. As bad as the defense was, they tightened down in the fourth quarter and held the Bucks to just 5/17 shooting. Rubio finally got the team going in the final period by dishing out three assists and getting dribble penetration to send the Bucks’ defense scrambling. Kevin Love continued his onslaught against the Bucks interior, garnering four more free throw attempts to push his total for the night to 24 attempts from the line. Anthony Tolliver was anywhere and everywhere defensively, consistently cutting off angles to the basket in help defense and quickly recovering to his man. Luke Ridnour had four turnovers on the night, but was the best offensive player the Wolves had other than Love over the entirety of the game.
And there was Michael Beasley. After a night of frustration in which he took way too many bad shots in trying to match Kevin Durant’s outpouring of scoring, Beasley stepped up huge in the fourth. He took three bad shots in the quarter and made one of them. The rest of the looks were quality attempts you could be happy with him taking. He took five quality shots from 15 feet or closer and was the scoring punch the Wolves needed to get back in this game. Unfortunately, they just couldn’t get enough fourth quarter stops down the stretch.
Finding themselves down three with seven seconds left, they devised a play without much action away from the ball to free up Kevin Love for the game-tying attempt. Love set a down screen for Luke which enabled Luke to catch the ball roughly 35 feet from the basket. Love then set a screen for Wes near the top of the arc and then ran to the other win. Luke took two dribbles passed it to Love and he took a contested 3-pointer with four seconds left. It was one of the most basic plays you would ever find coming out of a timeout and it resulted in Love taking a contested 26-footer to try to tie the game.
This feels like a frustration-laden recap from last season because that’s exactly how last night’s game felt. Bad coaching, poor execution, and a lack of valuing both offensive and defensive possessions plagued this team. It wasn’t the same team we saw at the Target Center the other night. The Wolves shot 25 more free throws than Milwaukee, out-rebounded them by nine, held them to 42.6% from the field, 2/16 from 3-point range and STILL had to fight and scrap their way to a close loss. Turning the ball over on more than a quarter of your possessions (26 turnovers in 99 possessions) will put you in that situation.
Now the Wolves come back home for Miami on Friday. The Heat have looked like a nuclear freight train in their first two games. Maybe it will force the Wolves to exorcise some of their old demons and get back to what worked on opening night.