Timberwolves 120, Rockets 108: Texas never whispers
You expend serious effort in an ultimately futile double-digit comeback, one punctuated by one of the greatest scorers ever breaking your heart on possession after possession. You get on an airplane that night, fly to Houston, Texas and then play in yet another NBA basketball game 24-hours later. Just thinking about this makes me want to ice my knees and take a nap. And yet the Wolves did this very thing and managed to put together their finest offensive performance of the season (and a pretty solid defensive one to boot). An aesthetically pleasing road win against a good team in which your most talented players really live up to those talents: this one feels pretty nice.
|Wesley Johnson, SG 20 MIN | 2-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | +8I like that he is taking the ball aggressively to the hoop. I like that he is using his anticipation and athleticism to disrupt the opponents’ passing lanes. I like that he is taking open shots. I do not like that he is missing almost all of them. Also: how did he manage to commit six turnovers?|
|Kevin Love, PF 36 MIN | 10-15 FG | 7-8 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 29 PTS | +20That was just a cruelly efficient game of offensive basketball by Kevin Love. As always, he used his incredible leverage and aggressiveness to get to the line. He hit his jumpers. He moved well without the ball. He even managed to stay balanced while defending the mesmerizing Luis Scola. It wasn’t the dominating rebounding performance that we’ve grown accustomed to, but this is largely due to the energy with which his teammates have been crashing the glass.|
|Nikola Pekovic, C 19 MIN | 4-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 8 PTS | +14Right now, I am deeply in love with Nikola Pekovic. His minutes were limited by foul trouble, his old nemesis, but while he was on the floor Pek aptly performed his brutal–but somehow elegant–dance. He scrapped on the offensive glass; he rolled to the hoop skillfully and aggressively; he finished with poise.|
|Luke Ridnour, PG 35 MIN | 5-11 FG | 1-1 FT | 4 REB | 5 AST | 11 PTS | -5Dealing with a gimpy knee, Ridnour is clearly not himself. He doesn’t look quite as agile as usual and his shot isn’t flowing with its normal rhythm. But you have to admire the skinny little fella for taking on M. W. Peace and Kevin Martin, both of whom are significantly taller than he, on consecutive nights.|
|Ricky Rubio, PG 38 MIN | 6-10 FG | 4-4 FT | 8 REB | 11 AST | 18 PTS | +22Except for a few heedless turnovers and some serious bricks early on, Ricky was in complete control of his game. The nonchalant lobs, the silken pick-and-roll dishes, the leaning, wrong-footed floaters: delish. We could nitpick: he got a bit twisted up defensively by the crafty Kyle Lowry; watching his skittery feet when he shoots is enough to make a person seasick. But I will take 11 dimes, 18 points (on 12 true shots), eight boards and only three turnovers any and every day.|
|Brad Miller, C 2 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | +6It’s nice to see Brad Miller playing. He notched a 2 trillion (two minutes and literally no box score stats to show for it), which impresses me.|
|Anthony Tolliver, PF 6 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | 0Tolliver has sat out most of the past four games. The stated reason is a nagging wrist. But I get the feeling that, despite AT’s great effort and notably solid team D, this is really a function of the Wolves frontcourt glut, plus the fact that Tolliver has failed to find himself an offensive niche other than missing corner threes. We’ll see.|
|Martell Webster, SF 22 MIN | 3-4 FG | 1-1 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 7 PTS | +12Martell Webster is obviously very excited to be playing basketball again. As it was last season, his agility has been hampered by his back surgery, which noticeably impairs his lateral movement. But the effort, the communication, the determined closeouts: it’s hard not to like this guy. Does he need to be jacking contested threes? Does he need to be throwing half-court lobs in mid-transition? What do you mean by “need”?|
|Wayne Ellington, G 10 MIN | 1-3 FG | 2-3 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | -6It’s hard to tell if Weezy’s short minutes the past two games are a function of defensive matchups or something else. But this much is clear: if he wants to stay on the floor, he needs to hit wide-open jumpers.|
|Michael Beasley, SF 32 MIN | 10-14 FG | 12-12 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 34 PTS | +4This might have been the best offensive game we’ve seen Beasley play as a Timberwolf. He got going by hitting his midrange jumpers, which is the most reliable bellwether as to his comfort within the offense. But we also saw him move the ball and–this is important–attack the basket with real purpose. Did he occasionally space out on D, forgetting to rotate or sometimes even defend his man? Is wishing he would do otherwise possibly a little futile? But 34 points on 20 true shots gets you out of almost anything.|
|Anthony Randolph, PF 14 MIN | 2-3 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 5 PTS | -7An engaged, energetic 14 minutes from Anthony Randolph. It’s unfortunate for AntRand that a) Big Pek is playing so well and b) it can be almost impossible to predict which nights he will feel engaged and energetic.|
|Derrick Williams, F 7 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -8In the past three games, we’ve seen Derrick Williams matched up against Matt Bonner, Troy Murphy and Patrick Patterson. He ought to be able to use his superior quickness and skill to use these guys up; that is the great advantage of his playing the four. But except for a few aggressive moments late against San Antonio, he hasn’t been able to do that. Instead, against Houston, he got pushed around and shut out of the offense. Still learning.|
Five Things We Saw
- Is loving on Rubio getting old? Not for me, so far. It’s fascinating to watch how he’s made his teammates play more naturally within their roles. I’m thinking now of Love and Pekovic and how neither player has ever looked this comfortable in the pick-and-roll. Rubio’s ability to thread well placed, perfectly timed passes as his big men dive to the hoop has added rhythm and dimension to both players’ offensive games. Pek was known for this skill in Europe and Love has clearly been working hard on his footwork and ballhandling but it’s also clear that Rubio is allowing both guys a much fuller expression of their talents.
- It’s worth noting that the Wolves guarded Kevin Martin, a two-guard and possibly the league’s most efficient perimeter scorer, with Luke Ridnour and Martell Webster, a point-guard and a natural three respectively. They didn’t exactly shut him down (29 points on 9-15 shooting), but it’s a testament to the chewing-gum-and-popsicle-stick nature of the Wolves contraption–plus the sense of belief that Adelman has clearly instilled in his team–that both players attacked the task so gamely. Unlike any post-KG Wolves team that I’ve observed, this squad has clearly bought into a defensive idea. The trust they show each other–on rotations, on weakside help, in their mutual effort–is testament to that.
- Speaking of defense, the Wolves have gone to a 2-3 matchup zone for significant portions of both of the last two games. This is partially to compensate for defensive mismatches like the above (and the many that the team faced against the Lakers) but also to throw a wrench into their opponents’ offensive continuity. And while the team is still not completely disciplined in their zone responsibilities–too many wide open jumpers in both games–they’ve clearly accomplished the latter goal.
- This was mentioned quite a bit by Jim Petersen but it bears repeating. The Wolves managed to work two-for-ones to secure the final possession in each of the first three quarters. It’s a relatively small thing, but it means extra possessions and extra points; and gaming the clock to the Wolves advantage is not something we’re used to seeing.
- How did the Wolves score 120 points, including 42 in the third quarter, on 58% shooting? It certainly helped that they were moving the ball side to side with real creativity and purpose. It definitely helped that the Rockets had an off night in terms of defensive energy and discipline. (The Wolves’ first basket of the game, for instance, is highlighted by Kevin Martin standing flat-footed on the block/charge circle and just watching Nikola Pekovic roll to the hoop for a layup.) It also helped that, in contrast to the Laker game, they just made open shots. Yes, that helped a lot.