Nuggets 103, Wolves 101: Work smarter not harder
That was not a fun way to lose a basketball game.
Denver’s side of it will talk about how they gutted out the win with depth and heart and all of that crappy romance novel stuff that people love to spit after a win like this. And on some level, it’s completely valid. Ty Lawson injured his ankle in the first half and never returned. Then Andre Miller acted like a petulant teenager to the refs and was thrown out, leaving Denver with something called a Julyan Stone (I think you can get one from Crate & Barrel) to run the point.
Denver did outhustle the Wolves. They were active in the paint, fought for every loose ball and seemed to want to rebound more than the Wolves. Several times, it looked like guys on the Wolves were looking for someone else to grab a rebound, while Denver chased down the ball like it was a historic artifact in the National Treasure movie franchise. Kevin Love ended up with a 20 and 13 night, which doesn’t sound bad at all until you watch Kenneth Faried destroy him on the boards in the second half and overtime (Love had five rebounds, Faried had 10).
But let’s get down to the embodiment of what went wrong in this game – the Martell Webster blunder.
I’ll admit that when the Wolves stole the inbound pass and Webster high-tailed it up the court, I was certain we were headed to double overtime. You don’t often see plays like that in which the team that was desperate for possession ends up screwing the pooch on the opportunity once they take it. You definitely don’t see it often that when a team is down three in the closing seconds of a game, and without a timeout, that they go for a 2-point shot instead of hoisting the 3-pointer.
When I first saw Martell decide not to slow up to pull up for the 3, I started looking all over the court for shooters. Maybe he was going to kick it back to Ricky after drawing the defense away. Maybe he was going to sling it over to Beasley. Maybe there was a new rule in which clutch dunks counted for more than two points. As he continued to dribble toward the basket and as he took off for the dunk, I became completely bewildered by the events unfolding in front of me.
It’s not like Martell is new to this. He’s been in the league since 2006. Apparently, he assumed he would get fouled. He wasn’t aware that as soon as it was clear he was going for the dunk, guys on Denver started cheering and celebrating their valiant victory. I was furious at this moment. I had rants on rants on rants in the DDL because I couldn’t believe that this was the way the Wolves would blow their chance at climbing over .500 yet again.
When I woke up this morning, I realized that I wasn’t mad at Martell, but at the entire team for blowing this opportunity. Martell Webster didn’t lose this game for the Wolves. He just punctuated the mediocre effort.
Sure, the Wolves played really good and scrappy defense in the second half. Luke Ridnour perfectly defended Arron Afflalo down the stretch. The Wolves were active to get Al Harrington to miss shots after the second quarter. Bodies were flying everywhere and the Wolves blocked four attempts in overtime alone.
However, the effort and execution wasn’t there once Pek went down with an injury. The Wolves made just 39% of their shots at the rim. Part of this was the block party the Nuggets had last night. They blocked 11 shots and really tried to set the tone for this being a tough game inside. The Wolves also blew a lot of layups and interior shots. Pek went 2/7 inside, Love went 3/9 and Rubio made just two of his eight attempts at the basket. Minnesota found ways to get into the lane and at the basket and yet they could convert even the most basic of plays, like when Ridnour misfired on a point blank and uncontested layup that would have tied the game with 17 seconds left in overtime.
The scary thing is the scoring inside wasn’t even the biggest problem of the game. The biggest problem of the game was two-fold. The Wolves couldn’t make a 3-pointer and they played horrific transition defense.
Someone has to inform the Wolves they can’t shoot 3-pointers anymore. It just isn’t there. With their gorgeously ineffective 6/27 effort from Antoine Walker Land last night, they are now 23rd in the NBA in 3-point percentage. I know they were fifth in the NBA last season, but this isn’t last season. The Wolves take the 12th most attempts per game at 19.8 per contest. Even if you factor in the idea of effective field goal percentage (adding and extra half to each 3-pointer made because of the extra point), the Wolves are still 21st in the NBA in that.
The Timberwolves need to STOP SHOOTING 3-POINTERS BECAUSE NONE OF YOU CAN MAKE THEM. Beasley is the only decent 3-point shooter on the team this season (unless you want to count Brad Miller’s 1/1). Beas is shooting 42.6% from three, which is phenomenal. After that, nobody else is above 35.6%. Only Wayne Ellington and Kevin Love are above the league average of 34.7%. And the Wolves can’t stop shooting them because it’s some kind of addiction they need to go to rehab for.
As for the transition defense, this continues to be a problem. At a certain point, it becomes a matter of pride and effort. Wolves gave up 29 transition points to the Nuggets with 18 of them coming in the first half. It was how the Wolves went from being surprisingly ahead against a tough home team in the first quarter to down five at the half and in need of a gut check. Minnesota just refused to get back in a timely fashion. Denver averages 20.8 fastbreak points per game – first in the league. They almost had that after the second quarter. That’s just inexcusable.
Wolves allow the second most transition points in the NBA, right behind the Sacramento Kings. And yet somehow, the Wolves are the 13th best defensive team in the NBA. If they could focus less on complaining about calls when they turn the ball over or miss a shot and just get back on the other end, this could be a playoff team with a top 10 defense.
The Wolves are still exceeding expectations this season and have been fun overall. But losses like this just don’t sit well with those hoping they can take the next step.
I just can’t believe the one time the Wolves should have gone for a 3-pointer, they attacked the basket. That is not a fun way to lose a basketball game.
Martell, it’s not your fault.