Game Analysis

Timberwolves 111, Rockets 98: The bear speaks


Woodville Caton

I do not understand the sentence “Nikola Pekovic scored 30 points in one game.” The Scientologists would probably urge me to exhaustively research the etymologies of each individual word, but that probably wouldn’t help much (although you never know–there are so many levels of consciousness I’ve yet to attain…). I mean, I just watched the actual game in question with my own eyes and it’s still beyond me. Part of the mystification centers on the sight of Pekovic casually dropping in gentle layup upon uncontested dunk upon easy bankshot. Professional basketball is complicated. Dribbling or shooting a basketball while some of the tallest, quickest men on the planet attempt to prevent you from doing same? Really hard to do. This is a player who struggled last season to wrest floor time away from Darko Milicic, who induced widespread stink-faces whenever he began to dribble the basketball, who just could not stop fouling. It is not supposed to look as simple and easy as Pek made it look on Friday.

But when you are feeling the game as intuitively as Big Pek is right now, when you are as in touch with your own abilities and weaknesses–and when you are made of 300 pounds of goulash and beer and boulder heaving–sometimes the game just flows. He was ducking into the lane with exquisite timing, mirroring the movement of the ball by sliding easily from block to block, using that massive body (and those curiously nimble feet) to seal his man. He was cutting to the rim and running the floor and crashing the glass with energy and force (to the tune of, dude, nine lusty offensive rebounds). And every time that body made contact with Sam Dalembert’s or Jordan Hill’s chest, the impact registered somewhere inside my ribs with a dull, nauseating thud. The spirit gasps, grimaces, pulls on its own shorts.

But Pekovic’s state of flow would not have been possible without the rest of the team playing with commensurate intuition and skill. Save for a discomfiting stretch of play at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Wolves moved the ball more decisively and fluidly than they have all season. The ball seemed to instantly find Pek the moment he established position on the block or in front of the rim. And the Wolves’ sharp side-to-side ball movement wrong-footed the Rockets all game. Houston’s rotations were consistently one step behind the ball, arriving too late to deny the Wolves good looks at the rim.

Because when you see that the Wolves notched no fewer than 64 points in the paint and grabbed 44 of 70 available rebounds in the game, you will realize that Pekovic wasn’t the only Wolves’ big man that got his on Friday. Kevin Love has been playing out of his effing mind since he returned from his face-stomping suspension (in maybe a not-so-subtle demonstration of how much better he actually is than Blake Griffin right now?) and this win against the Rockets was perhaps his most authoritative beatdown yet. He scored 33 points on 20 true shots. He pulled down 17 hard-earned rebounds. After being beaten by Luis Scola a few times in the first quarter, Love put an early end to that confrontation by essentially fouling Scola out of the game. He nearly single-handedly ended that aforementioned run of sloppy play, as well as Houston’s chances of winning the game, by scoring 14 fourth-quarter points, including two threes and two massive putbacks off the offensive glass (plus that little excerpt from my dreams that was Rubio’s behind the back area pass). Not bad.

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Although I’ve been a little puzzled by a few things that Rick Adelman has done this year (like shortening his bench in the middle of this hellish schedule), Friday was the first time that I found myself genuinely disagreeing with an Adelman call. As Jim Petersen pointed out during the telecast, the Rockets had been hurting the Wolves with their mid-pick-and-roll game. Kyle Lowry’s combination of strength and quickness in turning the corner was giving Rubio fits; almost everything Houston got in the half-court came out of Lowry’s penetration. Still, it seemed to me that the Wolves were rotating sharply enough and defending the rim with enough energy to compensate. After all, that same defense had helped earn them a 16-point fourth-quarter lead. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the fourth, Adelman went with the same 2-3 zone that had successfully gummed up the Rockets offense in their January 30th meeting.

But it was clear that the Rockets had prepared for it this time. The Houston’s ball movement successfully moved the Wolves’ zone from side to side; where the Wolves had previously done a fair job of contesting three-point shooters, the Rockets were now finding open three after open three. It was clear almost immediately both that the Wolves were not going to be able challenge Houston’s shooters and that the Rockets–particularly Courtney Lee, who hit all four of his threes–were feeling it from deep.  Making matters worse, the Wolves zone wasn’t particularly good at preventing Lowry’s penetration either; much of Houston’s sharp ball movement was generated by Lowry drawing defenders into the paint. And yet, Adelman stuck with it until the Rockets had cut Minnesota’s lead down to one point and appeared on the verge of sweeping past them.  Luckily, Adelman abandoned the zone in time; the Wolves mustered some stops; Love cast some daggers; we all breathed easier.


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0 thoughts on “Timberwolves 111, Rockets 98: The bear speaks

  1. There are so few men in the world of basketball who can match Pekman’s strength (you sould’ve seen how ridiculuos Ibaka looked in Euroleague match against Pek earlier this season). He’s just too powerful, with him and Love in the paint everything is possible, and with addition of Rubio’s brilliant mind and feeling for basketball, you get a team that is a serious playoff contender…for now.

    Go Pekman and T-wolves!

  2. How much of PEK’s emergence as a force is attributed to Brad Miller’s presence on the team?

    Loved the game. I did get a little nervous when rockets got within one point, but then we got some stops. Good job of shutting down Kevin Martin and getting Scola out of the game with 5 fouls. Interesting to see that Bert was no match for PEK. Thanks Wolves for making my day.

  3. What is there NOT to love about Pec? He pretty much can do it all very very well. Moves well for someone his size too. What I like the most is that he knows what he is capable of and keeps it very basic and simple. No razle dazle crap and bad passes. I dont know of a Center in the league that fits this team like Pec does. Honestly right now I would take him over Howard. Im not drunk either. Like Lin, he needs to be a late add in for the sophmore/rookie challenge. Watch that big guy really run the floor!

  4. Kevin Love stomped on the entire Rockets team (and I doubt he’ll get suspended). Even before the two threes, there was a hugely difficult laser hookshot that killed a 10-0 run or something. The next time down the floor there was a two point basket by the Rockets that again cut the Wolves’ lead to one, and then Kevin channeled his inner Jordan (or Bird, if you prefer) and straight up won the game.

  5. Shawn you may not be drunk but you are wrong. I would take Howard over Pek every night of the week even when Pek is killing it like he did Friday. Howard can protect the rim like no one in the NBA and the wolves really need that type of player. The Wolves are a extremely flawed team playing with no wing play. When a team has a good defensive front line we are in trouble because we have to rely on our wing and guards to do more scoring and that is a inconsistent thing to rely on. We need a guy who can score on the wing when our offense isn’t flowing like last night and until then we will be a inconsistent team showing flashes of brilliants when we match-up well against a team.

  6. The emergence of Pek has been awesome to watch. As fans, we already knew that this team had two All Star qulaity players with Rubio and Love, but for us to be given a gift like Pek is unvbelieveable. Dare i say that the T Wolves now have a top 5 center, a top 10 PG, and the best PF in the game?? Once we get the wings and perimeter defense sorted out, we’ll be watching a contender!

  7. Pek’s emergence has been amazing – if it weren’t for Jeremy Lin he would be blowing up right now.

    I am pretty puzzled by the distribution of minutes though – our starters basically never got off the floor. Yeah, our bench is pretty underwhelming, but still…

  8. Seems like the consensus is that we just need to work out the wing player situation and find a way to get the bench more involved.

    They can’t be that bad; Sacramento got beat by them… I think Beasley and DWill should have the most minutes out of all the bench players. It sounds really obvious to me – they are both shoot-first, super athletic forwards that can only thrive IF they have minutes. I realize Adelman needs wins, and lately they’ve been hard to come by. But the only consistent bench production has been from Barea; this has to change somehow. If they keep winning, I won’t complain – winning breeds confidence, which leads to more wins. If they lose, though, I say play Beasley and DWill for 40 minutes apiece in the next game.

    It may be wise to play them against OKC. Players like them thrive against that kind of pressure, I think.

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