Wolves 100, Jazz 98: Finding your role within chaos

Zach Harper —  February 23, 2012 — 11 Comments

That was the weirdest and most fun comeback I’ve experienced in a long time.

There was no reason for the Wolves to win that game last night and maybe that’s why the comeback was so fun. Everything was working against Minnesota for so long in that game, that the comeback never really seemed real to me until the final minute of the game. The Wolves were essentially without three of their starters for most of this contest, even though they logged a combined 99 minutes in the game.

Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic were not good last night. Rubio looked slow and incapable of running the offense. He made a couple of 3-pointers, but he seemed more intent on earning foul calls than getting quality shots in the second half. Nikola Pekovic was playing on a bum ankle, but didn’t seem to be really affected by it. He just couldn’t make shots inside, no matter how many times he grabbed the rebound. And then there was Kevin Love.

Before the game, Love talked about how he’s wiped out physically. During the first few minutes of the game, it looked like something was seriously wrong with him. When Utah jumped out to an early lead, Adelman called a timeout to quell the storm. As Love came to the bench, he was completely red and sucking in as much oxygen as he could possibly manage. He had his head in a towel with Michael Beasley trying to offer words of encouragement. It looked as though he had an illness, and maybe he did if you consider pure exhaustion to be an ailment.

So there the Wolves were; getting their teeth kicked in by an impressive frontcourt. First 20 points of the game for Utah were scored in the paint. They were bullying Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic like it was two Darkos. Passes were being picked off, dribbles were being lost and the easiest of interior shots were complicated endeavors. 

Not to take anything away from Utah because they just managed to be stronger and quicker than the Wolves for most of the game, but the Wolves made themselves the underdog quickly in this game.

And that’s where JJ Barea comes into the picture.

To say that Barea has been a little maddening with his play so far would be a bit of an understatement. He was supposed to come in as the third guard for this team and be a spark plug. Most nights, he’s dribbled the air out of the ball before tossing up a questionable shot. He mentioned after the game that between the injuries, the new teammates and the new system, it’s been difficult getting into a rhythm with his game and responsibilities.

Last night, he seemed to be much closer to the Dallas Mavericks version we thought was being signed this offseason. Part of that could be because he was making his outside shots. He knocked down five of six 3-point attempts during the game and made all three of his long-range attempts in the fourth quarter. He kept the Wolves within reach during the second quarter when things looked bleak. It wasn’t ideal basketball by any means. It was a lot of seemingly reckless chucking on Barea’s part. But then again, the Wolves weren’t playing ideal basketball before that either.

For much of this game, I was pretty annoyed at the Wolves. It looked like they were more concerned with getting the game over to begin All-Star Weekend than actually trying to improve their record to .500. There was a point where I even said, “they need to either come back and win this game or get blown out by 30 because I’m sick of how the game is going right now.” They were just close enough to make it painful. I thought that if they ended up losing by nine in this game, it was going to be my rage margin of defeat and really just make me mad that they had just enough effort to make it close.

If I told you before the game that Luke Ridnour, JJ Barea and Derrick Williams combined for 32 points, I think we’d all be pretty happy about that. If I then clarified that it was 32 points just in the fourth quarter, I think we’d all be dumbfounded. Barea continued to score like he had been doing all game. Get into the teeth of the defense and knock them out. He also started setting up Luke Ridnour on the weak side for some big jumpers. Every bit that this backcourt duo did was exemplary but I think D Dub and the effort he gave in the fourth should honestly overshadow it.

This is exactly what he can do. He just finds a way to make plays. He had nine points and six rebounds, just in the fourth quarter. He guarded Paul Millsap extremely well and helped limit him to just four points on three shots in the final quarter. Williams was everywhere. He didn’t allow too much space when his man faced up against him. He was in perfect help for almost every key possession. He showed glimpses of how genetically improbable his athleticism is when he attacked the glass for rebounds.

On the offense end, he made big shot after big shot in the lane, including some HUGE free throws late in the game. None of this makes him untradeable by any means. If you can upgrade the talent on this roster, you should do it. And it’s awkward because Derrick doesn’t have a defined role or position with this team. He still has found a way to help close out two games with huge plays at the end of games over the last month.

The effort of the bench players (and Luke who is kind of a bench player that just happens to start) helped bring this game within reach and shift the momentum. After Al Jefferson tied the game with a big face-up jumper with seven seconds left in the game, it was up to the Wolves to end it or hope this effort didn’t go for naught in overtime. A broken play became Luke Ridnour with the ball. He drove the lane, tossed up one of his patented floaters and brought this team to 17 wins on the season – matching their total from last season.

Guys like Luke are hard to measure. He’s not good enough to be the star for you, but he’s way too good to discount. He gets overlooked on this team because he’s forced into a role that an unbalanced roster creates for him. He’s not a shooting guard and yet he’s asked to play it on both ends. He plays the role with an unwavering hand because that’s what his coach asks of him. He does whatever his team needs him to do. This time, they needed him to step up and end the game. He did it.

(video via Canis Hoopus)

The Wolves turned a terrible early effort and a lack of impactful production by their two big guys (it’s weird to think that 15 and 12 for Pek and 10 and 10 for Love aren’t good games, but they really weren’t) into something to rally around. The bench rallied the team and finished the job.

The Wolves turned themselves into the underdog, even though they were at home and facing a team that isn’t as good.

It was just a weird game.

Zach Harper

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11 responses to Wolves 100, Jazz 98: Finding your role within chaos

  1. This is the most fun I’ve had watching any Minnesota team in some time.

  2. I was watching the game on my DVR with my wife when she got a text from a friend and it said can you believe they tied it up. My wife wouldn’t watch basketball with me for as long as we have been together. Now she is getting texts from friends about this team and she is as excited about them as I am. They were still down 16 when the text came in so we strapped ourselves in for a good one. This wolves team has done the unthinkable. Not only can they win games they should lose. But they make people that hate basketball pay attention. We are so lucky that the fates have smiled on us. 2 years ago no one would have thought it would be so much fun to be a Wolves fan.

  3. DWILLLL!!!!!!!!!!

  4. what a crazy game – the Wolves looked absolutely terrible in the first half, made the big spurt in the 3rd to close it to 3, then let the Jazz build up a big lead again that carried well into the 4th – and then the Barea/D-Will show revved up the crowd. This article hits it right on the nose, once again – Barea has been incredibly frustrating, but was great last night. Ridnour, who missed the big layup in Denver, redeemed himself with the big shot. And D-Will, who really doesn’t seem dialed in from night to night, really came up with some big plays and buckets. Also great to see the bench genuinely excited for the guys who were bringing it last night. Much easier to root for a team that roots for itself. Now if they could only bring that 4th quarter effort consistently….

  5. What an incredible comeback. I almost always tivo the games while I am off playing soccer or bball. When I came back after the initial huge let down I began fast forwarding. My thought process “I will fast forward until we are within 8″. I ended up going straight through half-time, then switched over to the exciting Gophers game. I came back and fast forwarded to the 4th quarter and thought, “hell, why not watch it all?”. Glad I chose that route. Barea, Ridnour, and Williams were all incredible down the stretch. Each one deserves a game ball for that, and it was great to see the Target Center interviewed Williams while FSN interviewed Ridnour and Barea.

    GREAT win, great to be at .500 and already matching last years total. What’s most impressive though is the fact that we found a way to win when our big 3 were all playing terribly. You mentioned going 15 and 12 and 10 and 10 for Pek and Love sounds good, it’s the FG% that was atrocious.

    Wes Johnson – good 2nd half.
    Webster – Did not find a way for people to forget what happened against Denver

    I have been upset about the Barea trade ever since Rubio became a star. Too many PGs, not enough SGs. If Barea can play anywhere near that instead of his usual 3-9 4TOs we’re used to everytime he decides to drive and try to throw up side layups against 7’0″ guys, I will not say a peep about bringing him in.

    GO WOLVES!

  6. This is an absolutely spot-on assessment of the proceedings last night…you nailed it. I now have to go back to my blog and try very hard not to plagiarise everything I’ve just read here…that will be a real challenge. Quality stuff Zach.
    Those first three quarters were amongst the most grim of the whole season so far but Utah have been caving in quite spectacularly on the road lately so the fourth quarter onslaught wasn’t completely unexpected…however we have to take into consideration the Twolves personnel on the floor in crunch time, it was a blast.

  7. In the 2nd half of the season, Adelman needs to play Williams more at the 4 and reduce Love’s minutes. Love is having a great season, but he’s just playing too many minutes.

  8. Glenn,

    That’s a great point. If he could get down to even 35 minutes per game or so, I think it would benefit Williams, Love, and the whole team.

    While I think it’s possible we make the playoffs this year, a championship run is not in the cards. If we’re even considering trading D Dub, I think we ought to be sure we have given him enough regular minutes to ensure we aren’t making a mistake.

  9. I think Derek Williams showed us last night not to give up just yet. The last 5 games or so we have seen him grow a bit and make better decisions with the ball. No charges that I can think of either. I think Adleman seen just how versatile of a line up he can put in and be successful. Second half of the season starts next week!

  10. Best first half ending… ever. I couldn’t even imagine anything better.

    Only good teams can come back from 18 down in the fourth, and only good teams can hit buzzer beaters on multiple occasions.

    We have a tough schedule in the second half, but we also have to play fewer games than most teams. I think we will do well. I really like Beaz, but the talk of a Lakers trade for picks and/or cash doesn’t entirely depress me. No offense to him but I’d rather have DWill2 at 3/4 after what happened last night. Wes Johnson has stepped up defensively and offensively as well.

    This was the first game that the bench really won for us, and it gives many reasons we can relax for the all-star break.

  11. if love really was THAT exhausted, adelman shouldn’t push the usage that high game after game considering love’s style of play. he has a capable (albeit inexperienced) backup in d-dub. i really hope love stays heathly and that some rest is all he needs. ditto for pek, props to him too for playing with an injury.

    adelman may have found his new kings mob squad of sorts in minnesota. it’s been too long. let’s hope the bench guys come up big every time a situation like this happens.

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