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.