“Hanging around. Hanging around. Kid’s got alligator blood. Can’t get rid of him.” – Teddy KGB.
It starts with a run. The Clippers came out of halftime, inexplicably only up three points and looking to put this game away early. A layup from Randy Foye drops in. Blake Griffin hits a jump shot. Randy Foye makes a 3-pointer off of a pass from Blake. The Clippers are carving up a young Wolves’ team with passing and effort. They’re being more physical. They’re quicker to the ball. They’re now up 10 within the blink of an eye.
For some reason this season, the Wolves find a way to stick around. There are plenty of games in which I’ve watched the action unfold before my eyes, then look up at the scoreboard and wonder how Minnesota had kept it so close. They have sneak ways of going on runs immediately after an opponent’s run. And it’s rarely anything but subtle.
Luke Ridnour made a technical free throw after an illegal defense. After a missed 3, an offensive rebound by Rubio and DeAndre Jordan swatting a shot attempt, the Wolves got a stop against the Clippers. Pek gets to the foul line for two, Wes hits a jumper off the Rubio setup, and then Rubio finds Wes in transition for the layup. All of a sudden, the 10-point lead is a two-point deficit and you’re back in the grind of the game.
The story of the mini-runs and the grind it out mentality of this team kept them in it. But the bench certainly won the game for the Wolves tonight.
And the bench. CAUGHT. FIRE.
Derrick Williams and Michael Beasley showed us why exactly potential in a player can be so tantalizing. There is so much raw ability that can be harnessed at any one moment and give you a euphoric sense of future tidings. In a game Kevin Love was befuddled, shut down and incapable of bestowing his usual impact, Derrick Williams fought back against athleticism with his own athleticism. He lived in the paint in the first half, before he peppered the Clippers with jumpers in the second half. He stretched the floor and made mobile giants of the interior uncomfortable defending the perimeter.
Michael Beasley was also an arsonist with D Dub, especially in the fourth quarter. They each had 13 points in the final quarter of the game but took turns going on their own respective runs. All 13 of Williams’ fourth quarter points came in the first 5:02 of the period, including 10 in a row. He helped the Wolves turn a three-point deficit into an eight-point lead. Over the next four minutes and 22 seconds, Michael Beasley went on a scoring binge of his own.
Beasley scored 13 of the next 14 points (thanks, Hack-a-Darko!). He scored inside and outside, with pull-up jumpers and face-up firings. He cut to the basket and he buried long-range shots. He went 5/5 in this short period of time, extending an eight-point lead to 17 points of pure Clipper frustration. There was nothing the Clippers could do to stop Minnesota and there was nothing Minnesota could do to slow themselves down. We could pretend they were all good shots, but there was heat check after heat check going on and the temperature was still toasty. All of the heat checks fell into the hoop. Minnesota started 10/10 in the quarter and it wasn’t until a JJ Barea missed 3-pointer with 1:29 left that they finally misfired.
This entire time, the Wolves were swarming on defense and being overly bothersome. Martell and Barea flew around the perimeter, hoping to disrupt passing lanes and cut off drives. Beasley and Williams were attempting to stay in help and keep the Clippers off the boards. And Darko Milicic used his length to stifle Blake Griffin for the second time this season. Ethan Sherwood Strauss loves to discuss how big of a factor length and wingspan are in the NBA. He’d be proud of the Wolves in this game.
Love and Pekovic thrive off of being stronger than opposing frontcourts. They move them out of the way and bully them like they have lunch money in their pockets that is first come, first serve. But that didn’t work against the Clippers. The Clippers’ frontcourt of Jordan and Blake is not only strong physically, but they also have the quickness and athleticism to beat you to whatever spot you’re trying to get to on the floor. The way the Wolves were able to counteract this was with Derrick Williams’ athletic abilities and Darko being too long for Griffin to feel comfortable shooting over.
This is where you find D Dub’s greatest value. Allow him to be an athlete on the court, find him ways of getting the ball moving to the basket, and he can get into a rhythm that becomes a matchup nightmare for opposing big men. Allow Darko to just be big and in the way against smaller frontcourt players and his length can bother the other team.
The entire bench was stellar tonight. They close out a road game without the help of the starters in the final quarter. They scored all 36 fourth quarter points and only Rubio and Wes were starters who played in the final 12 minutes. They combined for two minutes and 25 seconds in the fourth. Martell had big buckets in the second half and Barea combined with Darko for five assists in the final quarter. The starters weren’t very good all night and the bench picked them up.
These are valuable road victories that help a young team grow. It’s one thing to just rely on your starters and stars to pull you through this, but what if the potential of your tweeners off the bench can be realized in a flurry of made jumpers and chest bumps? What if you can teach your second unit how to put games away?
What if all of your raw talent learns how to be harnessed?
.gif from @cjzero