While some might complain about Kevin Love’s suspension being unjust, I’m trying to look at it as a positive thing.
I’ve grown tired of Kevin Love’s complaining to officials this season. I’m fine if he wants to belabor a point or fight for his team verbally during stoppages in play, but when he’s taking an extra second or two to turnaround and complain to a referee that is booking it up the floor to keep up with the action (hint, hint: Kevin you should too), I find it disheartening to see a brief 4-on-5 defensive effort.
It’s not something that happens all the time. It happens maybe two or three times per game at most. It’s not costing the Wolves games either. It’s just a poor decision he makes that puts his team at risk of giving up scores and at a certain point, enough is enough.
The good thing about this suspension is it gives a real test to Nikola Pekovic, Michael Beasley and Derrick Williams to step up and prove their production without the attention defenses pay to Kevin Love. Anybody could argue that everybody on the Wolves benefits from Love’s presence out there and they certainly do to some extent. But that isn’t the reason someone like Ricky Rubio gets a lot of assists or Nikola Pekovic is able to have a presence inside.
With Love out last night, the entire team had a chance to prove themselves and they did a pretty good job. There were times when his absence was felt. The Wolves got sloppy with the ball, forced shots they normally wouldn’t have to take and had to deal with DeMarcus Cousins dominating the boards in the third quarter. However, players stepped up when they needed to and the Wolves dodged a bullet at the end to secure the win.
Nikola Pekovic was the star of this game. I know Ricky had the assists and Derrick Williams had the go-ahead 3-pointer, but Pek was a monster that made DeMarcus Cousins look like he’s been crying “wolf” the last couple of weeks with his play. Pekovic pushed everybody around like he wasn’t going against guys that weigh 270lbs. or more. After the game, Derrick Williams called him the strongest guy in the NBA and it’s hard to think of anybody who can make me think otherwise.
As impressive as Pek’s strength has been, his nimble feet and quick moves around the basket have been even more eye-popping. He’s far more agile than anything he showed last season. Just look at this play by Pek:
If I showed this to you last season, you’d either think I was a warlock or had slipped something in your drink to make you hallucinate. But that actually happened last night. He also took on Chuck Hayes, Jason Thompson and anybody else unlucky enough to have to guard Pek in the post. Pek showed drop steps and counter moves and everything beautiful you’d imagine a post-game could be. He scored in a variety of ways and not just bullying his way to the hoop.
You’d never know DeMarcus Cousins had 49 points and 39 rebounds in his previous two games because Pek made him look meek in stature and ability. Cousins was in early foul trouble and appeared to check out of the game mentally pretty quickly. The Wolves took advantage of Cousins’ physical and mental departures in this game by attacking the boards with a group effort.
Despite an unhealthy shooting night of 7/21, I was really impressed with what Michael Beasley did. He accepted his role off the bench and didn’t just come in to mope and chuck 20-footers off of one dribble. Beasley showed a lot of effort on both ends of the floor, attacked the basket at times, worked his way in for shorter jumpers (that he just missed on a few), and rebounded like he had #42 on his jersey. If the team is winning, I think we can expect this kind of mindset from Beas. And right now, this team is winning.
The effort in making up for Love’s absence was buoyed by Derrick Williams as well. D Dub made sure to help set the tone early by blocking two shots almost immediately. He knocked down jumpers, attacked the basket and grabbed eight rebounds in his 26 minutes to help the Wolves win a battle on the boards. But his biggest contribution came with 56 seconds left when he knocked down a corner 3 to put the Wolves up for good.
Ricky attacked the interior and found Williams standing open in the right corner. Derrick admitted after the game that after starting off the year hot with his shooting, he felt less confident as he started to struggle with his shot. He also mentioned how there wasn’t a second thought as to whether or not he was taking that crucial 3-point shot. This is the mindset of a shooter that you’d want your number-two pick to have. He caught it, released it and watched it rip through the net.
Before I end this, I can’t talk enough about how impressed I was with Ricky in this game. His understanding of patience within the flow of a play developing is just stunning. Most players (not just young point guards either) see an opening in a play developing and will throw the pass immediately. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it turns into a typical Portland Trailblazers fast break. With Ricky, you don’t really see that.
You see patience and waiting. And when you can see Ricky hesitating with the ball, it makes the defense paranoid. “Why is he holding the ball? Why hasn’t he passed it yet? Is there something happening behind me that I don’t see yet? Is there something happening to me that I don’t see yet?” It’s almost as if watching him wait to pass the ball makes the defense collapse because they don’t know how to handle his patience. You see lobs develop this way because the chickens are cutting off their own heads before running around to defend the basket.
Sure, Ricky will force stuff in the halfcourt. You don’t average three turnovers per game by not doing that. But ultimately, he knows how to set guys up, especially at the basket. Six of his 14 assists were at the basket. There were three more within nine feet of the hoop. 117 of his 227 assists this season have come within nine feet of the basket. A lot of that is just because he can outwait and out-think the opposing defense. Creating paranoia that is too strong to overcome.
Overall, the Wolves got away with one. They had a valiant effort without one of the better players in the league in their lineup. They fought to outrebound and were a wide-open Donté Greene 3-pointer at the buzzer from walking away a loser in this game. They showed a lack of execution at times and a resiliency to stave off that lack of execution.
And yet, the Wolves still walked away with a win. They have a chance to do it again against a much tougher Memphis opponent tonight and they won’t have the benefit of a home crowd behind them. It’s the kind of game you’d love to have Kevin manning the middle for you. The Wolves won’t have that luxury until Friday.
It’s nice to know they can do it, but it’s not something I want to get used to seeing.