It’s a shame to see all that Kevin Love does and wish he would do more. But watching Elton Brand dismantle him in the post probably made some of us do just that. Early in the first quarter, Brand recovered a loose ball at the elbow, sized up Love with a dribble between his legs, put his back on him and pivoted into a fade away 12 footer as fluidly as 33 year old knees can be expected to. Not pretty by any measure, but sound and effective.
Kevin attempted to fire back from the perimeter but continually missed the mark. His shots were flat and rushed. Philadelphia’s defense certainly took much of the credit, but this also bore the look of someone shooting simply because he was expected to. Not to say that he shouldn’t, only that he has more options. Love only made two shots in the quarter; a layup in transition and a hook shot over Brand off a post up. He missed five jumpers.
So then how did the Wolves win this contest? With a timely flurry of Kevin Love jumpers, of course. He faced up Brand from the left elbow, jab stepped and fired from sixteen feet. Then he faced up on Lavoy Allen, swept the ball through a series of fakes and finished with a nifty hook shot. Feeling a rhythm, Love faced up on Brand from the right block this time, jabbed again, and again, sunk another sixteen footer. Then he flashed into the paint and immediately flipped in another hook.
Four consecutive baskets to open the fourth quarter during a crucial five minute stretch. There surely were other factors in this victory, but Love’s display provided the late boost needed to stave off a potentially debilitating run by the 76ers. Now perhaps he was just off early, but there was also a discernable difference in the quality of his makes later in the evening. He appeared much more patient, decisive and confident, as shown by a gutsy drive through Philly’s defense that led to those deciding free throws. I’d like to see more of it.
I had this discussion last year with our friend Ben, who rightfully pointed out Kevin’s gaudy three point percentage (42%). However, whether it’s the wear and tear of this truncated season or just the appropriate adjustments by opposing defenses, his three point percentage isn’t so gaudy anymore (35%), especially when considering he’s on pace to attempt more this year in far less games (211 in ’11, 135 in ’12). It’d be irrational to expect Love to overhaul his game, yet in order to remain efficient, some variety in his shot selection would be prudent. Surely he can reconcile between the two, right? That’d be nice.
Anyway, this was a pretty surprising victory. The 76ers have all the grit and defensive intensity one would expect of a team representing Philly, but more importantly, they hardly ever turn the ball over. So facing a mistake prone unit such as ours could’ve been a disaster. Strangely enough though, as our visitors ground this game to an uncomfortable pace, the Wolves valued their possessions. The ball moved decisively, generally resulting in good shots. Which of course begs the question, “Then why do we play so fast?”
Well, because we can’t score in the half court consistently. As we’ve discussed ad nauseum, there isn’t a brilliant scorer here to save us every game. Kevin definitely tries, but we know his limitations, as does he. Looking at our personnel, there simply aren’t many easy buckets to be had on this team; most of our players are earthbound and their shooting percentages plummet towards earth’s core. Nikola Pekovic’s emergence has been an encouraging sign of dependable post play, but much of his success is directly attributed to Ricky Rubio’s wizardry. And despite marked improvement, our Wolves don’t have a reliably strong defense to create many points in transition either.
So they do what they can with what they have; out finesse their opponents with speed and guile. It’s clearly been working, but just as often, it won’t. The only ways to reconcile ourselves with that reality is with lowered expectations or a trade. What we did learn tonight though, is that manageable tasks- taking care of the ball and making free throws- can lead to our pups winning more of the close ones. This isn’t anything we didn’t already know, but the evidence is still appreciated.