Wolves 95, Clippers 94: Strategery
Apologize for the late recap post but we had some issues with the site yesterday, and I’m just now able to get it posted.
As you may or may not have noticed, I’ve been absent from recap duties and other postings on this site the past week because I was out of town. I went to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston to see what the latest nerds were doing in trying to figure out new ways to quantify sports.
Basketball has always been one of the fuzziest ways to figure out what we’ve just seen and what we’ll see in the future because there are so many variables and intangibles that we haven’t figured out how to measure yet. People argue about PER, Win Shares, plus/minus, adjusted plus/minus and everything under the sun. We don’t know what is good enough for analysis and what isn’t but we do know that advancements in the field are happening every season.
One of the biggest arguments that stats analysts and non-stats analysts have had over the years is about “the hot hand.” Can we really predict if the next shot is going in based on consecutive makes just prior to the next attempt? Do people ever get hot or are they just mathematically trending upward? Whether you believe in the hot hand or not isn’t really relevant to this recap.
Just know that whether he’s hot right now or he’s just trending, Kevin Love has been destroying two really good frontcourts the last two games.
After dropping 42 points on Portland the other night, Love followed it up with 39 points against Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan Monday night. It wasn’t just that Love got 39 points either; it’s the way he was pouring in the scores from all around the floor that was really eye-catching. Ricky and the rest of the team did a great job of finding Kevin early. He started out with 16 points on 8 shots in the first quarter. He matched the entire Clippers’ team after 12 minutes.
Now, Kevin Love didn’t score in 11-point bursts throughout this entire game like he did briefly in the first quarter, but he did receive scoring runs from his teammates to help keep the Clippers at bay for most of this game. In the second quarter, Derrick Williams exploded for 14 points on seven shots. In the third quarter, Darko Milicic scored nine points on four shots. In the fourth quarter, Michael Beasley scored nine points on five shots.
All of these quarter runs by various teammates helped surround Love’s constant attack on DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and Kenyon Martin. They were also all completely matchup based throughout this game.
Derrick Williams was able to exploit the horrendous perimeter defense of the Clippers’ frontcourt. Kenyon Martin wasn’t comfortable guarding him on perimeter jumpers. He put a great jab step on Blake to free himself up for a 20-foot jumper. He found DeAndre Jordan lost in transition to be open for a 3-pointer. When he was in the game, they kept him where he had the advantage.
Darko’s points in the third quarter came when the T’Wolves realized DeAndre Jordan was a terror coming from the weak side and overmatched against Darko’s size in the post. So they went after DeAndre and put the pressure on him straight up in a matchup, rather than letting him set the tone defensively. With Beasley in the fourth quarter, they went after Bobby Simmons and a mismatch with Kenyon Martin for his scoring opportunities.
All the while, the Wolves kept going to Kevin Love because he was hot mathematically trending upward. He dropped 12 points in the third and helped close out the game in the fourth with mismatches against Martin on the perimeter.
The biggest strategy of the game came at the end and it was a personal sacrifice I loved to see. Rubio has been struggling to score the last month and it sort of looks like it’s getting into his head when he’s taking shots. Whether you believe he’s not getting calls or not, he’s definitely forcing shots when he thinks the calls should come his way. To say he could use free points at the free throw line is an understatement.
After the Wolves ONCE A-FREAKING-GAIN fouling on a 3-point attempt at the end of a game, Chris Paul made two of three free throw attempts, missing the third attempt with roughly two seconds left. Rubio came flying into the paint, grabbed the board and was fouled with 1.8 seconds left.
Because the Clippers didn’t have any timeouts, Rubio intentionally went back iron to start the clock and force the Clippers into pulling off something miraculous. It was personal sacrifice of individual numbers for the greater good of the team that you love to see. Chris Paul’s heave from the opposite 3-point line went over the backboard and the Wolves pulled away with the victory.
Throughout the game, the decision to keep Darko on Blake Griffin and make him deal with some mass and length proved to be a good one. Griffin still got his points (26 and 12) but he had to work much harder for them than he usually does, which cut down on his preening to the cameras throughout his time on the court.
This is a game we probably don’t see the last two years and it’s something we should get used to seeing in the Rick Adelman era. He’s not afraid to scrap what the team is supposed to do, in order to take advantage of a mismatch for a few possessions. I know there are some people that get frustrated with rotations and minutes, especially to a young guy like Derrick Williams. However, the Wolves are deep into the playoff race right now and it seems to me he’s willing to sacrifice development at the moment in the regular season in order to put their feet to the fire if they can sneak into the playoffs.
There’s plenty of time to get these guys regular minutes and introduced to being a big part of the season later. Right now, we’ve got playoffs to make. With Kevin Love playing the way he is, it’s getting harder and harder to think the Wolves won’t have a great shot.