Wolves 97, Warriors 93: Mega Love
I’m not the biggest video game nerd in the world, but I used to go nuts over playing Mega Man. There was something so captivating about a guy in a little blue, pixelated suit, trying to shoot Kix cereal at bad guys coming at you from right to left.
Maybe I was just a huge Running Man fan as a child because there was the Light Bright guy trying to saw the Terminator in half or something. I’m not quite sure what the allure was. But I had a really fun time jumping and shooting at attackers from all angles. When they had a sequel of Mega Man in which you could earn powers and become a guy wielding wind or fire or earth or the Temptations, it was hard for me to imagine having more fun playing a video game as a kid. They had taken such a simple concept and added options for attack.
Mega Man had so many weapons now and it was fun to experiment with them on different levels and see which ones got you through the battles on any given pixelated plane. It’s a lot like watching Kevin Love the last two seasons. Kevin Love is the Mega Man of the NBA. He’s unassuming from the outsider’s perspective. You wouldn’t expect the evolution of a stretch-4 to be looking at your right in the face when you see him.
Love sizes up the battlefield in front of him and chooses whether or not he’s going to fire from the outside, take you off the dribble, or going into the post. He’s deadly in the pick-and-roll. He’s deadly in the pick-and-pop. He’s firing Kix cereal at the opposing rim like it’s the only way to stop Dr. Wily.
Watching him against the Warriors Monday night, he had the full arsenal at his display. He was adept at sealing the smaller player on the perimeter during pick-and-rolls and taking him into the post for easy scores. He flashed to the rim constantly. He got key tip-in buckets whenever it looked like the Warriors had found a stop against Minnesota. And his face-up game was just filthy.
Most of the night, David Lee and Dominic McGuire had the assignments of trying to contain Kevin. When Lee was the path of least resistance, Love used every bit of weaponry at his disposal because David Lee is kind of a saloon door on defense. He went around him, he went over him and because Lee had to respect Love going inside so much, he created space with a jab step before getting the jumper off. Against McGuire (who is quite a bit smaller but a very capable defender), Love had to be a bit smarter and more measured with his attack.
His biggest asset in this matchup was his height and he knew how to use it. The jab step and the pump fakes can be frustrating to watch because they slow down the flow of the offense. It’s ball-stopping at its most egregious, which doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. For Love, it allows him to assess the layout of the defense in front of him and figure out the best course of action. Also, the longer a defender has to worry about how he reacts to Love’s next move can make them antsy and when a defender gets antsy, they typically get sloppy. Love waited for his defenders to get sloppy on the face-ups last night and when they did, space was created for his jumper to get off virtually uncontested.
His 12 points in the fourth quarter of the game were what helped seal a close victory when it should have been a blowout. He played the entire quarter and never looked gassed despite it being the fourth game in five nights. Some of that could have been the favorable matchup, but most of these days Love seems to have a favorable matchup in front of him.
He wasn’t a one man wrecking crew though, as much as the numbers may suggest. Luke Ridnour, JJ Barea and Anthony Tolliver were instrumental in closing this game out. Yes, the Wolves probably suffered because of the extra long and even more awkward Chris Mullin ceremony at halftime. And perhaps that is the reason the Warriors got back in the game. But the Wolves had to close out a much lesser opponent late in the game and these guys stepped up to make that happen.
The majority of Luke’s damage happened early in the game but he did manage to make a few plays late, the biggest coming on the pass to Love and the semi-illegal screen he set on David Lee for Love to put the game away with 45 seconds left. Barea on the other hand was pretty surgical with how he carved up the Warriors’ defense with his passing throughout most of the fourth quarter. Both of them ended up with 10 assists for the game.
The big spark though was AT. Tolliver had 10 points off the bench in the fourth and made two 3-point field goals, his first long range connection since January 25th. AT brought the ruckus with solid defense, four rebounds and a big dunk late in the game that helped energize the Wolves and make up for the loss of Pekovic to his faulty ankle. Without the help of these three guys and the defense down the stretch of the entire team, Love’s 36 and 17 go for naught.
At this point, MVP and All NBA discussions start ramping up and we all want Love to be recognized for his tremendous season. He’s been arguably the best big man in the league this season and one of the most important players, period. It’s nice to no longer have to defend his statistical explosions and say it’s not just happening because he’s on a bad team. He’s on a pretty decent, dare I say good, team this year and still putting up video game numbers on a nightly basis. It was his eighth 30-15 game of the year and the rest of the league only has six of them.
When you look at the weaponry he has to choose from in his skill set, it’s easy to see how nights like this happen so often for him.