The tattoo on the inside of Nikola Pekovic’s left forearm, written in thick black Cyrillic letters, says, “The man who never falls down never learns how to get up.” At least, that’s what he said last night. Maybe it changes depending on the circumstance of the game they’ve just played.
Because while it would be nice to blow out bad teams like the Sacramento Kings wire-to-wire, that’s not what happened last night. For the first and well into the second quarter everything seemed to be clicking for the Wolves in a way that they rarely did last season after Rubio went out. Cutters made cuts, open guys made shots (some moreso than others), and pushing the ball on the break tore to shreds a Kings transition defense that was already the consistency of wet Kleenex™ to begin with. With 3:57 left in the second quarter, they were up 18. A run by the Kings to close out the quarter cut that in half, but still: a nine-point lead is nothing to sneeze at.
Sacramento led from 6:39 left in the third until 3:45 left in the third and those three-odd minutes were watching a team learning to get up for the first time. Last night, the key was Barea, who came in for Luke Ridnour and quickly got to work, getting to the line and dishing to Andrei Kirilenko for a dunk in that stretch and then following up with layups and more forays to the line. He was, in fact, the only play on the Timberwolves to score more than ten points, notching 21.
But I didn’t come to praise Barea, nor bury him. He himself admitted after the game that he still gets going too fast. “I gotta calm down sometimes,” he said. “Sometimes I go crazy and take a bad shot, and I’m running back thinking, ‘What was that?’” Few would dispute that, but no player is without weaknesses. At first, it’s up to the coach to put players in the places where they can best succeed, but over the long haul, it’s up to the team as a whole to develop that ability to get up once they’ve fallen based on all the pieces working in concert to get them up and moving again.
Without Love and Rubio, the Timberwolves are going to be doing their fair share of stumbling, so a game like this—where they not only led by a comfortable margin when things were going right but also righted the ship and came back to win reasonably comfortably—are maybe the most crucial. Pek’s got it written right on his arm, lest anyone forget.