Timberwolves 87, Bobcats 89: Blood and circus

Benjamin Polk —  November 15, 2012 — 15 Comments

It is a Kirilenko.

Friends, this is a familiar feeling. I’m not talking about losing close games in novel ways although that has been a Timberwolves specialty for years. I’m talking about that moment in which a Wolves season descends into pure, wild, effing absurdity. We’ve learned the hard way that this can happen at any time. It can happen because a team rebels against its coach or because a bad team finally succumbs under the weight of its own soul-sucking badness or, as is currently the case, because a genuinely entertaining and competitive squad has been pulverized by injury. In any case, the fourth quarter of this very strange game was a descent/ascent into a state of wasted, anarcho-schizoid carnival.

In the game’s final moments we saw: missed jumpers and blown layups (by many people); passes spiked off of legs (Alexey Shved); stunning missed free throws (Ramon Sessions); a Webber-ian time out gaffe (Reggie Williams); a man just kind of walk out of bounds for some reason (Tyrus Thomas); more stunning missed free-throws (Derrick Williams). Finally, Kemba Walker put an end to the carnage by liquifying Shved’s knees and ankles with a crisp crossover and step back jumper just before the final buzzer. The Bobcats, having frittered away a 14-point lead over the game’s final four-and-a-half  minutes, escaped.

Now, the Wolves’ last-minute comeback was unquestionably stirring. It was paid for with ferocious paint defense, an attacking open-court mentality and just enough shot-making panache, not to mention a callow, suddenly tight opponent. But they had no fewer than three chances to take control of the game in the final 40 seconds and, very much like a team missing almost all of its veteran leadership, they blew them all. And this is to say nothing of the game’s first 44 minutes.

Rather than entering into a detailed analysis of just what went on for most of this game, I’ll simply describe a single, exemplary third-quarter sequence. Derrick Williams blows by his primary defender with his first step. When he reaches the rim he encounters the very long-armed Bismack Biyombo and, in attempting to avoid having his shot blocked, misses the layup. The ball caroms directly to Greg Stiemsma who misses a wide open dunk. Williams fights for the rebound, goes back up…and his rejected by Tyrus Thomas. It was like that all night. (Incidentally, this game illustrated the importance Stiemsma handling the basketball as little as possible. His having any role in the offense apart from shooting immaculately wide open set shots and dunking–and even then, apparently–is just bad news. Stiemsma had a really tough time out there tonight.)

The Wolves missed incredible quantities of layups. They had 12 of their shots blocked. They bricked 11 of their first 13 threes and hit on 32.4% of their field goal attempts through the game’s first three quarters. That this eventually drew boos from the home crowd I understand from an emotional standpoint; it certainly wasn’t easy to watch. On the other hand, it really is a bit unfair. Did you see all of those tall, handsome men in expensive suits sitting on the Wolves’ bench? Those are the Wolves’ best players. Another one was at home recovering from surgery. Yet another is off somewhere attempting to bathe his “sore” knee in absinthe and moose oil. I hear that’s very rejuvenating.

My point: all ‘no-excuses, everybody’s gotta step-up etc, etc’ rhetoric aside, its hard to expect a bunch of kids, role players and career second-stringers, lovable as they might be, to perform at an elite level. Listen, for instance, to Rick Adelman’s explanation for all of those blocked shots: “If you can’t finish ‘em there then you need to find the next guy to pass it to or kick it outside, because they have guys that went after the ball and we’re acting like we’re going to shoot it in their face.” And later, on Derrick Williams: “You gotta learn that if guys are blocking shots on you…you’ve gotta go in with the shoulder first and get a hit on them and then finish the shot afterwards.” When you hear comments like that and consider that the majority of those blocks were at the expense of Williams and Malcolm Lee and Alexey Shved, you realize again how young, how inexperienced, the Wolves have become in just the last few weeks. Oh wait, did I mention that the Wolves missed 17 of their 31 free throws? I guess I would’ve booed that too.

Before I leave you, a strong note of praise for Andrei Kirilenko. 26 points on 9-12 shooting; 12 hard-fought rebounds; two assists, which should have been at least seven had his teammates been able to make layups or wide-open jumpers; two blocks; +8. He scored on baseline cuts and duck-ins and threes and drives to the rim. He dished to teammates out of high-low action, with pinpoint no-looks from the post, in the open court. He defended without fouling.He grabbed a Kemba Walker jumper out of the air with one hand. Yes, AK turned the ball over five times but those turnovers were a product of the fact that, for much of the game, it seemed incumbent on him to facilitate the entire Wolves’ offense. His mistakes–like an errant second-quarter baseline pass to a cutting Luke Ridnour–were largely the product of his teammates being unable to feel openings and opportunities as quickly as he does, lacking his creative vision. He is so good at basketball. It is just too painful to even think about where the Wolves would be without him now.

 

Benjamin Polk

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15 responses to Timberwolves 87, Bobcats 89: Blood and circus

  1. Great post. I’ve said to other people how important AK is to the team. However, what did we learn tonight about Dwill? Two thing: he scores when hes agressive and confident going to the hoop. Second, he shouldn’t take jump shots, even when they’re open. If these are true, and I believe they are, how does he fit into our system? We have plenty of guys that can shoot from anywhere on the court and very few guys that can take it to the hoop with strength (shved). However, it seems our offense is soccer style in that we pass it a bunch and create the open look either under the basket (AK running the baseline) or an open shot anywhere. Rarely do we design a play that involves a player taking it by himself to the hoop. I do believe that DWill can create his own shot, and that does have its value in certain situations. However, without the threat of making a jumper, it becomes predictable what hes going to do with the ball and other teams can easily defend him. We either need to design plays that give him the open hoop, or trade him soon. I really do like him and he is one of my favorite players to watch when he scores, but we need points on the board and he’s just not getting it done.

  2. AK-47 is playing at an all-star level for this team right now. Every possession he has to touch the ball and assume the role of not only scorer but sometimes primary ballhandler. A lot of times, I feel his teammates just stand around hoping he’s going to bail them out and make a play. It’s going to be pretty amazing when this team is healthy and the 100% focus of opposing defenses isn’t on him. I just hope we stay afloat long enough for that to happen.

  3. It was a bad game, but considering all the negatives, you can atleast draw up a positive that we only had 9 players on the floor tonight, and the outcome was still a great gritty game. These guys, with the absence of our starting line up will mature and thats the only thing I have positive on this game. Tough losses suffered by a young team will always be good in some way. But the FT shooting was just unacceptable. 17 misses, will kill your team everytime.

    One more frustrating sequence that just shows how “young” Dwill is… In the first quarter, Kirelenko threw a perfect pass inside to Dwill. He was so free that he decided that he wanted to dunk the shit out of that ball. He goes up, cocks the ball way back, and hammers it. Only to come up short and completely blows the dunk. An easy 2 points that he should have made. He needs to meditate and think about what he’s doing inside the court. Forcing so many bad shots in the paint was just painful too see. With the depleted roster, this is the time that Minny needs Dwill the most. He’s got to find a way to pick up his game.. He is too talented to playing like this.

  4. Thanks for the comments guys. What I will say about D-Will is that he does seem to be more poised and under control when he gets to the basket. He just needs to take that next step of awareness and savvy that Adelman described in order to start finishing consistently. And Aaron, every team, regardless of system, needs a player who can attack the basket and create shots for himself. It would be amazing if D-Will could be that.

  5. So glad I didn’t end up buying tix for this game. I only watched the highlights, read above and the box. The Bobcats squad they put out against the wolves was infinitely better than the wolves last night. The fact that it was close is at least promising but it sucks that the wolves two losses are to really bad bad teams. My expectations of the team minus Love and Rubio have been matched and then some. I’m going to go to a ton of games to watch Rubio, Love and AK-47 move that ball around the court.

    On a final note, how about that Malcolm Lee dunk!

  6. Not infinitely better. Perhaps marginally better. This game was waiting to become a blowout for whichever team could get their ‘shirt’ together, and yet it was surprisingly close. Each team had some runs to either take the lead or get back in it, but overall these two teams were about equal.

    On a side note – one Kevin Love would’ve made this game a laugher. His shooting and rebounding would’ve given Charlotte fits and would’ve opened up the game for his teammates. Or one Ricky Rubio, who’s D (coupled with MLee) would’ve taken away the one strong positive the Cats have, which is guard play.

  7. Here’s a freebie: Minnesota Injuredwolves

  8. I was at the game last night and the first 40 minutes were borderline awful. That said, even though we were playing a “bad team” you have to admit that with as many of our top players out due to injury, plus the legendary Wolves choke syndrome, to come back the way they did in the end was a huge deal. The arena was totally electric for the last 8 minutes.

    It’s hard to win a game when you’re shooting free throws and layups at a rate similar to a 6th grade girls squad (no offense to 6th grade girls).

  9. pagingstanleyroberts November 15, 2012 at 9:13 am

    Ben, your comments (and Zach’s tweets about it during the game) mask an important aspect of the boos: they were targeted toward a specific segment of the game in which the Wolves’ sloppy play culminated in a Charlotte offensive rebound where no Wolf seemed to go for the ball.

    I don’t think the boos had anything to do with who was on the floor; the crowd got into the game when the Wolves played well. (As an aside, it bugs me when the in-game arena staff are constantly exhorting people to cheer. If the team is playing hard and smart, the fans will cheer; dial it back 3 notches.) As a fan, I can live with missed jumpers and allowing the Bobs to shoot from outside, because Tyrus Thomas from midrange isn’t exactly Dirk. Their effort and focus weren’t there consistently enough to win a winnable game. Youth had something to do with this, but the team’s vets were also sloppy, as were guys who are in there to minimize mistakes and just fill their roles. They lost this game on free throw shooting and transition defense, and being able to sprint back down the court against an aggressive opponent has nothing to do with talent.

    Either way, though, those 4 minutes made the game worth going to (as did Malcolm Lee’s dunk, one of the most surprising posterizations I’ve ever seen).

  10. Pagingstanleyroberts has it right: FT shooting and transition D are what killed us. The FT shooting I can dismiss as somewhat of an anomaly, but the transition D is very worrisome. This is not the first time we’ve seen it hurt us this season (Sacramento’s run in the season opener was almost entirely due to our poor transition D). Our halfcourt D has been so great this year so far that it’s tough to complain about the defense in general, but it’s going to be very tough to beat teams without good transition D, especially against athletic/young/fast teams and especially when we aren’t shooting well.

    Let me be the voice of the Derrick Williams haters: I am so fed up with this guy. He blew so many easy buckets in this game I wanted to scream. He makes a terrible/stupid play and then two minutes later he makes a cut to the rim that makes him look like LeBron. He’s not only inconsistent game-to-game, but also within games. When he checked back into the game for Amundson with two minutes left, I groaned and just knew something terrible would come of it. Sure enough he fails to connect on the layup that Kirilenko so deftly set up for him and then misses a free throw. I’m tired of making excuses for him and waiting for him to “arrive”. He’s perhaps the most frustrating player I’ve ever watched on this team, and that’s saying a lot considering we’ve had Beasley, Brewer, Foye, etc etc etc. I’d much rather see Cunningham get the minutes that would otherwise go to Williams.

    Lastly: Bobcat’s look much better than last year, and their new coach Dunlap made disruptive, savvy timeouts every time we started to get momentum.

  11. We learned a lot about Derrick Williams last night. He had so many opportunities to make an impact, and he blew it. If there was any game for him to prove that he belongs in the line-up, last night was the night. In the beginning, the team was shooting something like 3 for 14, out of which, Williams was 0 for 6. He needs to learn that he is not the focal point of the offense. Just because you get the ball, it doesn’t mean you have to shoot. He is so worried about his stats that it is jeopardizing the team. There is a reason why he didn’t play in the 4th quarter against the Mav’s and look at the outcome.

    On a different note, we learned a lot as fans about this team. This team is definitely different than previous years. The chemistry is unbelievable and the amount of dedication to the game is outstanding as well. Every player that plays puts their 110% effort, but again, Williams seems to be lacking in this department with some lazy plays. Malcolm Lee had an amazing dunk that sparked the team, but we couldn’t capitalize on the momentum. I think the most impressive part of this team is what Shved is doing as well as Kirilenko. This season will definitely be an up and down year, but there is hope. If we keep playing this kind of defense, we will definitely sneak into the playoffs as the 8th seed.

  12. Dunlap made so many savvy timeouts that they had none left when Reggie Williams went Webber on them.

    Wolves seem to be using the injury situation to amend their draft history. First Roy, now Josh Howard.

  13. TRL – one Pekovic on the court would have made the game a laugher. The Bobcats had a weak inside presence yet were able to match up against Stiemsma and Amundson. Pek would have gone off for 30+ against that squad.

  14. The biggest concern I have with this team is the same concern from last year, making open shots. Our missed 3 pointers weren’t forced shots, they were WIDE OPEN looks. Last year it was players like Ellington and Beasley missing those. This year it is Lee, Conroy, Williams, etc. Our only outside shooter was Budinger, so now who do we turn to? As Adelman said, right now the only outside shooter is Luke.

  15. Well, if you want a bright spot, and keep in mind I can’t watch the games so I only can see the box scores, but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been playing very well for the Bobcats, and he had his worst game against the Wolves. It wasn’t even close, too. He got crushed.

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