Ah yes, Gerald Green. I remember him. The stunningly talented, emotionally immoderate young wing the Wolves landed in the Kevin Garnett haul. The slam dunk champion at the exact moment of the contest’s baroque low-point. The totally vacant defender. The unconscionable gunner, preening and exultant after making a jumper and inconsolable after missing.
More recently, we found him willing the Pacers to victory over the Wolves this preseason, showering his former team with impossibly reclining fades and zero-angle turnarounds. Late October, the final minutes of blowouts, random chunks of early second-quarter: these are Gerald Green’s moments. So it was striking, and a striking testament to Indiana’s lack of backcourt depth, to see Green on the floor preparing to defend in the final seconds of Friday’s tie game. Striking also–but unsurprising to anyone familiar with the above antics–to see how egregiously he lost track of Chase Budinger on that last possession, allowing the Wolves’ guard to stroll unimpeded from the three-point line to the hoop, receive a pass from the well-guarded Andrei Kirilenko and softly lay the ball in as the horn sounded.
This ridiculous, thrilling end (how often do you see a wide-open buzzer-beating layup?) was the cap on a wild last minute, in which the Wolves took a six point lead on a Dante Cunnigham jumper and proceeded to: foul George Hill in the process of hitting a floater of his own; miss a point-blank layup; allow Hill to step back and hit a game-tying three. Only AK’s patience, Budinger’s awareness and Green’s total lack thereof allowed the Wolves to avoid overtime in a game they had seemed to have in hand.
That they had a fourth-quarter lead at all in a game as closely contested as this one was largely due to Alexey Shved. As he has for much of this season, Luke Ridnour struggled to create offensive continuity in his time running the show. The offense went stagnant for much of the third quarter and Ridnour attempted to compensate by overdribbling and taking forced, ill-chosen shots. J.J. Barea missed the game with a foot sprain. Brandon Roy left the game at halftime with a sore knee. Where was the perimeter offense going to come from?
Luckily, Shved was totally loose all game. He carries himself with a swag that seems unearned for the skinny, brace-faced Russian boy that he is. He seems forever on the verge of appearing both wildly overmatched and totally carried away, like a goofy kid trying too hard to show and prove to the older dudes. After the game, Rick Adelman commented that Shved was “not afraid to make plays” which is both true and insufficient. It would be probably more accurate to say the Shved is not afraid of looking ridiculous, not afraid to attempt the absurdly ambitious and the truly ill-advised.
Here are some things that he does in this game. He hits Greg Stiemsma rolling to the basket with a wild, cross-court partially deflected left-handed pass off the bounce, a pass that really should never have been attempted. He two-hand stuffs DJ Augustine’s jumper and, emboldened by this success, finds a trailing Dante Cunningham with a behind-the-back dish on the ensuing fast break. Soon after, he misses a brazen off-the-dribble, off-balance three. Not to be discouraged, he feathers in a desperate, leaning baseline finger roll. Over and over he penetrates, jumps with no plan for what to do with the ball and somehow finds an open man at the last possible instant. He dribbles himself into traffic, attempts to draw contact, fails, looks ridiculous…and then draws a technical for staring down the official. Most importantly, though he relentlessly attacked the Pacers’ defense whenever he was in the game. He scored eight crucial points and dropped three dimes in the final quarter. Before he entered the game, Indiana was stifling the Wolves’ continuity with their perimeter pressure; Shved forced himself into the paint and opened the whole thing up.
And so the Wolves won again. Its certainly improbable that, playing without their two best players, they would take four out of their first five games and look so competent in the process. Most surprising, though, is how plainly entertaining the ride has been so far. The Wolves manage to play both with a reassuringly healthy dose of professional self-respect–a quality that has been lacking in this franchise save for a few sweet months last season–and also with a young, hungry team’s zeal. They defend with both discipline and exuberance. They brazenly attack the rim but also faithfully execute their sets, make halfway decent decisions and actually hit the occasional jumper. What a relief this all is!