Magic 102, Wolves 93: We’re halfway there

Zach Harper —  December 18, 2012 — 7 Comments

Sleeping unicorns are the least fun unicorns.

What a fantastic win for the Minnesota Timberwolves last night. I wrote yesterday that to be a really good team, you have to win games that should be wins. The Wolves need to win games like this against the Magic and that’s exactly what they did. Kevin Love was phenomenal in his performance. It was great to see him back to being himself.

He knocked down 3-pointers as the trailer in transition, he scored out of the post, and he was active going to the basket. Andrei Kirilenko’s passing was incredible and it seemed to be contagious with Love. This was by far his best passing performance of the season. It didn’t result in any assists, but I thought he moved the ball extremely well. He helped Nikola Pekovic dominate the paint inside. The Wolves didn’t finish at a high rate in there, but you could tell they were determined to break the will of the Orlando interior and that’s exactly what they did.

I was disappointed that Ricky Rubio didn’t really have much impact on the team when he played, but you can’t expect him to be a unicorn at all times. Sometimes unicorns have to sleep and that seemed to be what he needs to do. But overall, I think we can be extremely proud of the tenacity, execution, and effort that the Wolves showed us. This is what good teams do. They take care of lesser teams in a destructive and matter of fact manner.

What’s that? No, I didn’t watch the second half. Why? What happened? Did Ricky have a great second half I should be talking about? Did Love end up with 40-20? Did Pekovic eat the Epcot Center and then reconstruct Disney World into Euro Disney with all of failed robots from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride? 

Okay, that’s a lie. I did watch the second half and it was extremely disheartening and frustrating.

Everything about the first half was incredible. Love was back to being Love, the Wolves were cutting and moving the ball extremely well, and even though Ricky didn’t really do anything with his time on the court, the offense was clicking really nicely at times. The big run at the end of the first half really seemed to separate the good team from the bad team.

Unfortunately, we saw none of this in the second half, except for an ineffective Rubio. And when he’s not able to inject life off the bench for a struggling team, they really kind of fall apart. That’s not to say this is Ricky’s fault at all. Against the Orlando Magic, the Wolves shouldn’t NEED Ricky to fill them with no-look adrenaline.

The frustrating part of the second half wasn’t really the offense for me. It was stagnant, there was very little dribble penetration, and when the Wolves got the ball inside, they missed a lot of shots they should normally make. The killer part of the second half was the defense. This is an Orlando offense that primarily hits you with perimeter scoring, and maybe that was in the head of the Wolves’ players. Because they allowed the Magicians to do all of their damage in the paint. 36 of the Magic’s 53 second half points came in the paint. 36!

Orlando scored a lot off of what I like to call transition-induced mismatches. The Magic had a player leaking out on offense pretty consistently throughout the second half, taking advantage of a Minnesota team that struggled to get back last night (normally, the Wolves are ninth in points per possession on transition defense). When the Wolves did retreat, they found themselves matching up with the closest Orlando player, as you typically do. This caused major communication breakdowns and mismatches that Minnesota didn’t know how to correct.

Glen Davis scored 20 points in the second half, the majority of them coming off of defensive confusion. There were three plays in which Davis was well defended. He scored against Love, Pekovic, and Cunningham while they defended him well, so you can credit better shot-making over good defense there. The rest of the time, you just saw big breakdowns. Pek and Love looked confused in transition with who they were supposed to guard. The pick-and-roll defense with Pek, Love, and Cunningham all looked like they hadn’t done it before.

I went back and watched Davis’ 10 second half buckets. Trying to be as fair about the defensive breakdowns as I can, it looked like 10 points came against Love, four points came against Cunningham, and six points came against Pekovic. And the majority of those points were just easy for him. That’s just not acceptable defense from Love or the other two guys.

I don’t mind the Wolves losing games like this on the road; I just am frustrated with the way they lost this game. The effort just seemed to die down, like they assumed their talent level would just overcome and be the difference. That can work in the NBA, but it is easier to just outwork the other team when you have such a big talent discrepancy.

Love’s second half was almost the complete opposite of his first half. Ricky looked like he was coming back from a major knee injury. Shved was terrible with how he attacked the Orlando defense. The Wolves missed a ton of shots inside, going 23-of-46 in the restricted area. And this team continues to suck from 3-point range.

There is one team in NBA history that has attempted at least 19 3-pointers per game while shooting under 30% on those shots. I’ll give you one guess as to which team that is right now.

There isn’t much more to say about this game. The first half was awesome and the second half lacked the passion necessary to win on the road in the NBA. We’ll see if we get a better effort out of them against Miami tonight. There will be no Ricky Rubio for the Wolves because it’s a back-to-back, and frankly, I’m glad about that for this matchup. You can’t keep waiting for the Spanish kid with one surgically repaired leg to come into the game to inject some adrenaline into your heart. It needs to already be there.

Zach Harper

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7 responses to Magic 102, Wolves 93: We’re halfway there

  1. When you write the Magic’s second-half paint scoring as “36!”, it looks like 36 factorial, which is in fact what it felt like. 371 duodecillion points.

  2. Brian Garner (BG) December 18, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    Bravo. Great assessment. Orlando’s leaking out reminded me of all those cherry-pickers in pickup games that I would refuse to outlet to when I secured the rebound. Let’s play some real basketball! It was insulting to be beaten so many times like that by Glen Davis.

  3. Great article. The Wolves need to do something about their defense. While they’re improving, it’s not enough! Stop arguing calls that won’t change and get back to defend. (I’m looking at you, Kevin Love)

  4. I realize this is a Timberwolves blog, but I feel like you should give some credit to the Magic defense for contributing to the comeback(or at least any sort of credit period). Granted the T-Wolves definitely fell off from their first half production(most points scored against the Magic in one half this season), but the Magic are a top 10 defense(8th currently) and that definitely played a factor.

  5. Orlando’s defense was fine, but the Wolves got a ton of shots inside that they missed. The Magic did a decent job of contesting the shots but really Minnesota missed a lot of easy shots. Orlando’s defense has been good this year but I didn’t think their effort was that special last night.

  6. Nick, the Wolves have the sixth best defense in the league. I don’t think defense is the issue most nights.

  7. Trap game, let’s see what they can do against the world champs . . . I expect a different level of energy tonight (can’t vouch for different results tho given who they are playing . . .)

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