You can throw this game on the heap with other Timberwolves defeats this season where a hot start proved to be unsustainable in the second half. Several of these games happened under Adelman’s watch, particularly just after Love’s return, but it’s gotten progressively worse with Porter acting as head coach in Adelman’s stead. As Zach pointed out, the Wolves have the worst second half differential in the NBA under Porter at -21.1 points per 100 possessions. In today’s game, after scoring 58 points in the first half, they piled up just 38 in the second, divided evenly between the two quarters.
It’s tempting to chalk this up to a lack of resolve or heart or some noble and abstract notion. Doing so would confirm what is in a way both our greatest fear and our greatest desire as Midwesterners broadly and Minnesota sports fans more specifically: that it’s hopeless. This way, we get to grump and grouse about our team. Maybe it keeps us warm. But at this point, staring down the stacks of bodies piling up on the trainer’s table, I don’t think we have to draw any big lessons from this other than realizing that it’s damn hard to build a team that can hold up over a whole game when the parts aren’t doing the jobs they’re supposed to be doing.
The Wolves are now, essentially, a Rube Goldberg machine.
The machine can work for stretches, and we saw that in the first half of this game. It didn’t hurt that the Hawks were sloppy, especially on defense. What this meant is that within the Wolves’ limited offensive repertoire, players were getting the looks they want: Dante Cunningham got open midrange jumpers, Luke Ridnour hit pull-up jumpers in transition, Chris Johnson finished alley-oops, Derrick Williams hit jumpshots and executed dunks (although it may have cost him future Derrick Williams, Jrs at one point).
But coming out of the half, the whole jury-rigged machine started falling down around their ears. The Hawks jumped out on a 10-0 run and went on to score 26 in the third and 34 in the fourth, including 14 points from the Hawks’ own 10-day hero, Jannero Pargo. Pargo was signed this morning to fill the void created by Lou Williams’ season-ending injury and fill it he did.
The Wolves own stopgap solutions—Mickael Gelabale and Chris Johnson—were not the saviors they were on Saturday against the Rockets, but Gelabale put in 7 points and grabbed 2 rebounds in 16 minutes of action. Johnson ran into foul trouble early.
At this point, stopgap solutions are all that’s coming down the pipe, and I found myself thinking as the third quarter slipped away that maybe the Wolves’ best strategy is to come out with just a ridiculous amount of energy in every game and then hope whatever lead they can build is enough to carry them through the end of the game. For a while, it looked like that might be what they were doing in this game, except as the minutes ticked off, it became apparent they couldn’t hold the Hawks at bay, especially once they got Horford working down low (where the Wolves got beaten up to the tune of 16 points in the paint to 12 and 8 second chance points to 2) and Korver hitting from outside.
A novel idea: having a guy who can bang down low and a guy who can hit from outside and basically working the push-pull between the two of them. As it stands, the Wolves best player on paper right now is Andrei Kirilenko, but he’s not a player the team can climb on top of. He works best in the seams between other players, while a player like Barea works best as a hot change of pace off the bench. But there’s so little stability to this team right now that not only are players being asked to do too much, they can’t even be sure when they’re going to be asked to do it in a game.
And here’s where I take it to Terry Porter, to come back to that differential rating I started with. Last week, when asked about how much input Adelman still has in the team right now, Porter said that it’s still Adelman’s team, that he’s still making lineup decisions and rotation decisions, that he talks to him a couple times a day. And that has me worried, because no matter how much on the same page they feel they are, we’re talking about two different people with a hand in how the team is planning to play, and I’m not sure that there aren’t crossed wires, or even just a conflict within Porter as he’s out there on the floor between what he thinks he should do and what Adelman would do.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. As I said, this team is so far from being in a kind of regular working order that it might not make a big difference. And there’s no sense in which I want Adelman back if he can’t be fully back given his family situation. But a little clarity might go a long way towards making the path forward clear for this battered and bedraggled team.