Timberwolves 77, Clippers 90: getting deep

Benjamin Polk —  January 18, 2013 — 4 Comments

 

Here’s a sight for you. If you had taken a peak down the Wolves’ bench in the fourth quarter of this rigorously un-lovely loss to the Clippers, you would have seen: Lou Amundson, Greg Stiemsma, Lazar Hayward, J.J. Barea, lots of empty seats. Larry Bird is not walking through that door.

Past Timberwolves teams have been dislike-able for a host of reasons. From last year’s grim-faced underachievers to the callow, talentless bunches of years past, there have always been reasons to distance your self from the awful things happening on the court. But, in their basic competence, in their plucky, Euro-inflected flair, and in their foreignness to the Wolves’ rancid culture, this team has been unprecedentedly appealing.

Which makes it all the more of a bummer to see them so completely threshed by misfortune that even home games against upper-echelon opponents have come to feel essentially un-winnable. Even before Nikola Pekovic and Alexey Shved hobbled off the floor, this game was pretty dark. Facing the single-minded, absurdly long Deandre Jordan, Pek was just 1-8 from the floor. Shved looked every bit the fatigued rookie, as he has for most of the past month. Dante Cunningham continued to awkwardly brick his signature jumper. Ricky Rubio continued to play as if he is recovering from a reconstructive knee surgery that kept him off the court for nearly a year. J.J. Barea continued to attempt yogic finger-rolls over multiple shot blockers. The Wolves hit 21.1% of their threes. They hit just 14 of their 35 shots in the paint (!!!). They whiffed on wide-open layups; they bricked dunks.

So yes, a bummer. Just weeks ago, the Wolves’ rallied to an inspiring, nationally televised home win against the Thunder. But tonight, the Clippers, without their superstar and team leader, ¬†played with the nonchalance of a team certain that their superior talent and depth would eventually roll over their opponent. (With the exception of one sequence of offensive rebounds, Eric Bledsoe showed half-asleep 8th-grader-level interest in this game.) And so it did. The Clips’ offense was arrhythmic and undisciplined, their defense solid but unremarkable. They turned the ball over and rarely got into the open court.

And yet, powered by Jamal Crawford’s poetic meanderings and the sheer caffeine-value of a gesticulating, facially expressing Ronny Turiaf (I have now seen a player go 5-5 from the floor and also airball a free-throw–thanks Ronny), the Clippers’ bench overwhelmed the Wolves. Not counting Ryan Hollins’ minute of garbage time, the subs averaged a +11.2 for the game.

It’s not that these Wolves haven’t been competitive. We didn’t see (and, for the most part, haven’t seen) the kind of dispirited, watch-checking efforts of years past. And we didn’t even see the kind of system-wide defensive breakdowns that Zach enumerated earlier today. Indeed, the Wolves managed to piece together stretches of really fine defensive basketball. In the second quarter, playing at their most frenetic, they forced the LA into a six-minute stretch in which they (the Clips) managed just two points and gave away four turnovers. And in the third, despite fielding a ridiculously small lineup, they used their aggressive 2-3 zone to hold the Clippers to 21 points on 31.3% shooting.

And yet, because the Wolves are so undermanned and are so lacking in offensive firepower, there was never the sense that they could muster either the sustained energy or the points to overcome the Clippers’ sheer depth. This year’s Wolves have pieced wins together with patchwork lineups before. They’ll probably find a way to do it again. But we’re into the heart of the schedule and the fatigue of a short bench and the long season is already setting in. I’m afraid things are going to be rough for a while.

Benjamin Polk

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4 responses to Timberwolves 77, Clippers 90: getting deep

  1. This season has been extremely painful to watch.

    Hopefully we can still sneak into the playoffs; I won’t hold my breath but i’m obviously hoping that it can happen.

    We would be a GREAT team if we could make AT LEAST 44% of our shots and maybe hit a few more 3 pointers here and there.

  2. If Gelabale doesn’t get hurt during pre-game warmups, I think that’s an accomplishment at this point

  3. It’s weird to watch a Wolves game knowing they are going to lose but not be mad at them for it. Has there ever been a team in NBA history that has gone through this amount of injury’s? It would be interesting to see if there has been and how well the faired. And on top of it all, if they can start to get healthy there is still an out side chance that they can make the playoffs. Granted they need to stop the free fall and get back close to %500, but if that happens they could sneak in. Just a weird year.

  4. Some might see this as regression to the mean, but that’s too simple a narrative. There seems to be some psychological and physical wear and tear on this team, but most have played a long season and should have some idea of how to manage it. Ridnour’s a perfect example; I assumed he’d sit out at some point to rest his back, but it hasn’t been possible, and instead of letting it affect him, he just keeps playing focused and spirited ball. The Clippers are obviously great, but how many advanced-stats guys looked at their additions and said, “meh”? Vinny’s a below-average coach and all of their veterans are playing as well as or better than they have in years. They won last night because they executed what they wanted to do and the Wolves didn’t. The Wolves played their second-worst home game of the season (Bobcats being the worst) yet still were within 10 halfway through the 4th.

    This season has me depressed. It’s my first as a season-ticket holder, and there are certain nights where I think seriously about not renewing and just giving up on the franchise. With that said, there’s no excuse for how awfully they executed last night, especially since they had 3 days off and the Clips were missing a player a level above Love. Maybe 3 of Pek’s misses were affected by the Clips’ length, not all 7 of them; several of them missed point-blank layups; and Shved passed up layups multiple times for kickouts. They’re shooting below their career averages in all facets. This isn’t about getting different players or blaming injuries. At some point, it’s just about creating opportunities and taking advantage of them. I understand why they could be playing this way, but I don’t accept it as a predetermined fate.

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