Thunder 127, Wolves 111: Rolling Thunder
It’s kind of the same old story this season, right?
The Wolves are talented enough to stay competitive with just about any team in the NBA, but they’re not healthy enough to overcome the wave of talent, execution, and production that a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder can throw at you. The Wolves need a special set of circumstances to overcome a team like the Thunder. They beat them earlier in the season, but had the luxury of a home environment at their disposal. They also had a balanced attack from a lot of the players, including J.J. Barea going nuts in the fourth quarter of that game.
This time, the bench carried the Wolves when the starters were largely ineffective. The Wolves got 59 points from four bench players, thanks to Barea, Alexey Shved, Dante Cunningham, and Greg Stiemsma stepping up to the challenge. And this was kind of a long time coming from a few of these bench guys. For Alexey, it was the first real good game he’s had since the loss to Memphis. For Stiemer, he hadn’t really produced much since the win over New Orleans. For Dante, it was the first real good game since the loss to Portland.
On a night in which Nikola Pekovic was completely neutralized by the duo of Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, the Wolves badly needed the bench to step up and keep things close until the starters could find a rhythm. The problem is the Wolves’ starters never found a rhythm. This often leads to the knee-jerk reaction of shuffling deck chairs on a sinking ship, but I like the balance of the Wolves’ rotation based on what is available to Rick Adelman.
If you’re going to complain about Luke Ridnour’s defense, you can’t really say Alexey Shved should be playing in front of him because Luke is a better defender than Alexey. Not to mention, Adelman really likes playing Barea and Shved in the lineup together because they do play well off of each other. Since the team has two guys who can play the shooting guard position wrapped up on the bench with knee injuries, Luke is the best the team has to offer right now. And it’s up to the entire team to play well as a unit defensively to get the job done.
That didn’t happen against the Thunder last night. Russell Westbrook was a destructive force, practically living at the rim because of poor pick-and-roll defense. I’d love to pinpoint one area of the pick-and-roll defense that could have been altered to slow him down, but the entire thing was bad. The guards didn’t fight around/through the screens well. The bigs didn’t hedge properly or step up to cut off penetration. When they did manage to step up, Westbrook used his titanium knee ligaments to plant hard one way, and Manu Ginobili his way to the other side of the defender. You can’t defend him flatfooted and that’s what it looked like the Wolves’ bigs were trying to do.
The Wolves also couldn’t stop Kevin Martin or Kevin Durant, which isn’t anything they should be ashamed of; there’s a reason the Thunder have such a great record. Rubio had another really good game, even though he struggled a bit to finish at the rim. He was aggressive defensively and he did a great job of penetrating into the heart of the defense to find teammates. But one guy can’t spark you against a team like OKC.
The finishing at the rim continues to be a problem for this team. They made just half of their shots in the restricted area. The Wolves are 21st in the NBA in finishing in the restricted area. Some of that was Pek not being able to get space against the big defenders of OKC. Some of that was Rubio not finishing or Derrick Williams not finishing when he felt he got fouled. There has just been a problem with concentrating, doing the fundamental things, and not rushing through shots at the rim. You can’t be slow when going up against these athletic defenders, but you have to remain balanced.
As I write this, I anticipate a lot of reactions that come through on the comments or come through my Twitter timeline.
“We need to get rid of [insert player]!”
“This guy shouldn’t be getting any minutes!”
“Why won’t Adelman play [somebody else]?”
The trade deadline has come and gone, and I’m glad the Wolves didn’t make any rash decisions. Could they have traded for J.J. Redick? Possibly. They had the pieces to get the deal done. The problem though is he wants $10 million per season starting next year and that’s far too much for the Wolves to offer up to get him. Since they’re nowhere close to contending for a playoff spot right now, a rental doesn’t make much sense either. We still haven’t been able to see what this core can do together when healthy, and because of that, I have no idea if the Wolves should have moved anybody at the deadline.
I like being patient and waiting to see what this team can do, whether it’s at the end of this season or we have to wait until next season.
It’s easy to claim someone shouldn’t play and someone shouldn’t be starting and someone shouldn’t be on the team from afar. But when you’re dealing with so many injuries, it comes off as more of a desperate plea for finding a different, magical combination of players that will help the team overcome their medical disadvantages right now. The question comes down to this.
Do you trust Rick Adelman?
If you don’t, I don’t agree with that sentiment, but I respect your stance on this. You don’t have to trust Adelman to make the right calls on rotations and players. You can put the blame on Kahn if you want (lord knows I have over the years), but Adelman was just as responsible for this current roster as Kahn was (although Rick could only deal with the team he inherited). But Rick is trusted to make the decisions with his coaching staff, with players getting minutes, and with the combinations of lineups.
I do trust Rick Adelman. I respect his decision-making and knowledge far more than I would ever trust my own eye and assumptions. It doesn’t mean Adelman is always right when it comes to decisions. It just means that I believe he’s going to get it right most of the time. When the Wolves have Kevin Love and Chase Budinger back, I think we’ll see what we’ve been dying to see — the offensive firepower we assumed this team would have.
Just spreading the floor with two really good outside shooters will make a huge difference for spacing. It gives Rubio and Pek more room and versatility on the pick-and-roll. It will give Andrei Kirilenko a lot of chances to cut for easy buckets. It will give Shved and Barea more room to drive to the basket. It will give everybody a lot of space to capitalize on, and that’s what Adelman’s offensive scheme relies on — spacing.
Until that happens, I trust Rick to make the right calls with this team. And against certain teams like the Thunder, sometimes those calls just don’t matter.
** — I would like to add that it was incredibly classy of Kevin Durant to take time before the first half, walk over to Adelman, and ask him how his wife was doing. Just to know he would take the time to do that shows a ton of character in someone like Durant and the type of respect these guys have for each other out there.