Timberwolves 100, Cavaliers 92: A little bit of everything

Zach Harper —  February 12, 2013 — 15 Comments

RubioLuke

When you’re a losing team and you have injuries all over key parts of your roster, you need a full team effort to pull out victories. It isn’t getting good performances just from your remaining top players. Of course, you need good games from them but it takes a village to raise a victory, or something like that.

It also helps playing a really bad team. It gives you more and less pressure at the same time, which is an odd thing for a team to manage. The Cleveland Cavaliers are not a good basketball team — at all. They have Kyrie Irving, who might already be a top 5 point guard, and if he’s not then he’s knocking on the door like one of those creepy stalkers in the movie The Strangers

Kyrie Irving: “Is Tamara home?”

Unsuspecting defense: “You already came by here.”

Kyrie Irving: “Are you sure?”

/3-point murder and end scene

He’s just so filthy with the basketball. It’s not that he has the hand on a string. It’s like he filled the ball with little lead pellets, put a magnet in his hand that he controls the power of, and switches it on whenever he wants the ball to come back to his fingertips and away from the hopeful outstretched hand of his helpless defender. His footwork makes Mikhail Baryshnikov look like Anthony Randolph. Every move has balance to it, allowing him to both squeak into the lane by working the angles of his drive and your momentum against you or allowing him to square up for an assassinous jumper.

Unsuspecting defense: “Why are you doing this to us?!”

Kyrie Irving: “Because you were home…”

/spin move of death for the lefty layup

But as good as Irving can be, the rest of the team isn’t good at all. Since they’ve acquired Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby for Jon Leuer, their bench has been a lot more stabilized. However, it’s still not a good team. Dion Waiters has been underwhelming in his season so far, although his high usage and large shot totals are Beasley-esque. Tristan Thompson has had a great month and a half, but still has trouble turning his production into wins. And the rest of the team is just kind of… there.

It’s not like the Wolves are world-beaters though. They travel the United States like an encyclopedia salesman trying to convince you Wikipedia is just a fad. Doors slammed in their faces. Transactions are unable to be completed. Going into the land of Cleves, they’d lost eight straight road games. The last win was in Denver on the fateful night Kevin Love re-broke his hand and they’ve been 3-16 overall since that game. There are many reasons for this, but mainly it’s the injuries.

We’ve been over that before.

Regardless of how the Wolves got to this point, they went into the game desperate for a victory. The Cavs are the youngest team in the NBA and therefore, should be easy to trick into letting you win against them. A little over a year ago, I was visiting my family in Sacramento and my sister and her family were visiting from Australia. My nieces wanted to play Candyland and I’m never one to back down from a challenge. So I decided to play against them.

They were three and four years old at the time, but veterans of the Candyland game. I assume they honed their craft on some type of Australian AAU board game circuit, but they didn’t have nearly 30 years of board game experience like I have. At a certain point, they started to cheat. They would grab a card they didn’t like, put it back, and grab a new card. It wasn’t chicanery; it was outright cheating. I had to counter and I did it with a little trickery of my own. I’d pull a card. Let’s say it was a purple card. I would then ask them which purple spot on the board I should go to. They rarely picked the next spot on the board and would instead pick a spot way ahead of where I should be.

I ended up winning with this tactic. Was it unethical? Possibly. Was it letting them beat themselves with their own mistakes? Absolutely. And that’s what the Wolves have to do with young teams like the Cavaliers. They don’t know how to win in the NBA. You can look at their 16-36 record and see that. I know the Wolves’ record isn’t much better, but they have extreme injury issues as a reason for said poor record while the Cavs have only had one major injury. Irving missed some time, but ended up coming back just fine.

How you beat a young team and get them to make mistakes is by not having any weaknesses in what you do. Now, we can look at this rotation right now sans Kevin Love, Chase Budinger, Brandon Roy, and Andrei Kirilenko and see plenty of weaknesses, but the Cavs don’t have to know about them. A united front by the Wolves will show an impermeable link of chains. Show resistance to their charges and they’ll eventually break down.

This is exactly what happened in this game. Everybody on the Wolves had a solid, if not good game. You can’t point to one player on the team and say, “this guy needed to play better tonight.” That was the difference between the Wolves pulling out a victory tonight and falling short in so many games recently. This is what Rick Adelman has been preaching all along. Show heart, step into your role, and play within the system.

The system is movement. The system is a continuous flow of ideas and reactions. Reactions to proactions by the defense set up opportunities for success within the system. Read the defense and make them pay. This is something Wolves were able to do consistently for 48 minutes for the first time since the blowout victory over New Orleans. Both of these occurrences happened against bad teams, but they happened nonetheless.

The ball and the players moved. They moved sloppily at times and when the Wolves turned it over, the Cavs took advantage. 22 turnovers and 34 points given up off those turnovers. 36.9% of the Cavs’ points in Monday night’s game happened because the Wolves couldn’t take care of the ball. But they were aggressive and that’s far better than how this team has been through long stretches recently.

The timid factor we’ve seen from this team on offense, and certain individuals still trying to learn where they’re supposed to be on the court has been frustrating. It’s like watching a guy ask a girl friend out for the first time. It’s a lot of stammering and hoping she’ll catch on to what he’s asking before he has to go through the shame and humiliation of actually saying the words. That’s been Derrick Williams and Mickael Gelabale and Alexey Shved at times. It shouldn’t be any coincidence that these three are the newest to the NBA and the team (I know Gelly has been here before but the landscape has changed quite a bit).

Tonight though, there was action and movement and pieces in motion. The offense was a looping .gif at times. Yes, the turnovers were bad and Ricky Rubio was sloppy with the ball, but the team put up an offensive rating of 105.8 for the night and that’s with 22 turnovers. Shots fell. Free throws were made. 3-pointers rained down at a more than acceptable rate. Things worked against the Cavs because that’s how things are supposed to work this season. But they still worked.

The Wolves set up a defensive wall to keep Kyrie Irving and his murderous tendencies out of the house. Rubio was aggressive with how he defended him, often flirting with reaching-in fouls. Alexey Shved used his length down the stretch to keep Irving honest with his shot. Cunningham slid into position. Pek blocked off the lane. Derrick Williams even found himself rotating into spots. It opened up other action for other players.

Tristan Thompson and his bouncy opportunistic ways found success on the floor due to the walls keeping Irving away. Dion Waiters was able to get to the basket when he wasn’t handing the ball to Minnesota. Alonzo Gee had great action toward the hoop, especially in transition. And the Cavaliers’ cavalier bench managed to provide great support. But Irving was out of rhythm and dealing with an ankle turn in the second half of the game. That was enough to give the Wolves the chance to stop key stretches for Cleveland and find themselves victorious on the road.

I can’t say enough about Rubio and Ridnour in this game. Even with Rubio’s sloppiness, his aggressive nature is welcomed warmly right now. I’ve been meaning to finish up this post on him, showing his growth over a recent stretch of games. The problem is the stretch keeps going. He’s not throwing back-to-back bad games out there so I can finally have a bookend to the data in the piece. His shot is improved. His aggressive moves around the basket are improved. And even factoring in tonight’s seven-turnover performance, he’s still averaging under three turnovers per game over the past nine games.

But there will be a time to celebrate his recovery soon.

For Ridnour, he’s often been the scapegoat for Wolves fans, and unjustly so. Luke is a backup point guard in the NBA at this point in his career. He’s there to have a steady hand at the wheel and knock down shots. That’s his job. That’s why he’s on the team. When’s the last time he got to fill that role? Because of a roster and a wing core decimated by injuries, Ridnour is the starting shooting guard on this team. He’s played one quarter of the Wolves’ available shooting guard minutes this season. Last season, he played 38% of the SG minutes.

Luke’s rarely been allowed to fill his role on this team and because of that, it makes his performance look bad many nights. Instead of complaining about his misuse (often by being forced to use him this way), all he does is go out there and do what Adelman has to ask him to do. Defend shooting guards; be a shooting guard. He does it. Sometimes he does it well; often times he doesn’t because that’s a hard thing for a 6’1″, 170 lbs point guard to do.

People have wanted him gone from this team, and it drives me crazy. He’s so good to have on this roster, simply because he usually embodies what Adelman is trying to teach this roster. Don’t complain, don’t feel sorry for yourself, and just step up to fill the role asked of you. It’s important to have guys like this because it shows leadership through action and when they help you close out games, it justifies the words of the coach.

Ridnour was unstoppable in the fourth quarter tonight. It helped facing a bad Cleveland defense, but he still had to knock down the shots. 13 of his 21 points came at the end. 11 of them came in the last 6:08 of the game. Luke helped bury a young team because when you’re taking and making good shots, it helps rattle what they’re trying to do. But he was just one of nine Wolves players who filled their role in this game.

I have no clue if this something they can continue to do for a stretch of the season. They’re getting somewhat healthy and Rubio’s legs look to be a part of him again. If Kirilenko comes back, then it’s just a few weeks before Love and Bud return and we can see what this team has heading into next season.

For now, the collective has to be there for the objective to be completed. Against a young team or an older team, the collective will have to be there for the Wolves to persevere. If even for a night, it was nice to see.

Zach Harper

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15 responses to Timberwolves 100, Cavaliers 92: A little bit of everything

  1. Ridnour played great, makes you wonder what would of happened if everyone was healthy this year. Rubio, roy, chase, barea, shved and ridnour vying for the 2 guard spots and back up 3 minutes. someone wouldve missed out

  2. I assume we would have traded one of them (hopefully Barea) for a backup SF.

  3. Well put in regards to Luke being valuable to the team because he embodies what Adelman is trying to teach the roster. And that’s aside from him being by far our most talented (healthy) shooter. Right now Luke deserves nights like last night, so it was good to see him win a game of Candy Land.

    I also like the way Ricky is ramping up his game in this sloppy, yet aggressive, fashion. Most guys would come out playing tentative the first few months after being out, but Ricky is being aggressive. It’s a lot easier be aggressive and slowly iron out the wrinkles in your game than to slowly ramp up a timid style of play that isn’t natural to him. He’s definitely taking the fastest route back to unicorn status.

  4. Karl, I completely agree. Maybe it was Kevin Pelton or somebody else, but there is a theory that young point guards who turn the ball over a lot early on in their career actually have more success down the road because it’s like a trial-and-error thing. They learn what works and what doesn’t work. I’m not sure it’s the same with something like shot selection, but it is with turnovers.

    It’s nice to see though. With a basketball mind like Rubio’s, I’d imagine he’ll figure the turnover thing out pretty quickly. With his style, he’s probably always going to be in the 3-turnover per game area. But if he can get his assist rate to over 40% (currently at 37%) and drop his turnover rate to 20% or lower (currently at 25%) then that will be some pretty incredible territory.

  5. I stated a few games ago in a comment that the Wolves need to let Ridnour shoot, shoot and shoot some more. Someone on this team needed to step up and say “Give me the rock I am hungry” and the last few games you have seen Ridnour play unusually agressive on both ends of the floor. He seems to be fed up with all the BS and is taking matters into his own hands. I trust Ridnour with the ball more than anyone on the team. He is the most versitle player on the team and can be a liability on defense at times but playes the angles well. Also, last night Ricky played ok. Yes ok. He had 7 turnovers. Thats horrendous.

  6. pagingstanleyroberts February 12, 2013 at 10:41 am

    During his first year, Ridnour bugged me to no end (yes, even on that team); it didn’t make sense to me that a veteran guard who’d started for playoff teams could make so many mistakes.

    With that in mind, I have a lot of respect for his ability to soldier through last season when Rubio went down and do the same this season. Watching him in the preseason, I thought it was just a matter of time before he had to sit out due to his back (I apologize in advance for jinxing that possibility with these statements), but the fact that he looked the least healthy of all the regulars in the preseason and is the only Wolf to play every game (Stiemsma and Williams have been active for every game but not played)? He just does what he can every night, which is really all that can be asked of him.

  7. I love it when the wolves win, but at what point do we start hoping for them to lose to get the best possible chance at a high draft pick this summer? With guys like Cody Zeller, Shabazz Muhammad, Trey Burke, and Ben McLemore I can’t see how the Wolves finishing in the middle of the pack really benefits us in the long run.

  8. Kyrie is not a top 5 PG. Maybe later, but he’s really not there yet. There are so many good PGs in the NBA and most of them in the West. I have him #7.
    1. Derrick Rose
    2. Chris Paul
    3. Tony Parker
    4. Steph Curry
    5. Rajon Rondo
    6. Russell Westbrook
    7. Kyrie Irving
    8. Jrue Holiday
    9. Deron Williams
    10. Damian Lillard
    11. Brandon Jennings
    12. Mike Conley
    13. Grevis Passquez
    14. Ty Lawson
    15. Ricky Rubio
    16/HM. Goran Dragic

  9. I am with you Nick. The issue with playing to lose in a sense is that it becomes hard to turn it on and end the losing culture when a team gets the talent to win. So if the Wolves start losing then next year when they have more talent will they keep losing because they do not know how to win?

    The T-wolves never get lucky with the draft (although Derrick Williams was thought of as one of the top two in a two man draft) so how likely would they get 1 or 2 this year. I think Ben McLemore is awesome assuming he has the work ethic. He has a quick release and sweet shooting motion, is athletic and has solid finishing abilities at the rim. Going to be an awesome pro I think and would be perfect for the Wolves with their needs. The T-wolves never get those guys though.

  10. Bob McFlallergizzle February 12, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    I for one am not for the idea of losing games just so we can see the Wolves drop in the lottery. Give me good tough basketball for a few months and we’ll come back next year with a scary refreshed team, that’s what I want.

  11. Lets just get healthy.. this team, was brilliantly designed. This is why I have lost all my bitterness and anger towards Kahn. Lets face it. No one in the world could have predicted the injuries the team suffered this season (except for Brandon Roy of course). We have good pieces to make a run. We just need Kevin Love to return to his MVP form. I hope I dont see a completely new roster for next season. This team will make the playoffs IF they can remain healthy and IF Kevin’s offensive game returns. I have watched every game this season and almost all our games have been close… We rarely lose if we reach a hundred points and we are one tough defensive team. Lets get healthy wolves!

  12. Normally I would want the team to play really well throughout the season, but it seems like it’s really hard to convince any key free agents to come to Minnesota, so I don’t see how we can improve the team a whole lot if it’s not in the draft. The Wolves need someone who can create his own shot and take over the game in the last 5 minutes of the 4th quarter, and I don’t know that anyone who is like that and is available in free agency would want to come to Minnesota.

  13. pagingstanleyroberts February 12, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    A. Thousand. Times. No. to any tanking. I couldn’t care less about the prospects in a weak draft; this team will have Love, Budinger, and an moderately easy schedule to close out the season. They need to succeed with their 2 picks, but even in weak drafts, there are good players available in the late lottery. I’ve seen enough 0- and 1-win Aprils. Also, who knows which players actually come out? The time to focus on the draft is after the season. If you want to dream about who could be on this team, play NBA 2K13.

  14. But at this stage what do we need? A sweet shooting 2 guard? In the ideal world, our starting 5 next year has rubio at the 1, AK at the 3, love at the 4 and pek at 5. Williams is the first big off the bench, ridnour and shved as our guard/wing backups. THe question is does shved start @ 2? or chase?

  15. hey Zach looking forward to your article on ricky’s improvement, this break should be a nice time to do it ;)

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