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.