Timberwolves 115, Pelicans 86: You should see the other guy
Remember how we felt late Friday night?
The Wolves had just gotten pummeled by the Lakers. I know the final score was pretty close, but any time you’re down 29 points to a team at any point in the game, you’ve been pummeled. The Wolves eventually whittled a 29-point second quarter deficit down to four before losing by double digits to Kobe and
Friends Colleagues. And the cliché in games like that is “use the momentum of the run to make it a game and roll it over into the next game.”
I don’t know if there are statistics readily available to back this up, but I feel like that doesn’t happen a lot. The idea of game-to-game momentum doesn’t seem real to me unless the team has walked away with a victory. And yet, the cliché rang true Saturday night for the Wolves. After getting down 61-32 just a few minutes into the second quarter of Friday night’s game, Minnesota built their own 29-point lead. Theirs existed in the third quarter of their victory over the Pelicans but it existed.
Know what I realized during the Wolves’ blowout victory when juxtaposed to their ginormous deficit just 24 hours prior? I have a hard time learning anything from blowout games.
There was a point in the loss to the Lakers in which I was laughing at the carnage in front of my pupils. The Lakers were making everything in sight. Ron Artest 3-pointer? No problem. Steve Blake making deep shots? Sure, why not? Pau Gasol hitting a 3-pointer and various jumpers? Come on down! You’re the next contest on Let’s Make A Ridiculous Shot! The Wolves were getting pummeled and nothing could be done to change it at that point.
They had to fight. They weren’t fighting early. They needed to have pride. Eventually they did have pride and they found themselves down just four before ultimately losing by 11 points. Saturday night, we never got that prideful moment from the Pelicans. The Wolves were better and they were more aggressive. Aside from 3-point shooting, everything they did that night worked. Pek inside? Meat grinder. Dante Cunningham jumpers? He was 9-of-9 on the game setting a Wolves record for made field goals without a miss. Lou Amundson comes in the game? He finds himself with eight points. Every single player scored.
We even saw aggressive Ricky Rubio, prompting an entirely separate post from me this week on how his game looks (hoping for tomorrow). The fun thing about a blowout victory is it validates our fandom in a way. THIS is what we root for. We root for everything to fall into place, and wonder why it doesn’t more often. The NBA is a game of runs and you expect teams to fight back. It’s why nobody on the Lakers was surprised Friday night when the Wolves made a run to get the game close.
It’s not because the Lakers don’t believe in themselves (although this season, it wouldn’t shock you if that were true); it’s because the talent on the floor means it’s unlikely for the blowout to occur. Does it happen? Absolutely. There are bad match-ups and poor efforts. But in terms of talent, a lot of these guys are far too good to really be 30 points worse than their opponents on any given night. This isn’t college basketball. Everybody on the court can play and most can do really well if they’re featured. It doesn’t mean their team would be good if they were featured, but you could turn someone like Greg Stiemsma into an 18-point per game scorer if you decided to feature him.
The point is that usually the game of basketball is a game of runs and that’s when you find out about your team. If they’re up big, how will they respond when the other team fights back? Will they have a set play from the previous run that will continue to work? Will they turn up the defensive energy to counteract the momentum? If your team is down big, how do they change what they’re doing to turn the game in their favor? Who decides to step up? Who becomes the aggressor? How does the collective respond?
We didn’t get that Saturday night and we didn’t really get to learn anything about our team because of it. The Pelicans lost the battle but they did manage to take out some firing synapses in the process because they couldn’t/wouldn’t fight back. However, that doesn’t mean the game was a lost cause at all.
We got to see the Wolves win in convincing fashion, never having the game in doubt after halftime. Because of this and the bulbous margin, the Wolves were able to give key players (AK, Pek, Rubio) some key rest on the second night of a back-to-back. We saw a disproportionate amount of ball movement from the Wolves, tallying 30 assists baskets compared to the Pelicans’ 28 total baskets. And we got to see some highlights.
After Andrei Kirilenko poked the ball away, Rubio gathered it, moved the ball back the other way, and wrapped a behind-the-back dribble to himself before dumping it off for the Pek score inside. It’s not that Rubio wouldn’t try this in any game situation; it’s just that he has more freedom to do it in a blowout victory because there is no real pressure if he screws it up.
When Dana Wessel from 1500 ESPN asked Rick Adelman about the move after the game, Adelman responded with, “I’m just glad he didn’t get hurt on the play.”
As Rubio gets his legs back, we see him being more aggressive on defense. The instincts have been there for the most part, but he’s finally getting his body some cohesion with his mind. He’s been pressuring inbound passes in the backcourt a lot more the last week. This play is so much fun because after he steals the ball, there is no rush to get the play going. He knows Dante is coming back toward the hoop and the big arm swing from Cunningham really adds anticipation to the dunk that’s going to follow.
This is the fun you get to have in a blowout victory. While closer games let you learn about your team and what kind of squad they are, blowout games are more like recess.