Timberwolves 94, 76ers 87: You are the brute squad
Maybe the Wolves shouldn’t explore the Mozgov/Pek backup plan after all?
In a game that was incredibly fast in the first half because of a lack of calls and completely bogged down in the fourth quarter because of 23 foul calls and 38 free throw attempts, the Wolves had to power through their first game back from the All-Star break. Luckily for them, they have the most powerful guy in the NBA with Nikola Pekovic. It’s amazing how a guy with so much brute strength can have such a feathery touch when it comes to scoring with hooks and push-shots around the basket.
There was one shot in particular in the second half when he used about four or five bounces on the rim and backboard before the shot dropped in which I thought he was practicing for Plinko on The Price Is Right (Actually, how awesome would Pek be on The Price Is Right?). The thing with Pek is he’s a rare breed of center now. In the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s, the NBA was ruled by powerful guys on the low block who could move mountains with a drop-step. Because we have such a faster and more athletic game now, guys like Pek just don’t come around anymore.
It leads to an interesting question of whether or not he’s outdated. Can he work in today’s NBA for a contending team? Will we eventually find a way to free up post offense on a regular basis within today’s defensive rules? Pek kind of defies today’s NBA trends already. He’s slow. He’s powerful. The majority of his offense comes on the low block and he’s really good at it. He doesn’t turn the ball over that much. He’s very much a throwback type of center.
“I think Pek, since the beginning of the season, has been one of the most dominating centers in the league,” Andrei Kirilenko said after the win. “Like a pure center. Not talking like different guys who can play, run the ball but a pure center who can play in the post and who can be presence inside.”
Pek’s 27-point, 18-rebound, two-block night against the Sixers was pretty dominant. He destroyed them early and caused the entire defense to focus on him as the game progressed, even though he played 41 minutes and looked tired toward the end. When a team is playing Sisyphus to the boulder that is Pek, it allows the perimeter to get aggressive because rotations are sure to be late. And you can’t give Pek much space because when you do, his hands are good enough and he’s strong enough to overpower you in getting to his spot. It makes defensive rotations tricky.
Now just imagine if this team had a couple of perimeter shooters to spread the floor.
Pek’s strength is often lauded (by us, mainly, and his opponents) when talking about his game, but I think we can lose sight of just how important it is in wearing down a defense. Playing physical and being the first to smack an opponent inside is big. You put the defense on the defensive (redundant but true) not just from a strategic standpoint but from a physical standpoint as well.
“Pek was a beast,” Ricky Rubio said as he smiled. “He was playing pretty good. He did an amazing job on both ends of the court, grabbing some rebounds and scoring some tough shots too to help us.
If you’re going to play physical with Pek, you’re going to get in trouble because he hit the weight room. His arm looks like my head. It’s unbelievable; I can’t believe how strong he is.”
One thing about Pek last night is remembering whom he did this destruction against. Spencer Hawes, Lavoy Allen and Kwame Brown aren’t exactly a Shaq-Admiral-Hakeem triumvirate by any means. But there aren’t many big, strong defensive centers left in this league. You’ve got guys like Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, DeMarcus Cousins, Marc Gasol, and Brook Lopez. Those are the only guys who can “match” Pek’s strength in some sense.
The crazy thing about the win over the Sixers was the fact that the Wolves shot just 1-of-12 in the fourth quarter from the field and still scored 18 points to win the game. I’m not one to complain about officials normally, but I thought they were horrendous in this game for both sides. Contact on the perimeter was called unless it carried down into the paint. Everything in the interior was let go for much of this game. Then in the fourth quarter, the officials decided to call just about everything, except for some obvious fouls.
The Wolves got to the free throw line 22 times, just in the fourth quarter. Luckily, they shot just well enough to hold off a valiant comeback effort by Philadelphia. It was a weird display of grit by the Sixers, although normal if you’ve watched many of their games this season. The post players of the Sixers were just completely passive and unable to push back against Pek and even Dante Cunningham at times. The perimeter players though were incredibly physical with the Wolves’ guards. The Sixers bullied Rubio a bit and really seemed to frustrate him. They pushed Alexey Shved all over the court and remained physical with guys like Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea.
Rubio had such an odd game too. He made plays but made a ton of mistakes. He was aggressive and reckless at times, but it was good seeing the continued aggressiveness out of him. He committed stupid fouls and even screamed in Spanish when walking to the bench after picking up his fifth foul when he got Nick Young on a 3-point attempt.
Derrick Williams and Andre Kirilenko both had really nice games. I had forgotten how much fun it was to have AK out there after he missed 16 days with a quad injury. He slipped backdoor, shut down Evan Turner after a big third quarter, and found ways to make plays all over the floor. Williams was a lot better around the basket and rebounded well. He even made 3-of-4 from the restricted area!
When this game was relatively free flowing, the Wolves’ offense looked incredible. The team moved really well, they passed well, and they even shot the ball well. A lot of that is probably just the Sixers being bad right now, but it was still nice to see the Wolves take advantage of such a situation. Let’s see if it can carry over against the Thunder on Friday.