Timberwolves 110, Celtics 100: Professional Human Beings
A game the Wolves should have won and did. Against a thoroughly depleted Celtics squad whose frontcourt rotation consisted of Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox, Shavlik Randolph (who is apparently the first person named Shavlik in the history of the world based on my research) and even 3 minutes and 50 seconds of D.J. White, the Wolves found themselves with an advantage in the post thanks to the return of Nikola Pekovic from a brief ankle injury. And Pek put in work on the offensive side of things, dumping in 29 points (2 short of his career high) even though he only collected 5 rebounds.
The Wolves shot badly from 3-point range (naturally), managing only .278 on 3-pointers, but they didn’t need to space the floor with Boston’s centers so badly overmatched physically by Pekovic. The aforementioned ankle injury didn’t seem to bother Pek, and Adelman said that he didn’t go the last game because he just couldn’t get it loose before the game.
Kirilenko looked Kirilenkish with 17 pts, 9 rebs, 5 asts and 2 stls. Honestly, the only reason this was even a somewhat close game was that the Wolves’ defensive effort just wasn’t there in the first half. Their offense clicked immediately, but they couldn’t seem to transfer that energy into their defense, which lagged until they tightened up in the second half, pushing the lead out to as much as 14 and holding it mostly steady around double digits.
We cool with all that? Because now I want to talk about Jordan Crawford.
I just couldn’t take my eyes off him when he was on the court. I’d heard about the horror show that is Crawford’s game, but I’d never really paid attention to before. Man, is it grotesque. Every single thing about his body language on the court says, “I’m taking this thing over and I don’t even have to try.” And yet: I don’t think he could take over a game of hopscotch.
Let’s watch this clip together.
In the first bit, he catches the ball on the wing with space to shoot (we’ll see his proclivity for shooting he has no room in a moment, so I don’t understand his hesitation here) or drive, and yet he does that thing where he smacks the ball against his hand hard, which seems like a pickup basketball kind of thing to me. With Rubio downing him, he takes the bait, dives into double coverage—furiously twirling the right stick, it seems—and throws up a kind of fadeaway push shot that misses everything.
In the next bit, Crawford uses a pick to get Shved off his back, but when he runs into Cunningham, he throws a pass back out that gets tapped by Shved. He gathers it and pump fakes from a good six feet behind the line. Go ahead. No, really. After a quick exchange with Jeff Green, he ends up taking a 3 from only three feet behind the line and misses badly.
Then, we see him charge to the rim and make a layup while yelling about getting fouled. You can’t see it from this angle, but after he started shouting, Barea made an incredulous face. When J.J. Barea can’t believe your antics, you’re in trouble.
Since it worked so well before, he drives to the rim again, flailing wildly, and doesn’t make it or get the call.
He then takes a hideously well-defended 3 from the corner. Rubio’s closeout is solid and seems like that might be a good time to go for that pump fake, but he just calmly rises up and drains it. The beautiful thing here is how he sort of desultorily swing his arms and starts moseying up the court. You can practically hear him saying, “See? You see? I KNEW I was going to make it. That’s why I took it. Yeah. See?”
But he’s got one last wildly flailing layup to attempt. He misses it badly enough that he gets his own rebound and puts it back up and in.
Watching all this, I couldn’t help but laugh. I got excited every time he had the ball in his hands because I had no idea what was going to happen. And listen: I’m one of the first guys to man the battlements when people talk about how “so-and-so is a bum” or “this guy isn’t a real basketball player.” No matter how lame the competition, watching Brian Scalabrine definitively destroy some average joes should put to rest the notion that any player playing at the NBA level could be anything other than completely dominant at most other levels of basketball. I’m sure Jordan Crawford would do very well at your weekend pickup game, thank you very much. In many very important ways, he’s a skilled basketball player. But he doesn’t seem like a professional human being.
What Crawford really did last night was make me appreciate J.J. Barea. I bag on J.J. nearly as much as anyone, but I also believe he’s a professional. As one of the smallest guys in the league, he has a very specific skillset that he maximizes. It’s interesting to hear him talk after games because you will often hear him say how he was glad that Adelman took him out because he was going to take a bad shot. I’m almost positive he knows what he is and how he plays. He’s not a reactive, assessing player like Kirilenko, a smartbomb. He’s a dumbfire rocket. You point him at your target and let him go. When he blows everything up, a surprising amount of that will be the stuff you want blown up. Sure, there’s collateral damage sometimes, but everything’s a trade-off.
With Crawford, I just don’t see the upside. I didn’t see him disrupt the Timberwolves defense the way Barea can with opposing defenses. And his attitude just seemed—for lack of a better word—toxic. I understand the Celtics are very short-handed in their guard rotation with Rondo and Barbosa lost for the year, but I’m going to be very surprised if Crawford sticks in Boston.