Being a fan of the Minnesota Twins in the 2000s was a mostly pleasurable experience – they won five division titles, averaged 89 victories per season, appeared in two do-or-die Game 163s, and carved a unique, endearing identity (the piranhas) that made them easy to love. The problem, of course, was their lack of postseason success – a combined 6-21 record in the playoffs, capped off by two consecutive three game sweeps at the hands of the New York Yankees. They never seemed hellbent on going for it, trading prospects or young talent for that veteran pitcher or power bat that may have pushed them over the edge in October. It was their organizational philosophy to build for the future, even when they were on the cusp of winning in the present.
Why open a recap of a 2013 Timberwolves-Nets game with anecdotes about the mid-2000s Twins? Because last offseason, the Wolves and Nets resolved to do the opposite of what the Twins did for all those years. They looked themselves in the mirror, weighed the options, and decided, “You know what? F*** it. Let’s go for it.” Jaded by my disappointment in the Twins, I have a soft spot for franchises that decide to push their chips to the center of the table, because the goal is to win a title, not merely subsist year-to-year on future assets that may not pan out.
The economics (and mechanics) of baseball and basketball contrast greatly, but you see my point. Of course, the Nets and Wolves set about “going for it” in very different ways; Brooklyn is armed with bottomless pockets, while Minnesota stays within the luxury tax threshold but giving away (potentially) artery-clogging long-term deals. Brooklyn built a small army of talented but aging veterans, while the Wolves buttressed their foundation (the 25-year-old Kevin Love) with guys entering their prime (Chase Budinger, Corey Brewer) or perfect fits for their system (Kevin Martin).
The two organizations are experiencing contrary results, as well; the Wolves are 8-6, and in the thick of things in the West, while the Nets, at 3-9, have the third worst record in the NBA. Brooklyn’s had terrible injury luck; Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry all missed Friday’s game. Tornike Shengelia, Tyshawn Taylor and Mirza Teletovic – banking $4.8 million between the three of them – played 15 minutes apiece. The remaining big money talent, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, earning a combined $49.2 million this season, were incapable of keeping it close for even a quarter.
For his part, Garnett was granted raucous applause during pregame introductions, and a standing ovation following a tribute video that played during a first quarter break in the action:
Watching him play defense was a treat, as it always is: he uses his hands masterfully, guiding his opponent like a puppeteer, coaxing him one way or the other based on Garnett’s wishes. He played physical defense on Kevin Love, but the young superstar still found a way to tally 9 points, 11 rebounds and 2 assists by the end of the opening frame.
It was Garnett’s third quarter technical foul (and flagrant-one) that sparked the Timberwolves to turn the embers of a lopsided victory into the inferno of a full-fledged blowout. Kevin Martin sank the technical free throw, Kevin Love swished both of the flagrant foul shots, and Corey Brewer drilled a three from the left corner to make it a six point possession – and Minnesota never looked back. The lead reached 36 at one point, and much like the Cleveland game of a week and a half ago, garbage time started before the end of the third quarter. If you’re wondering just how garbage the garbage time was, Brooklyn’s final assist-to-turnover ratio was 7-to-20… read that again. SEVEN to TWENTY.
All those turnovers led to some transition opportunities, where the Wolves did a terrific job sharing the basketball. In fact, Minnesota’s ball movement in half court sets was also very good. Here are some examples of each – not all of the shots fall, but the unselfishness and court vision leading to the open looks are important to note:
All five Minnesota starters scored in double figures. The Two Kevins (Love and Martin) had 17 apiece, while Corey Brewer and Nikola Pekovic each scored 15 points. Ricky Rubio added 12 points. 8 assists and 3 steals in just 24 minutes. The Wolves scored 111 points despite shooting just 41% from the floor and 30% from beyond the arc, their offense buoyed by attempting 23 free throws (and making 20 of them). The Wolves are now 6th in the NBA in free throw attempts per game and 2nd in percentage, making 81% of their tries. Only Kevin Martin (31:21) eclipsed 30 minutes of playing time, important because the Wolves go on the road two of the next three nights against quality teams (Houston and Indiana).
If this was, indeed, Garnett’s final trip to the Target Center as a player, it was unremarkable, save for the fact that he lost for the first time as a visitor (he was 7-0 prior to Friday night’s game). If it’s the end – and it certainly feels like it’s the end – it’s a sad way for him to go. Brooklyn acquired the Celtics’ castoffs (Pierce, Terry, Garnett) as the final pieces to a run at a title – and while they may perform better once they’re full strength, there’s little or no chance the Nets are a contender. Their attempt at “going for it” (which also cost them first-round picks through 2018), based on the expectations, looks like a colossal failure.
What remains to be seen is what comes of the Timberwolves’ efforts. They maxed themselves out underneath the luxury tax for the opportunity to win (and hopefully to keep Kevin Love around), and so far, despite recent frustrating losses, things are going smoothly. The experiment continues Saturday night against the Rockets.
Quick Notes about Garbage Time
– The Wolves rolled 8-deep until the 3:00 mark of the 3rd quarter, when Derrick Williams checked into the game, which is the new signal that Rick Adelman believes the game is entirely out of reach.
– Alexey Shved, who quietly contributed solid minutes against the Wizards and Clippers (stop laughing, I’m being serious) played 13 underwhelming minutes in this one. As a ballhandler, he allows himself to be trapped off of picks and is incapable of fighting through screens on the other end of the floor.
– I feel as though referees instinctively whistle a travel whenever Gorgui Dieng begins to make a move with the ball, without even watching what actually happens in front of them. This isn’t a complaint – odds are, if “G” is moving with the ball, he’s travelling. All joking aside, he played pretty well in 8 minutes, scoring 5 points, blocking 3 shots and discouraging drives into the lane on the defensive end.
– Ronny Turiaf is a treat on the bench. He’s everyone’s cheerleader, even in blowouts.
– Robbie Hummel took 8 three-pointers, and made just one. Before you start to worry, everyone on the team, from the coach to Kevin Love, has spoken about their desire for Hummel to shoot when he’s open, without regard for whether his last one went in or not. They believe (and trust) in him as a shooter.
– And finally, the Wolves are 4-0 at home when I am present. I’m not saying I’m THE reason… but I won’t say I’m NOT.