Timberwolves 93, Warriors 106: If I Had A Heart

Steve McPherson —  November 7, 2013 — 13 Comments

J.J. Barea sat in front of his locker reading down a ripped box score sheet after the game. Nikola Pekovic leaned over to look at it and a member of the PR team walking by offered a crisp, freshly printed one to Pek. “I don’t need it,” he said, and returned to putting his socks on.

Barea looked at it another minute, then crumpled it up and threw it on the floor.

What was supposed to be an offensive wonder-display between two of the best offensive teams in the league (112.0 points per game for Golden State, 105.3 for Minnesota coming into last night’s game) turned out to be an often frenetic but generally discombobulated effort. The Warriors were 0-for-8 from the arc in the first half. THE WARRIORS! And the Wolves couldn’t seem to finish anything at the rim, shooting only 39.1% from the field and a very 2012-13 20% from 3-point range. The connection between Ricky Rubio and the frontcourt seemed frayed: passes that should have caught Kevin Love or Pek in stride moving towards the basket bounced a little too low or a little too high or else dribbled off of a Warriors defender’s fingertips. Collectively, the starters for the Wolves managed an offensive rating of just 89.9 while giving up 94.3 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com.

(Side note: Nikola Pekovic looks out of sorts. He’s shooting just 48.4% in the restricted area and just 41.9% from less than eight feet. Compare this to the similarly offensively-minded Brook Lopez’s 75% in the restricted area and 69.7% from eight feet and in. I’m not saying it won’t come — and a lot of it has to do with an offense that’s moving out to shooters like Kevin Martin and Kevin Love more than last year — but Pek has to finish those dinkers and dunkers around the hoop.)

All in all, it was amazing that the Wolves were only down by three at the half. It was the third quarter where it started to come apart as the bench reared its ugly head. The tandem of Alexey Shved and J.J. Barea was surprisingly effective in the early going last season and in this season has shown flashes of being the kind of spark off the bench that every team craves. But Shved looked flat-out awful last night: just disconnected and out of sorts.

Because of this, Adelman left him on the bench for the entire second half, leaving Barea as the lone ballhandler in a few different lineups with Love, Pekovic, Dante Cunningham, Kevin Martin and Derrick Williams. With Steph Curry sidelined after a leg injury, the Warriors went big. The result was the 6-foot-7 Klay Thompson getting matched up with the (maybe) 6-foot Barea, and 19 fourth quarter points for Golden State’s shooting guard. Put in that impossible place, Barea did his level best to be that little engine that could, but it was just too much. The bench was overwhelmed.

Adelman pointed to this struggle with consistency of effort — across the whole team and across a whole game — as key to the difficulties the team is having. “We just never sustained anything on either side of the court,” he said. “We played in, like, a frenzy. Like we were going to win the game with one possession; we didn’t have any rhythm. [Golden State] turned over 21 times and we get 10 points out of it. We turned over 19 times and we get 26 points out of it. We aren’t balanced.”

You could see it even in the wins over Orlando and the Knicks: that moment when the team — either the bench or the starters — just sort of wilt and stagnate, not moving the ball around and falling into bad jumpers or drive-and-kicks into situations where space hasn’t been opened up on the floor. That struggle, even in wins, is surely what Adelman was thinking about when he wrapped up his press conference, saying, “Sometimes you have success early in the season and you think you have arrived. It almost gives you false security because you’ve won some games. Now we are playing some good teams and we are finding out about ourselves.”

But let’s talk about something fun we found out about the Wolves last night: outlet passes. We’ve seen them before, but this game began to show the full flowering of the Love to Brewer outlet, as shown below in two sterling examples:

Outlets_smaller

The Wolves are going to need these kind of quick strike buckets if they’re going to succeed this season, but they also have to be aware that it has to keep catching teams by surprise. If this kind of thing becomes a habit more than a shock, other teams will adjust and find ways to beat it, either by shadowing Brewer tighter on defensive rebounds, stepping into Love on the same, or just dropping more players back into coverage (to borrow from football).

Last bit (with over-the-top literary reference): Watching Love against David Lee last night, I couldn’t help remembering John Gardner’s Grendel, a reimagining of the Beowulf legend from the viewpoint of the the monster. You may have read it in school. Grendel is portrayed as an outsider, the scary Other to the Danes. In the book’s climax, Grendel attacks Hrothgar’s mead hall, a place he has terrorized before with impunity. But one of the soldiers is Beowulf, not sleeping but lying in wait. When he grabs Grendel’s arm and wrenches it out of the socket, he begins to spit mystical insanity, an echo of things foretold to Grendel by a dragon earlier in the book. In that moment, Grendel — who has been separated from humanity — sees his reflection, at last, in another. Beowulf is like him, but in that completion also brings about his destruction.

I see the same kind of reflection happening between Lee and Love. Beyond the surface similarities — the emphasis on offense, the bad reputation on defense — I see them both struggling for acceptance and recognition, each feeling shut out from the NBA mainstream in some of the same ways. Much as it was with Grendel and Beowulf, there’s an existential pang to the loneliness created by that situation. Each has been almost equally slagged and celebrated, both underrated and overrated, called a franchise player and deemed disposable in trade.

It expands to the teams as well. Both Golden State and Minnesota are built around specialists, around whatever the opposite of redundancy is. Curry and Thompson are scorers and often awful defenders. Lee is an offensive juggernaut and rebounding machine. Bogut is a defensive anchor. Iguodala is the closest thing they have to a Swiss army knife. For the Wolves, Rubio is the distributor; Martin is the shooter; Love is the scorer and rebounder; Pekovic is the meat inside; Brewer is their utility guy.

Last night, the Wolves were Grendel coming up against their Beowulf and getting their arms twisted out of their sockets. Maybe that’s why I was thinking of the Fever Ray song that heads up this post. It wasn’t the title. It’s not that the Wolves don’t have a heart — they do, although this early in the season it can be frustratingly easy to lose track of. It’s that first line: “This will never end ‘cause I want more / More, give me more, give me more.” That’s what the season is going to continue to demand from the Wolves, and what opponents will take from them. After their win against Orlando, Brewer said you learn more from a win than a loss, but I’m not so sure. Once teams have taken all they can from the Wolves, that’s when they have to find more. They should be hoping that losses can teach them that.

Steve McPherson

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13 responses to Timberwolves 93, Warriors 106: If I Had A Heart

  1. I do not like the wolves bench at all. Barea is very unpleasant to watch, he is a negative in every aspect of the game except in the the rare(and getting rarer) occasions that he catches fire. I hope when Bud gets back they Keep Brewer the Starter, I really like his chemistry with Love. They need a scorer off the bench anyway, I think Bud would be that.

  2. Barea’s impact on offense no longer justifies the liability he is on defense (and he is a BIG liability defensively). Williams’ athleticism frustrates me to no end because given his abilities, the man still can’t finish at the rim or even draw a foul in his attempts. Dieng looked like he was playing in a D-League tryout (and even that is putting it nicely). The drop off from our starters to our bench looks like the grand canyon and it’s going to lose us a lot of games this year, especially if the injuries continue.

    I’m also glad you pointed out just how awful Pek looked last night. It seemed like his hands were wet and buttered because several passes and boards slipped right out of his reach last night. It’s painful to see all of the points he leaves in the paint that are squared up and a foot away from the basket.

    Also, Ricky’s reluctance to shoot is becoming more and more apparent to defenses who are capitalizing on it.

  3. Was at this “sad” game, my first one of this season. It didn’t look like the team they are to be this year. My next game is the Nets and KG and I so want a “WIN”! The only good thing about the loss was the winning had a Minnesota Gopher connection with Kyle Thompson…..

  4. I’m not a fan of Barea I’ve said it many times. But having said that there is no way with the rest of the bench playing the way they are that even his limited game is going to stand a chance. He is absolutely the only option coming off the bench that has any chance (however slight) to score. Everyone on the second team has taken a giant leap backwards this year. D Will, DC, Shved, just look like bystanders on the floor right now.

    We need to look real hard at who we can move to shore that second unit up. I am still a fan of Thaddeus Young, and if the 76rs are even thinking about moving that 8 mil 3 year contract we should jump on it.

    I Love Rubio I hope he finds his shot soon. It’s when we’re behind he seems to overthink his shot. When we have a lead and he is not worried about whether it goes in or not that he looks real good. I think it’s a head thing with him right now.

  5. The bad news gets worse, Judi. That was not Klay Thompson from Washington State on the Warriors, not Kyle Thompson.

  6. farnorth: I am forever a Thaddeus Young fan, although I must admit I’m not sure he cures what ails the second unit, which is a lack of shot creators and ballhandlers. The Wolves are really feeling the injuries to Chase and Turiaf now, one for his offense and the other for his steadiness. My feeling is that a second unit needs a healthy mix of crazy and levelheaded. Right now, we’ve just got crazy and dead-eyed, and I don’t mean in the good, shooting way.

  7. I record every wolves game to start a little late and fast forward through the commercials. I fast forwarded through almost the entire 4th quarter. Last night was a very unenthusiastic effort.

  8. I like the idea of adding Jimmer. Excellent outside shooting for amost no investment. He is probably the cheapest elite outside shooting that the wolves could add. If nothing else it adds a little scoring for the bench. And we can stop pretending that shved is a viable NBA player.

    Something Like Freddette and Thornton for Williams and Barea would fix the lack of scoring from our second unit. That also gives Williams the chance to be a stretch 4 like he should be in the first place.

  9. Barea is getting double teamed in almost every offensive play and the rest of the second unit can’t even capitalize… Talk about putting blame on what works. Other teams know that Barea demands respect when defending him so why is it that no one can make a simple basket? I don’t see any comments about shved, seriously this guy is lost half of the time in the court. Whe need a better back up shooting guard! This guy is great in euro games but this is the NBA.

  10. Please no Fredette. He can’t get minuted on the Kings. He wouldn’t be any better than Barea. DWill looks completely lost. Makes bad decisions when he does get the ball. There just is no flow anymore. Ricky’s passes are just a little off or the communication is just a little off. I think that when Barea came in to not play defense on Thompson is when the game was put away. The difference with the first 3 games is that then the shots fell. The last 2 they haven’t. Thinkning back on Zach’s pst after game three I think we have an answer to the question. We aren’t that goo. We need to have a lot of pieces falling into place and grab a huge lead in order to win games.

  11. Jimmer will give the same weak defense of Barea only with 40% 3’s. I guess it depends on if you would like penetrating ability or perimeter scoring ability. Neither player is good, but Jimmer adds something that I think is more important then what Barea does.

    I think the starting 5 is great, and when Bud (who will be a great 6th man) returns the bench will look better. I just hope that JJ and Williams can be traded for a scorer, or an actual back up PG.

  12. Minus contributions from Kevin Martin the Wolves are 2 for 31 from beyond the arc in the past two games… Infinite sorrow returns. Listening to the game on the radio all I heard last night was,”Williams hoists a three… And an air ball” or “brewer launches one from the corner and misses everything” or “Love for three from the wing!… And it clanks off the back iron” all while Klay Thompson put on a clinic.

  13. I’m ready for a little AJ Price action. Can’t hurt anything to put him out there with the second unit for a few minutes and at least see what happens… Price > Shved

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