Clippers 120, Wolves 116: Things Fall Apart, the Center Cannot Hold
Some nights, the words for these recaps come easily; there are so many basketball games to watch and write about that churning out approximately 1,000 words, summarizing the experience, becomes second nature. A process forms, and no matter the result – a win, a loss, a blowout, a narrow defeat – as a writer, you contextualize what you can, highlighting moments that made this particular game stand out, attempt to offer helpful commentary, adding your personal voice, and hopefully wrap a bow on it at the end.
Minnesota’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday night didn’t feel anything like a regular game, which meant I needed to throw my process out the window. It simply wouldn’t suffice. After 48 minutes of positively sublime basketball from Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford, there were five minutes of free basketball (overtime), followed by an evening of smoldering discontent from Timberwolves fans and media types. Why did the Timberwolves lose? They were ahead by 5 with 30 seconds to go in regulation. With 13 seconds left, they held a two point lead and possession of the ball. With 46 seconds left in overtime, they were up by 2 (again). All favorable scenarios for victory, but none of them played out that way. Who is to blame? And what does it mean? Where to begin?
To help with recapping this regular season basketball game, I turn to William Butler Yeats’ 1919 poem “The Second Coming.” That’s right – in order to provide framework for a post about a pro hoops game in December, 2013, I’m going to reference an iconic Irish poet’s magnum opus, a feverish text laden with Christian imagery and a grim outlook of post-war Europe. It sounds like a stretch (and it
might be is), but if you parse the language, and take it piece by piece, it can be used to unwrap the layers from Wolves versus Clippers. And boy, there are plenty of layers.
Let’s get started. (Poem’s text in bold, commentary in standard font. The full, uninterrupted poem can be found at this website.)
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
In this scenario, Rick Adelman’s the falconer, and his team, moored out on the floor,, represents the falcon. Following Friday’s loss in the same building (to the shorthanded Lakers), our own Steve McPherson wrote a provocative piece wondering if Adelman was the right fit for the Timberwolves at this moment in time. Sunday’s game may have fueled more speculation in this vein; the Wolves looked discombobulated down the stretch, and some of that has to fall on the coach. Kevin Love bemoaned Minnesota’s lack of execution during the end-of-game situations, hoping that after Christmas the Wolves would “take this stuff a little more seriously,” a statement chock full of possible interpretations.
As for Adelman’s take, here’s the entirety of his postgame address: “It was a tough game for a lot of reasons. That’s all I have to say. I’m not going to get fined. I’m not going to say anything else.” He’s implying, of course, that the officials had a bad night – but I’d be hard-pressed to find anything too egregious on their part. If that’s his message to the team – “the referees screwed us” – I worry. He’s a Hall of Fame coach for a reason, but with the Wolves rotational issues and a few end-of-game blunders on the docket already this year, it’s fair to wonder about how well he’s performing. After all, Kevin Love didn’t get the ball when it mattered most.
But hey – if Nikola Pekovic sinks an easy hook shot with 6 seconds to go in overtime, and Minnesota pulls it off in the second extra frame, maybe we aren’t even having this discussion. Speaking of which…
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Pekovic play a better game on the offensive end of the floor. He employed his full arsenal of post moves against Blake Griffin and (especially) DeAndre Jordan (more on him later). There were hook shots, runners across the key, putbacks, tipbacks, and fadeaway jumpers. Except… he couldn’t tie the game late, even though he had a great look. Wolves radio announcer Alan Horton tweeted that Pekovic is now “0 for 6 in his career in the final 30 seconds of a game when the score is within 3 (points).” His brilliant 34 point, 14 rebound on 16-of-28 evening will be remembered more for the offensive possession in which he failed than all the ones he succeeded.
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
With 13 seconds left in the game, Ricky Rubio inbounded the ball from the frontcourt to Kevin Martin, who was sprinting into the backcourt, towards his own basket. Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford double-teamed him, Martin coughed it up, and suddenly the game was tied at 106 apiece. At the other end, Pekovic missed a hook shot, got his own offensive rebound, then missed a jumper at the buzzer. In overtime, Martin threw a flailing pass from under his own basket, to no one in particular, igniting a Clippers fastbreak that resultedin another tie game, at 110 all. Then, Kevin Love didn’t touch the ball on the potentially game-tying possession. Anarchy? Yes. Anarchy. All of it.
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,
With 3 minutes left in the game, Blake Griffin got the business end of an inadvertent Kevin Love elbow, which drew some blood:
And everywhere, the ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Twitter was an interesting (read also: maddening) place to be after the final buzzer sounded. The main topic of conversation wasn’t Love’s lack of touches on key offensive possessions, late in the game. Nor was it lamentation that Pekovic’s failures in the clutch marred an otherwise impressive game. Even Kevin Martin (somehow) avoided the brunt of the wrath despite his costly turnovers. No, the main source of bellyache was the fact that Ricky Rubio had zero points. It’s convenient to look at a box score and point to that as a significant factor in the loss, and by convenient, I mean simple-minded, and let me explain why.
An individual’s points don’t necessarily reflect his offensive value. It sounds counter-intuitive, but hear me out. Ricky Rubio took four shots last night – three of them were wide open looks. Two were above the break threes (where he’s a 40% shooter) two were midrange jumpers (where he’s had mixed success). None of them were particularly bad shots, but none of them fell, either. He failed to get to the free throw line, but he had very few drives to the hoop (the most likely source of a trip to the stripe) and when he did attack the rim, he instead facilitated, to the tune of 12 assists. He ran the point for a team that had an O-Rating of 112. He deserves some credit for aiding in that success.
That doesn’t even take into account his efforts on the defensive end, which is half the game, mind you. Chris Paul finished 6-of-19 from the floor and was hounded by Ricky for much of the night. Rubio doesn’t defy box score analysis, but he does challenge it. There’s more to his game than columns of numbers can tell you – he passes and defends and sets his teammates up for success, areas of the sport which await adequate statistical description.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming!
Ricky Rubio’s merits are up in the air, but this much is certain: Kevin Love is the Second Coming of the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise. Last night was almost as much fun as I’ve ever had watching someone play basketball. It was a shame to see such a transcendent effort wasted in a loss – 45 points on 23 shots, with 19 rebounds and 6 assists. What else is there to say?
Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand. Will he leave?
This one goes out to Matt Barnes, whose flagrant two (which probably shouldn’t have been a flagrant two, but was ruled as such, because, you know, Matt Barnes was involved) ignited a fierce Wolves rally… and also because it took him awhile to leave the floor after he was ejected (‘will he leave?’). Love drained both technical free throws, then a three from the left wing (his sweet spot), capping a five point possession that gave the Timberwolves a lead they wouldn’t relinquish until early in overtime.
Pitiless? Yes, Blake Griffin is a stone cold killer. That, and he can sink free throws now (10-for-11 on the night, and 77% over his past 12 games). And while he didn’t take many jumpers last night, he can hit those, too (40% when shooting a straight long-two, 40% from the right elbow). Oh, and he’s shown some pretty decent handles recently – against Denver, and again last night against the Wolves, he’s dribbled up the floor and gone behind the back. It made me wonder (pejoratively, of course) if Blake could play some point guard, which led me to ask Steve McPherson to make a photoshop, which led to this:
All joking aside – Blake Griffin might be coming into his own, and it should scare the living crap out of every other team in the Western Conference. Speaking of scary…
Do you think DeAndre Jordan has nightmares about Nikola Pekovic? In his past five games against the Clippers, Pek has averaged 23 points and 10 rebounds on 60% shooting from the floor. Sure, Blake Griffin was tasked with handling the Wolves’ center for part of the night, but Jordan had the primary assignment, and looked completely overmatched. Then again, Jordan had NINE offensive rebounds of his own, some of which has to fall on Pekovic’s shoulders. The more you look at it, the more dichotomous Pekovic’s night looked.
And really, the same applies to the entire team. It was a gut-wrenching loss, sure, and there’s always angst after gut-wrenching losses. But as Zach Harper pointed out last night – becoming a contender is a process, and not a short one. It was an extremely entertaining game, and the Wolves hung with one of the best teams in the NBA on the road, again. They’re a missed tip-in by Kevin Love and a poorly-executed inbounds play by Kevin Martin away from being 2-0 in the Clippers’ building. Some see the losses as indictments; I choose to see them as steps in the right direction.
Ah, a reference to Bethlehem, a way to tie a bow on this lengthy recap. Happy Holidays to all of our readers, whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Festivus for the rest of you. The Wolves (and their fans, and those who cover them) have four days off to clear their heads, to reflect, regroup, and prepare to charge into the New Year – and all it may bring.