Raptors 94, Timberwolves 89: White Vegas is no joke
I came away with three thoughts about the Wolves’ most recent loss, which was probably the one I’ve been the most accepting of (because I expected it) and the one that was simultaneously the most frustrating even though I had accepted their fate long before tip-off.
The first thought was about that acceptance of the loss, knowing it was coming while not trying to approach that submissive thought from a pessimistic origin. The Wolves simply don’t win in Toronto. After last night’s “effort”, they’ve dropped to 3-16 there all-time and they haven’t won there since 2004 when the Wolves last fielded a team that seemed to give a damn whilst being able to do something about it. This is the exact kind of “marriage to the old guard” I’ve been hoping people would divorce themselves of with a new regime and a very talented roster. And yet, here I am latching on to negativity of the past, simply because the nightlife of Toronto seems to call this organization.
This game seemed to go the exact same way most of these affairs in T Dot go. Seemingly poor execution met with malaise and a dash of “is this game over yet?” After the first quarter, I was hoping the bench would get extended minutes. After the bench got extended minutes, I was hoping the starters would have a fire lit under them. After that, I was hoping the bench would play a lot of minutes in the second half. And by the end, I was waiting for the Raptors to tell us they had to get up early and rush out the door for a waiting taxi. There was also a sick part of me that wanted the game to end in a loss of four points or less, but that’s just me losing my mind at the moment. The second thought I had was about Rick Adelman going with JJ Barea in the fourth quarter, never returning to Ricky Rubio. This isn’t a new thing. It’s happened several times this season, often drawing the ire of fans in the process. Adelman has this weird balance of developing existing talent and trying to maximize the team’s victory opportunities. While some fans lament the idea that he actually does try to develop talent, I will argue he develops talent that has the potential to help him win games now. Whether that’s the correct approach or not, that’s the reality. It’s how he’s been his entire career.
I’ve accepted this balance with Barea or Rubio playing in the fourth quarter this season but last night’s game was the first time in which I whole-heartedly disagreed with the decision. I didn’t have any issue with the way Rubio was playing during his 23 minutes on the floor. He wasn’t playing a perfect game by any means but he certainly played solid basketball and was the best bet for defending Kyle Lowry in this game. These are extremely small sample sizes but the starting lineup had a net rating of -19.5 in 15 minutes on the floor. Sub Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for Corey Brewer and they swing up to a net rating of +28.4 in five minutes.
Barea played well in terms of setting up players in the fourth quarter, but by no means was he a scoring machine that needed to be out there. He didn’t even score in the fourth, badly missing multiple open attempts. That’s something Rubio can do while providing solid defense against a tough pit bull of a player. But most importantly, Rubio’s play didn’t warrant him sitting out the entire fourth quarter in favor of Barea. I trust that Adelman knows the situation better than I do, and it’s fine to question him as long as it’s not getting into the extreme position of him needing to be fired. However, I can’t back the idea that Rubio should have sat against the Raps in the fourth quarter.
What’s at play is not only Rubio’s suffering confidence but clearly Adelman is also questioning his point guard’s ability to impact the game right now. Whether it’s an accurate question or an overreaction to inconsistent play lately, the lack of trust is something that has to be overcome by both sides.
My third thought from this game was about the demeanor of this team. This season for the Wolves has been so weird. Relatively high expectations were met by early success and those expectations quickly turned into a bravado that didn’t match the effort given on the court. That lack of consistent effort turned into complacency and while this roster is incredibly talented from top to bottom in terms of raw basketball skill, they’re not nearly good enough at utilizing that talent to get by on complacency.
Relying on complacency can quickly turn into panic and frustration when games/life get(s) tight and it gets you out of routines that help you accomplish your goal. This is a common reaction by humans and the Wolves still employ humans. That’s not to excuse the reaction though, merely explain it. Because the next step once you adopt that reaction is the real key to how you become successful. To buck the trend of complacency, you have to have effort and to have effort, you have to have chemistry and give a damn.
You know those friends of yours that are always talking about how they’re going to start working out to get into shape or they’re going to start up a business and be their own boss or they’re going to start only hanging out with people who are positive and don’t cause drama? That’s the Minnesota Timberwolves as a collective right now. The only person I truly believe wants this right now (of the people that have a chance to affect how this team plays) is Ronny Turiaf. The rest of the guys? This looks like a team that only wants to be around each other as much as they have to, which is a stark contrast to how they felt about each other a month ago. You’ll still see joking around and smiles at times, but when things get tight, they seem to separate as a unit.
It’s not gloom or doom, by any means. It’s just a concern that needs correcting by collective effort and understanding that finger pointing and pouting are things that children do, not adults. Not successful adults, I should clarify. I don’t see that from the Wolves as a relative outsider looking in and there are enough murmurs about the lack of chemistry of this squad has right now to think this thing is teetering. As the schedule got softer, the Wolves’ effort became more complacent, which is the exact opposite of what they needed to do.
The amazing thing? We’re not even halfway through the season. This team still has 43 games to go this season. There is so much time to correct everything that has gone wrong and there is so much time for things to completely fall apart. We’re not even close to having answers about this team that was so tight knit just weeks ago and now looks like an angry family sitting around the dining table, waiting for the acceptable amount of time to pass before they can get up from the table and go hang out in their designated areas of the house.
So who is it on? Rick Adelman needs to find a different way to get through to the team because what’s going on right now isn’t working. He also needs to make sure they’re running people out there that will continue moving and giving effort on both ends of the floor, unlike the constipation we’re seeing in the offense right now. But ultimately, it’s on the players to grow up and start accepting accountability for their shortcomings and stop just giving lip service.
It’s great you can recognize the problems. Now go hit the gym and stop waiting for the right week to start. Quit your job and start setting up your business model and garnering the capital to make your idea a reality sooner rather than later. Delete the dramatic people from your phone and go find healthy relationships that better you and challenge you as a person. Quit talking about what you’re going to do or need to do. Start doing it. We all know you’re capable of doing it, otherwise we wouldn’t be frustrated with what’s happening on the court. We’d be resigned to hoping the 2014 pick falls into the top 13 and delays Phoenix getting its hands on it.
White Vegas isn’t an excuse. Injuries aren’t an excuse. Rotations aren’t an excuse. Coaching isn’t an excuse. Talent isn’t an excuse. It’s effort and decision-making. Fix it or don’t. There’s plenty of time but you have to actually care to do it.