I’m not sure a game like this loss to the San Antonio Spurs is ever good, per se.
The Spurs established their dominance by playing exactly how they love to play. The Wolves never were able to take back control of the game or dictate their own style. While both teams like to move the ball up the floor and use brilliant decision-making and passing to put the defense on their heels, the Spurs do it in a much less chaotic style. The Wolves can play that structured tempo the Spurs love to throw at their opponents, but everything has to be clicking for the Wolves.
Things certainly weren’t clicking Sunday night, outside of Nikola Pekovic continuing his torrid affair with scoring the basketball and being a presence inside. Kevin Love couldn’t seem to find a way to hit a shot or get past the solid defender that is Boris Diaw (that’s not pejorative either; he’s become a defensive presence). Kevin Martin couldn’t finish inside and he couldn’t knock down a jumper. Corey Brewer looked lost on both ends of the floor as he was a non-factor on offense and he got destroyed by Kawhi Leonard on the other end. Ricky Rubio distributed well but just couldn’t have a big impact against Tony Parker.
So while this loss wasn’t good for the Wolves as I stated above, sometimes it’s a nice reminder of just how important each part of the system is, so you don’t lose sight of the value of each component.
The Wolves’ roster — like money rosters in the NBA — is a symbiotic relationship. One part of the system affects another part of the system and there are consequences to those components not working against tough opponents.
Love is important. Not just in your personal relationships but on the court for the Wolves as well. Diaw and Matt Bonner did a great job of making Love work on both ends of the floor. There were moments in which Diaw forced Love into a tough shot and there were moments in which Love simply couldn’t hit anything he put up. It was just one of those nights for him. But that sets off a lack of attention the opposing defense might have to pay toward Love. It’s not that they don’t pay attention to him but single coverage can become double coverage with a couple of shots falling your way early.
Once that happens, the ball starts moving around the perimeter and you test just how well a team closes out time after time. The Spurs close out very well and are often disciplined in their rotations. That doesn’t mean one gravitational force like Love on offense can’t throw that out of whack for stretches at a time. If you get Kawhi Leonard helping down or rotating over then you get Martin freed up for better shots. Brewer is able to start cutting more. Pekovic is still a monster but his buckets seem to count more toward the common goal.
That’s the thing I took away most from this Wolves’ loss to a much better Spurs team. It wasn’t the lack of being able to get over the .500 hump again. This seemed like a scheduled loss from the get-go, which isn’t fun for us to recognize but at a certain point you can’t kid yourself when looking at how these teams match up. Sure, the Wolves can beat the Spurs but that doesn’t mean it is likely to happen in San Antonio. Is the nine-game losing streak when the Wolves have a chance to push above .500 frustrating?
Absolutely. But it’s also somewhat understandable in this case. Other games? No, it’s not as understandable.
It’s good to remember that for all of the frustrating aspects of the Kevin Love situation some fans and media members may have when it comes to Love, he’s the most important part of this team’s future success there is. When he shoots 40.0% from the field or worse, the Wolves are 2-9 this season. When he’s better than 40.0% from the field, the Wolves are 16-9. Finding ways to get him rolling means this team is really good. Not just acceptable or playoff contending but legitimately good.
It’s great that Pek had another really good game. He’s been incredible over the past 12 contests, averaging 22.9 points and 10.3 rebounds while making 55.3% of his shots and 77.0% of his free throws. However, the cog that makes the machine work begins and ends with Kevin Love. Finding ways to get him going, especially when things aren’t going right for him during a game will almost always end up being the key to the Wolves putting up a good enough fight against top opponents.
Love is the best player on this team and one of the top players in the NBA. This game proved his important in a really odd way.