Sports, like life, are full of trite turns of phrase and overused cliches. It’s possible to conduct entire interviews (while covering a player or team) as well as have entire conversations (in real life situations) without saying much of anything at all, other than tired, recycled jargon. If you’ve spent any time watching postgame press conferences, or if you’ve ever been stuck talking to someone you have no interest in conversing with, you know the drill. The great baseball flick Bull Durham devotes an entire scene to how important cliches are to professional athletes:
The purpose of such babble: to obfuscate truth and sincerity in the interest of time management. A simpler translation: it’s easier to be vague, sometimes. It requires less effort, and less elaboration. Instead of using the gift of language to explain ourselves, we instead deploy it as a masking agent, coyly shying away from our true thoughts and emotions in favor of simple platitudes. “We’ve got to play them one day at a time,” the professional athlete says. “How about this crazy weather we’ve been having?” you ask your neighbor, during a lull in a forced conversation.
Some cliches are, however, indicative of deeper truths. In life, and in sports, communication is vital to success. Following the Wolves’ thrashing of the Jazz, “communication” was the buzz word at the coach’s podium, and in the locker room afterward. “Good communication defensively,” Rick Adelman said. “I thought Kevin (Love) was really good, he was really talking out there.” “All five players were really talking, trying to help each other,” said Nikola Pekovic. “When everyone’s talking, it’s easier.” “It’s fun when we play as a team, when we play like that, and everyone communicates,” Ricky Rubio stated.
The talk on the defensive end of the floor was apparent from the get-go, and was the loudest I’ve heard all season. Love and Pekovic in particular set the tone on that end; the entire bench (led by Ronny Turiaf, of course) was invested as well. The Jazz shot 28.8% from the field (21-for-73), and while some of the missed baskets came at the rim (Jeremy Evans and Derrick Favors each had an episode in which they missed several point-blank shots in a row) the Wolves did a good job of forcing contested jumpers and taking away transition opportunities. The Jazz, 23rd in the league in Offensive Efficiency (99.4 points per 100 possessions), were without Gordon Hayward for the second consecutive game, but Minnesota still snuffed out the talented Trey Burke (2-of-10 from the floor) and Derrick Favors (3-of-10).
Communication came in many forms in this game. Nikola Pekovic demonstrably told Ricky Rubio to shoot on an early possession in which he circled under the basket and through the lane without thinking to make a shot attempt. Fans communicated their displeasure as Alexey Shved dribbled out the clock, his refusal to shoot denying them the Cherry Berry promotion (free yogurt if the Wolves score 100 points and win the game!) they felt enitlted to. Ronny Turiaf and Chase Budinger, long after the game was over, discussed each other’s preferences for dribble hand-off situations, trying to get a feel for what the other likes to do. At his locker, Kevin Love joked around with Barea and Pekovic, the specifics of which I won’t get into, and even poked fun at the supposed rift between he and the Puerto Rican point guard, as if he was trying to send a message to the assembled media that everything was fine between the two of them.
As for the specifics of the contest – the Jazz had absolutely no answer for Pek. Favors, Kanter, Gobert, no one in a Utah uniform could slow down the Wolves’ big man, who scored via his usual bag of tricks: grounded runners across the lane, hook shots, putbacks, and at the free throw line. Kevin Love dropped another ho-hum (for him) line of 18 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists. Kevin Martin continued his struggles from beyond the arc (1-of-6 from downtown) but found other ways to score en route to a 20 point effort. Ricky Rubio had a very Rubioan line of 6 points (on 2-of-6 shooting), 8 rebounds and 9 assists.
With the game in hand, and the rout in full effect, the bench got extended time. The starters and inactives (Robbie Hummel and A.J. Price) cheered demonstrably as Chase Budinger finally sank a three pointer late in the contest, snapping the cold spell he’s been endured since returning from his knee injury. Everyone sitting on the bench (led by Love and Turiaf) went bananas when Gorgui Dieng banked in a jumper early in the fourth quarter, and later got a good laugh at the expense of Gorgui when an errant half-court alley-oop pass crashed into the backboard without hope of success. Even Shabazz Muhammad, 1-of-5 from the field (and begging for foul calls on every miss) got a nice ovation when he finally sank a shot.
Another tired cliche with a ring of truth to it: winning cures everything. Was the great communication, camaraderie and teamwork a function of blowing out an overmatched team, or vice-versa? Is the relationship between the two causal, or symbiotic?
At any rate – for a night, winning cured the Minnesota’s ills – even if you were one of those booing them off the floor, your hopes for free Cherry Berry dashed by their failure to crack triple digits. A loss would’ve meant more angst, more division, more blame. For one night, anyway, the Wolves talked their way through it, as cliched as it may be. Now they have to take their speakeasy on a West Coast tour.