I used to play basketball with a guy we’ll call Chris. We’ll call him Chris because that’s his name. I never actually knew his last name. He went to my old gym in Sacramento and was part of the regular games we’d run on Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday nights. He’d also be around for Thursday nights sometimes but that was typically just two-on-two basketball. Those Thursday night two-on-two runs were the toughest ones.
A lot of people would rather play full court basketball for many reasons, but mostly it’s because it’s so much easier than half court basketball. Full court pick-up basketball is mostly a game of cardio and skill. Sure, it’s not going to be two hours of fast breaks but you’re getting to choose the type of workout and effort you’re giving. That’s not so much the case when you’re suckered into playing a half court pickup game. Half court basketball requires a lot more strength than you’d play in a normal basketball game.
You’re not getting space by running the floor and putting pressure on the defense to pick up. Instead, you have to constantly use physical play and more muscle to find the necessary space in a half court game to make plays. There is more pushing, more positioning, and much more physicality. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s just a different style of basketball that forces you to exert more energy throughout your body, rather than just getting some good cardio in.
Watching the way the Los Angeles Lakers adjusted to Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night, I couldn’t help but think of that guy Chris when we had to play two-on-two with him.
Chris was physical. He ended up joining the Marines at some point, so he was a very tough guy. He had very little basketball skill, but he could throw his 6’3″ body around, hack the crap out of your arms, and was borderline dangerous to play against because he was clumsy in the way he moved around you. You knew you were going to get beat up a bit if you played against Chris because that’s just the way he played.
We saw something similar in the second half against the Lakers. All of a sudden, they turned a free-flowing game they couldn’t keep up with into a physical game they had nothing to lose from being in. We already had Gorgui Dieng take one in the temple and leave the game. Luckily, he’s fine. Then for some ungodly reason, Nick Young figured out if you pressure the hell out of Corey Brewer, he’s largely ineffective on offense. He started denying Brewer the ball 40 feet from the basket and it took a few possessions for the Wolves to just forego the unnecessary ball swing that starts with Brewer.
By that time, the rhythm of the game that the Wolves had controlled was dead and they were finding themselves in a bit of a scrappy affair.
I wonder how much of the second half of this game was the Wolves not taking a horrendous Lakers’ roster/lineup seriously and how much of it was the Lakers adjusting perfectly to what the Wolves were trying to do. It was probably a healthy portion of each and the Wolves just figured talent would win out. And it did, but not without paying an unnecessary price.
Robert Sacre is a big physical guy. He has some basketball skill and showed a decent little touch around the basket and with his jumper in this game. But mostly, he’s out there to bang some bodies around and give guys bruises. He’s such a big human being that he probably doesn’t even realize the force in which he hits people. He’s also such a solid mass of muscle that large human beings just bounce off of him when they collide. That’s what happened when Kevin Love drove against Wes Johnson with a little over four minutes left in the fourth quarter of a game that should have been long over.
First off, this was scary. I was behind the Wolves’ bench on the other end of the floor and I heard him slam into the ground as the crowd is making noise. That is a loud thud, my friends. He abused his tailbone there and had some whiplash that caused his head to snap back and hit the ground. However, he was so lucid and didn’t complain about his head that they didn’t feel the need to test for a concussion. I’m not sure I agree with this assessment, even though he did seem fine, but that’s the trainer’s call to make. He clearly knows that job better than I do.
Love stayed in for most of the rest of the game, was a warrior on the boards, scored a few points, and the Wolves avoided an embarrassing loss. Sacre was physical with Love in help and Wes Johnson managed to harass him plenty. They hammered him on the boards and ran to make him work as his body was probably screaming at him to go sit down.
It was that unnecessary use of muscle due to letting the Lakers make it an ugly game that allowed such a dangerous situation to present itself. Instead of free-flowing, it turned uncoordinatedly physical. They were shoving all over the half court instead of running in the open court because they didn’t adjust or didn’t take it seriously or whatever reason there is. They were always going to beat the Lakers because talent pretty much always wins out in the NBA as long as an acceptable level of effort is there. But instead of the third unit handling the final six minutes, the Wolves screwed around and let it be closer than it needed to be.
It’s not a huge deal; it’s just hopefully a reminder to the team of how important it is to take advantage of an inferior opponent by exerting the necessary energy to put the game away early. If you don’t, you run the risk of your star player nearly getting a concussion for no reason.