Timberwolves 104, Raptors 111: Time Is A Flat Circle
Last night, the first season of HBO’s loathed and lauded True Detective came to an end but DON’T WORRY. There are no spoilers here because like many, many people I couldn’t watch it because HBO GO sputtered and died under the weight of everyone logging into their parents’ accounts to watch the finale.
But before that, the Minnesota Timberwolves lost a basketball match to the Toronto Raptors, dropping the Wolves to 31-31 and five games back from Memphis (in the eighth and final playoff spot) and Phoenix (in the ninth). The Wolves’ playoff odds according to the ghost of John Hollinger at ESPN now stand at 11.5%. The capsule summary of the game looks a lot like ones we’ve seen before: In spite of 26 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists from Kevin Love (and a new single season record for made 3-pointers by a Timberwolf (144)) and 17 and 11 from Nikola Pekovic, in spite of a strong level of effort all around, the Wolves couldn’t get enough production, particularly up close.
“We just have to do it better,” said Adelman afterwards. “We just didn’t convert enough at the basket. We had 50 points in the paint and only converted half, 25 out of 51 attempts and they shot the heck out of it from three.”
That’s putting it mildly. Steve Novak took six shots, all from 3-point range, and made five of them. Terrence Ross was 3-4 and DeMar DeRozan was 2-3 from downtown, lifting the team as a whole to a preposterous 58% from the arc. And Kyle Lowry, who continues to play out of his mind, notched a triple double with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists.
For the Wolves, the bench continued to underwhelm. A five-point lead for the Wolves near the end of the first quarter swung entirely in the other direction over the last minute of the first and the first several minutes of the second as the Raptors built up a 13-point lead while J.J. Barea, Chase Budinger, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Dante Cunningham and Nikola Pekovic were on the floor. Barea continues to be an enervating rather than energizing force off the bench, sapping flow and rhythm from the game as he insists on dribbling the ball through the floor and treating screens like cones on a dribble course as he forces his way to the hoop again and again or pulls up from the arc (he was 2-8 on the night).
It’s becoming clear that Barea is just too diametrically opposite to Ricky Rubio to work as the team’s point guard off the bench. As we’re all painfully aware, Rubio’s strength is not his shooting, but getting the ball to Pekovic and Love in good position, which he did several times last night. By contrast, Barea simply can’t get the ball into Pekovic when he’s in position. The sanguine vision of this team prior to the season was that Barea could provide a change of pace that would shake things up when the offense stagnated, but there’s little to no continuity between the way the starters work together and the way any of the bench players work.
Adelman’s weird exasperation with Rubio continues as well, and it’s stultifying. Rubio fouled out (plus received the mildest technical I can imagine after the fact for arguing about a call) and — for sure — his foul on Lowry close to the half was borne of frustration and was foolish. And maybe this is a chicken and the egg argument, but Adelman’s short leash on Rubio isn’t helping Rubio’s confidence. I could be totally wrong: Adelman could give Rubio all the buffer and space in the world and Rubio could still struggle. But if his shooting woes are at the heart of Adelman’s reluctance to give him more leeway in the offense, that lack of leeway is beginning to impinge on what he does do well, which is create with a free hand.
Likewise, Adelman’s use of Shabazz Muhammad at this point in the season is puzzling to me. Don’t get me wrong: Muhammad is still very raw and flawed in all sorts of ways. He went 3-4 last night and immediately injected a shot of adrenaline into the game when he entered for the first time near the start of the fourth quarter, but after a couple good shots and an emphatic dunk, he missed a lefty hook and then committed a foul going for the rebound. He gets a little success and then he gets heated and does some thoughtless or risky things. It’s sort of a pattern.
But at the same time, I can’t help but feel he’s a better energizer off the bench than Barea right now, a more exciting offensive prospect than Chase Budinger, who’s still struggling his way back from injury. I don’t know at what point the Wolves make the decision that the playoffs are out of reach, but I hope that reaching that point means the team tries a little less to be something they’re clearly not and starts being what they are, that Rubio gets buckets of minutes to do what he does and mess up in the process, that Muhammad gets more run off the bench. There’s a kind of hope in hopelessness, sort of the way we kept hoping that Love would come back for even a little while towards the end of last season so we could get a glimpse of where the team is headed.
But let’s switch gears: All the frustrated anticipation for the Wolves to make the postseason this year and all the frustrated anticipation of all those HBO GO viewers who didn’t get to see True Detective’s finale got me thinking about the ways we watch a season of sports versus a season of a television show.
There’s a commonality, in that we don’t know — as viewers — how either one is going to end when it begins. But there’s an important difference: for a scripted show like True Detective, it’s already written and filmed. And I know this is not true for every show. I’ve read about how shows like Lost and 24 were still being pieced together while they were being aired. But it doesn’t change the fundamental fact that dramas are being written and then watched, whereas sports are being created directly in front of us, in real time.
And yet we strangely grasp at this desire to attribute the kind of narrative architecture we find in television shows to a team’s season. Whatever happened on last night’s True Detective finale, it was already written and filmed and done long before we had a chance to see it. Yet we anticipate it and guess at it with all the fervor we apply to weighing and predicting the outcome of game after game during the NBA season, or the season as a whole. We pin the success or failure of a show like True Detective to how it ends; we pin the success or failure of an NBA team to whether they make the postseason, or whether they win a championship, or whether they end up with a good draft pick. We care a very great deal about endings, as if they tell us everything about what came before.
But maybe Rust Cohle is right. The Timberwolves have always felt like kind of a flat circle. That often feels like a bad thing (and often a real, real bad thing). I don’t know if embracing that lack of closure, of ending can make it feel any better. But it probably won’t make it feel any worse. Probably.