Timberwolves 106, Knicks 118: I Am the Fun Blame Monster
Hello. My name is Steve and this shit is all my fault.
Oh sure, there were many, many facets and elements that led to the Timberwolves losing a game that felt like it should have been a gimme against a New York Knicks team run by a man fans are planning on actively and publicly protesting, is how bad things are with the Knicks. Professional basketball person and Knicks fan Dan Devine said, when the Knicks were up double digits in the second:
So how much do we figure the Knicks lose this game by? 12?
— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) March 6, 2014
Before the teams even took the floor, coach Rick Adelman knew this was going to be a dangerous game. “Long road trip,” he said after the game, “Twelve days, first one is always the one you worry about the most. I don’t care what their record was, how many they had lost in a row. They have Anthony, Chandler, JR Smith. You let them get going and it’s really tough.”
Twelve days. Think about the last time you were away for twelve days and then your first day back at work. It rarely goes well. All these guys are, after all, only human and travel — no matter how nice it is — upends you. They let the Knicks get going, and boy did they get going.
In the first four minutes of the game, New York went 8-10 from the field while Minnesota only managed half as many shots, going 3-5 and falling behind 20-9. That deficit more or less persisted through the remainder of the first and through the second, swelling to as much as 16 points, but settling at an 11-point deficit at the half with the Knicks up 66-55.
The Wolves gamely fought their way back into it towards the end of the third but then lost their grip at the start of the fourth and never really regained it. Part of that was due to the minutes restriction on Nikola Pekovic as he works back from the bursitis that sidelined him. Pekovic had 11 points (5-6) in the third quarter alone, but had to sit with 7:40 left in the game.
The point of no return was a stretch where the Wolves closed the gap from 63-75 to 75-79 and then couldn’t push past the Knicks, going 0-4 over the next two minutes. By the time both teams started making shots again, the Wolves pulled as close as one point with 1:25 remaining in the third, but a 13-2 run by the Knicks to start the fourth effectively put the game out of reach.
And credit New York. As Adelman pointed out, they still have Anthony (who went 14-27 for 33 points and 5 rebounds and 5 assists) and Chandler (who had a gargantuan 14 rebounds and 18 points). It just seemed like they couldn’t miss, and while it would be easy to blame the Wolves’ underachieving defense, the defense was actually reasonably competent — the Knicks just made shots.
And the Wolves just missed them. J.J. Barea went 1-9, Kevin Martin went 3-10 and Chase Budinger went 3-10. The bench as a whole was just 2-8 from 3-point range, plus Kevin Love in the second half scored exactly one point on 0-6 shooting.
So the concrete reasons for this Wolves loss are myriad, even legion, beginning and ending with playing flat at home after a long road trip and facing a Knicks team that suddenly turned it up a notch.
But the real reason, as I pointed out above, is me. Since the beginning of February, in games with recaps assigned to either Zach Harper or William Bohl, the Timberwolves are 7-0 — 3-0 for Zach and 4-0 for Bill. In games with recaps assigned to me? 0-4.
As a writer, I should be above this. But I’m not heartless. I rode hard for the Minnesota Timberwolves way before I wrote about sports in this semi-professional capacity. Hell, way before I wrote anything in any capacity. Back then, when the Wolves were in the 2004 playoffs and facing and besting the Sacramento Kings in seven hard-fought games and then losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in six, I embraced the superstition of it. Went to the same bar with friends for every game, sat at the same table (or tried to), lived and died with every possession down the stretch, repeating the mantra “Stops and scores” like our miniature prayers could actually help.
It’s funny how that belief, that intensity grips us and makes us feel like we don’t have a choice in the matter, when really what lets it be so resonant is how very improbable it all is, this idea that we are somehow personally responsible for a team’s success or failure. There are things we can control in our lives and things we can’t; sometimes it’s easier to feel the illusion of control than to deal with our inability to control the things we think we should be able to.
It’s strange, but I think that belief is at the root of both the promise and the fear of advanced analytics. After the game, the players said things like, “It’s just one of those games.” Or “We just have to put it behind us.” But was it just one of those games? Analytics seem to promise that all of that can be unpacked, dissected and re-ordered, placed in a killjar and then pinned in a pretty frame until we understand it down to the last micron. Until we can remove every ounce of uncertainty from it.
I’m a rational human being. Writing about basketball — rather than only being a fan of a team — practically demands it. I know there’s both more and less than I used to think there was: more things that any individual player or coach can’t control, more hours spent working on their profession than we can fathom, less clarity when it comes to what happens within the actual game and — most importantly — way, way less that you or I can do about it, no matter which socks you wear, no matter who recaps the game.
But even in its desperation, that superstition was comforting. The fact that I so often miss its warm embrace points to the fact that no amount of data or advanced stats can ever drum it out of basketball entirely. Maybe that’s a good thing.