Timberwolves 106, Knicks 118: I Am the Fun Blame Monster

Steve McPherson —  March 6, 2014 — 14 Comments

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.

Steve McPherson

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14 responses to Timberwolves 106, Knicks 118: I Am the Fun Blame Monster

  1. I felt like this loss was indicative of this entire season for the Wolves. Seemingly everything that has plagued this team throughout the year came to light in this game: a slow start, poor perimeter shooting, another atrocious performance from JJ Barea, inconsistency of effort as a whole…the list goes on.

    At this point, I’d rather the Wolves miss the playoffs than sneak into the 8-seed for a first round matchup with OKC or San Antonio. Not to mention, we’d be losing a first round pick in the process. I understand our pick would land late in the lottery, but for a team stuck with a handful of veterans with little to no trade value, acquiring young talent is extremely important. Regardless of whether Love stays or not, we need to stop throwing money at underachieving veterans and start building from within.

    I know we’re still a ways out from this all playing out, but if the Wolves find themselves 4 or 5 games out later in the season, I hope they have the balls to pack it in and lock up that pick.

  2. The thing that I take away from this season is that the Wolves have made great strides.Should they make the playoffs that will be more of a bonus at this point. It’s pretty obvious where the weak parts of this team are. The bench is in need of a point gaurd and second scoring threat. This team should finish over 500 and win more games than they have in 10 years. The Wolves are not a bad team for just missing out of making the playoff’s in the West. I think the Wolves are in a good position if they can make the right moves this summer to make a big leap next year. And that is good to see as a fan. We had such high hopes but in the past we new that the team wasn’t any good and would be starting over the following year. Now it seems like we are small peice’s away from have a very good team in the West. That is better feeeling to have as a fan than I have had for a very long time.

  3. This loss was really a crushing defeat, Dallas and Memphis both slipped up and it was the perfect chance for the twolves to take advantage. Instead they come out cold lackadaisical and seemingly unmotivated to take advantage of the Knicks who were feeling pretty low about themselves. I got to ask, how much responsibility falls on the coach? In Rubio’s first couple of seasons he was great having players who could run on the break, he was a bundle of energy, now he looks beaten down and forced into a half court system. Magic said his strength is being able to see 3 and four steps ahead, why not look to get him some more athletic players to run the break with? Kevin Love needs to set the defensive tone as well, this team seems so focused on offense that when shots aren’t falling they have nothing to fall back on. Overall you do have to wonder, I think it’s time for Adleman to go, this team with Rubio Brewer Pekovic Love should be much better defensively. I can’t even see any offseason move that makes this team significantly better. You have a young athletic guy in d will with offensive talent who can give you 15 and 8 off the bench that you trade away for mbah a moute
    who is a defensive stopper who was useless against Carmelo. Maybe it is time to blow this up trade love for what you can get for him, (Noah, Jimmy Butler?) and start over with a new defensive coach

  4. There are three ploblems with this team in my eyes. number 1, Pekovic, yes he puts up big numbers and seemingly makes the team better but think back when he was injured and we won 6 out of our last 7 games, every time he touches the ball its a black hole hes putting it up no matter what, he plugs up the lane on offense, on defense he doesn’t protect the rim at all. When Ronnie was in, there were no easy layups. Number 2, J.J. Barea, hes awful all he does is dribble around and put up wild shots he does not get his team involved like Rubio does. I’d rather see AJ price play before him. Finally number 3, the facilitator of all this, Rick, in my opinion he has been a great coach over the years but it seems that he doesn’t understand how to make this team that has so much potential, become a playoff team. He needs to play the rookies more and put barea on the bench. He is starting to give bazz minutes and hes been productive. Get rid of JJ and Pek and this is a playoff team that has a chance to go somewhere.

  5. I don’t know why these dolts and their flawed logic get me worked up, but here it goes. In what league can D Will give a team 15 and 8 off the bench? He’s currently averaging 10 and 5 for a terrible team, which is about what he did last season. Also, this team tried to build young and athletic; all of those guys were beaten out because they couldn’t play (Williams, Randolph, Beasley, Hollins, Darko, Johnson, Webster). Only Webster has shown more elsewhere than here. Except for Rubio, none of the four mentioned are particularly known for their defense, yet they’re the 10th-best defense in the NBA.

    It’s obvious that these people complaining about Adelman don’t remember the garbage this franchise has had to deal with besides Flip (and Dwane Casey to a lesser extent). This roster doesn’t fit as well as it needs to, but that’s not on the coach; it’s on the guy who came up with 2 useful assets (Rubio, and Cunningham for Ellington) out of 9 first-round picks, 4 of them in the top 6.

  6. Well, anyway they can’t lose games like this. It’s past the point where we can make excuses for why they lost a game they should have won, they need to win all the games the should win and most of the games they shouldn’t, if they want to make the playoffs (assuming that is still a goal).

    Still, notwithstanding tonight’s game a lot of positive things have been happening especially with Dieng and Bazz getting meaningful PT and doing something with it, so we shouldn’t lose sight of that.

  7. If you’re Minnesota, as Mac said, you can’t lose a game like this. You can’t lose a game at home to a team that is 20-40 in the Eastern Conference. If you lose a game to a team like San Antonio in San Antonio, you can say, well the Spurs are good and the Wolves were on the road, a loss there happens. But, you can’t lose a game to a team like the Knicks who are already downtrodden and are playing for nearly nothing.

    The mentality of someone at this point saying losing games to get in the lottery is a good thing is mind-boggling. Is anyone tired of this broken record year after year? They need to start somewhere; they need to develop a culture of winning. They need to take a step forward NOW and at least make the playoffs for once (especially with Love still on the team).I am so tired of getting into March and saying well there is always next year.
    Oh, gee the Wolves are likely to draft so and so at the #13 spot…who gives a shit? Next year, in his rookie year, he will give the Wolves 3 points and 2 rebounds in 8 minutes of game action…wow, I cant wait. At the trade deadline, this year, they could’ve have made a move to bolster their bench…they didn’t and here we are. Chase and JJ are their “big” scorers off the bench and they make about 1/3 of the shots they take. They could have bolstered their bench by acquiring a Steve Novak to be a 3 point sniper, or a Gary Neal…someone who has proven it at a fairly low cost. They didn’t and here we are. Another year of…let’s look at the mock drafts to see who they might get.

  8. gjk- Don’t forget the first rounder he traded to the suns to TAKE Johnson. Also that we could have chandler parsons and Mirotic but he decided to send parsons back for cash and mirotic to chicago for squat. KAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHN!

  9. Kahn may be the only GM who was pretty much considered to be a terrible GM from day one, only to turn out to have been an even worse GM than people thought, and who appeared to do lots of damage to the organization while he was in charge, and yet somehow did even more in retrospect. He is like the Jeff Skilling of GMs. Bravo Glen Taylor.

  10. gjk I guess I’m the dolt you are talking about and dwill was averaging close to 15 and 8 at points during last season. Perhaps I stated it wrong, he may not average 15 and 8 but. He can put up 15 and 8 on any given night if he is given a chance, or maybe the twolves just need him to leave to become a decent player a la brewer. They aren’t known for defense but the point is love should be, Pekovic should be, brewer is, even if you say they aren’t great individual defenders the team defense can’t be giving up well over 100 points in games. The wolves are broken and some of it for me has to go on the coach right now.

  11. Well David, your statements suggest that you are not as well informed as you think you are.

    The Wolves are currently ranked 12th in Defensive Efficiency at 102.8 (according to Hollinger’s Stats at ESPN – http://espn.go.com/nba/hollinger/teamstats/_/sort/defensiveEff/order/false). 11th is Memphis at 102.7 and 13th is Miami with 102.9. Memphis missed DPOY Marc Gasol for a stretch and Miami is dogging it a bit on D this season, but those teams have outstanding defensive players at almost every position, the Wolves have not. I like Rubio and Brewer and they hustle, but they gamble too much instead of playing solid defense and it hurt the Wolves in the 4th against the Knicks (Hardaway dunk, Felton floater, Hardaway open corner three). Petersen pointed all of them out during the broadcast…
    I agree that the Wolves gave up too many points against the Knicks, but it’s not like this team has been a trainwreck on defense this season, I rather think they have overachieved on defense. The only reason they give up so many points is because they are third in Pace this season (blame Love’s outlet passes for that).

    I am tired of the D-Will talk. He had his chances just like Rubio, Johnson, Beasley and Darko. Petersen pointed out, that he didn’t play hard in practice. He couldn’t hit a three. Whenever he touched the ball, he stalled the offense and in his third year with the same defensive system, he still didn’t know the correct defensive rotations. He was somewhat athletic, so what. I can still remember that he couldn’t finish at the rim, couldn’t finish through contact and when he got the call, he would miss at least 1 freethrow. The only thing he did really well was rebounding, but with Pek, Love and DC, that really isn’t a big need for the Wolves.
    I wish him well and hope he can turn into a rotation player and have a long NBA career. However what he showed everybody this season hasn’t impressed anyone, which is why no one would give up a good/young asset for him. Also, 14 days after acquiring Williams, the Kings traded for Rudy Gay. You think they did that because they want D-Will to be their future small forward?

    Also, this Wolves team isn’t broken, that is ridiculous. They have underachieved this season and won’t make the playoffs (which of course was the goal). Memphis was in the Conference Finals last season and they could easily miss the playoffs this season. Only because they missed their best player for 20 games or so. The West is tough, life ain’t fair.
    If the Wolves could’ve just been average from three instead of as horrifically bad as they have been, the Wolves wouldn’t have lost as many close games and they would’ve made the playoffs (that’s not a silver lining, that’s my own (probably dumb :P) opinion).

    One thing I really shudder at, is the FIBA World Cup being in Spain this offseason. Rubio will again waste more time playing basketball overseas instead of staying in the gym and working on his game. In general I am all for young players getting experience and playing in these tourneys, but Rubio came over in the lockout, then had to rehab from his ACL-injury and last offseason he was in Slovenia for the Eurobasket. If he can’t take time off to improve his individual game at some point, he will never improve…

    Sorry if my post was too long :(
    God, that loss against the Knicks was bad, jesus…

  12. Before today, I was the biggest twolves fan in the history of the Earth. Watching Gerald Green parley his first real opportunity into superstar status is the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” F-the wolves. They have done nothing but prove incompetent with their drafts, trades, personnel moves, etc.

  13. I hear you dattebayo, I know they aren’t bad but the point I was making is they should be a great defensive team. I guess I was just frustrated with the games I have watched this year and the overall position of the team. They beat up on bad teams and have suffered some heart breakers. Rough season that started with so much promise :(

  14. Just to follow up on Williams: in 56 starts, he averaged 14 and 4 in 28 mpg last season. He also contributed nothing else (steals, blocks, assists) and was a bit better than Love on D, but not much. Compare that to what Love is doing in 35 mpg. When Love was legitimately getting screwed over by the coaches (Wittman and Rambis), where were these complaints? Even compare it to Muhammad and Dieng; I don’t think they deserved to play earlier in the season, but there’s a decent chance that both of them end up being better than Williams. The mistake was drafting him in the first place. I apologize for the name calling.

    As for Green, he was out of the league for 2 years, played well on a bad team with the Nets, played awfully for the Pacers last year (who were counting on him off the bench and ended up taking him out of the rotation), and had to have a 1st round pick included just for the Suns to take him. He’s doing this 6 years after leaving the Wolves. It took 8 years for him to figure it out. The Wolves’ problem is picking the players in the first place. There’s a reason guys like Foye, McCants, Brewer, Flynn, Johnson, and Williams have struggled, and it’s not because they weren’t developed properly. It’s because they were drafted too high and what made them good in college didn’t transfer well to the NBA.

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