Timberwolves 120, Warriors 130: Edit the Sad Parts

William Bohl —  April 15, 2014 — 8 Comments

Hand-in-face-of-Stephen-Curry

The season is nearly over, and heaven help me, I’ve given into the temptation to daydream. For the third straight season, realistic hopes for the playoffs have been dashed, leaving some (many?) bitter and disappointed about what might have been. We all know about the team’s struggles in the clutch (and superclutch), injury bugs biting Big Pek and K-Mart during the stretch run, the woes of the bench unit, accusations that Rick Adelman is sleepwalking through his final season, and on, and on, and on.

During the first quarter of Monday night’s loss to the Warriors, all I could think about is how much fun a 7-game series between the Wolves and Warriors would be. Their first meeting this season, a 106-93 Warriors victory at the Target Center, went according to Golden State’s script, but in the two meetings since, including last night, Minnesota dictated the pace.¬†Golden State is a good defensive team, possessing the 3rd-best Defensive Rating (99.9) in the NBA, but¬†Minnesota’s managed to crack 120 points (in regulation) in each of their past two matchups, forcing a team that likes to grind on the defensive end into a run-and-gun outfit that abandons those principles in favor of getting up-and-down the floor quickly.

And while Golden State is one of the best defensive teams in the league, Kevin Love has absolutely torched them this season. In the three meetings, Love averaged 30.3 points, 14.6 rebounds and 7.6 assists on 41.7% shooting and 38.9% from outside. Stephen Curry has countered with 30 point, 15 assist efforts in each of the past two showdowns, sinking a ridiculous 13-of-23 three-point attempts in the process.

The opening frame was their show, Love versus Curry, a back-and-forth assault on the senses. Love’s three-pointers slung forth from his 6’10 frame on a precise trajectory toward the rim, a trebuchet of sorts, crouched beyond your scope of comprehension, lying in wait to inflict its damage from remote locations of the battlefield. His first three was by design, the result of a nice feed from Corey Brewer; his second and third three pointers came when he sauntered up the floor, trailing the play, as he often does. The defense relaxed, and he made them pay. Love had 9 points in the first 1:21 of the game, and 11 points, 3 boards and 3 assists in the game’s first 3:08, helping the Wolves build an 18-4 lead.

Stephen Curry also hit four threes in the first quarter, deploying his own method of long-range destruction, helping Golden State keep pace with Minnesota. Everyone know it was coming, but no one could stop it. There’s nothing surprising about Curry getting a look, or draining a deep shot; when he crosses half-court, he’s in scoring range. Granted, the Wolves’ perimeter defense is dreadful, allowing open looks from beyond the arc on a nightly basis, but no defense in the league can stop Curry coming off of screens and knocking down threes. The speed and accuracy of his release is breathtaking. The ball arcs, landing softly, like Curry soared along with it and gently dropped it in on the rim or through the net.

At the end of the first quarter, the show was pretty much over. Love and Curry combined for 37 points on 11-of-17 shooting in that quarter; they “slumped” to a combined 35 points on 10-of-28 shooting throughout the rest of the game.

Sure, there was more to it than just Love and Curry. David Lee had 25 points on 12-of-14 shooting and generally dominated his defensive matchup, no matter who was in front of him, be it Love, Dieng, Cunningham or Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Ricky Rubio struggled, in part due to poor decision-making, and in part because of the manner in which the Warriors defended him. Jermaine O’Neal, Marreese Speights and Draymond Green each set hard screens, and while two of them resulted in whistles, the message was clear: if Rubio wanted to fight through picks, he’d have to absorb some punishment along the way. Offensively, he often ran himself into no-man’s land, sprinting under the hoop with nowhere to go with the ball; Rubio alone was responsible for 7 turnovers.

In all, the Wolves turned it over 21 times, leading to 32 Warrior points. Minnesota also grabbed just 10 offensive rebounds, earning 5 second chance points, compared to 19 and 18 (respectively) for Golden State. The Barea-led Timberwolf bench pushed the lead to 19 early in the second quarter before poor defensive effort and a lack of offensive execution brought the Warriors back into it. No one in a blue shirt had any answer for Draymond Green, who put up 20 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists on 7-of-9 shooting. Green, alone, tallied more points, boards and free throw attempts than the entire Wolves’ bench (15, 11, and 0).

Minnesota entered the final frame down 7; Love buried a three to cut the Golden State lead to 119-116 with 2:35 to go in the game. After that, though, Curry made big shots, and Love didn’t. Up 5, Curry drove past Corey Brewer for an easy two, and following an ugly Love three-point miss, Curry gave the Warriors a 10-point lead on a step-back triple with 1:25 to play. It was over. Dell’s kid beat Stan’s kid in an entertaining duel between the children of former NBA players.

Boiling it down to Curry v. Love is too simplistic, of course. Curry’s supporting cast is far superior to Love’s; absent Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut, the Warriors still won fairly handily. Golden State’s a much better team, with a clear defensive identity. For all the fuss, through 81 games, I still don’t know what Minnesota’s identity is supposed to be. Their crunch time struggles are absolutely astounding. So while it’s fun to speculate about these Wolves as a playoff team, I know it wouldn’t go well. So maybe it’s better this way.

That said, it feels wrong, on a cosmic level, that Love’s never been to the postseason. He’s been spectacular this year; it’s been a treat to cover him, and for all their collective “failings”, it’s been a ton of fun to cover this team. So despite the fact that a .500 finish (assuming a victory over Utah on Wednesday) appears to be in the cards, I’ll remember more good than bad. It definitely wasn’t an even split in that department.

Edit the sad parts.

William Bohl

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8 responses to Timberwolves 120, Warriors 130: Edit the Sad Parts

  1. I’ll take 40 or 41 wins this season for sure. 41 sounds better due to the record not being a losing one for the season. I used to absolutely hate that record after KG led the Wolves to the playoffs year after year as a low seed and never seemed to get better…but after enduring years of horrible to at-best mediocre basketball after KG left, 41 sounds fantastic. Now if next year results in the same number of wins I will definitely not be okay with that. LRMAM should gel better with more real practice time and Dieng’s development should help with Pek’s injuries. I’m more excited for next season than I was at this time last year for this season.

  2. If they win tonight, they will finish with a win % that’s the same as or better than 2 of their playoff seasons. On the list of disappointing seasons, this one falls behind the 04-05 season (WCF to out of the playoffs), ’99 lockout season (Marbury trade leads to barely holding on to a playoff spot), 01-02 (30-10 start, Brandon suffers career-ending injury, swept out of the playoffs), and the 2012 season.

    Also, they should never wear those black sleeved jerseys again and burn them.

  3. If this game was any indicator, I wouldn’t want to watch a seven game series. Before we talk about the Wolves hanging in note that Golden State was missing both Andre Igoudala and Andrew Bogut. These guys are defense stalwarts and decent scorers. Golden State is a legitimate playoff team, and while we can praise this team for finishing close to .500, we shouldn’t forget that we had much higher hopes.

    This loss along with the “super clutch” post say a lot about the way this team loses. The points made about Kevin Martin ring very true, teams take away Love in the fourth quarter and watch the Wolves fold. It is a predictable as the inevitable loss of a lead when the bench crew enters the game. It makes it difficult to watch close games knowing that there is a high probability you will see a series of turnovers or poor shots in the last four minutes.

    The Wolves continue the great tradition of “gut punch” sports in Minnesota. See the page below.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=tortured/minneapolis

  4. Ah, the Minnesota “sports fan.” An interesting type of person, the MN “sports fan” enjoys 1) worrying about worst-case scenarios at the expense of enjoying success; 2) complaining, in all its forms, even in the midst of success; 3) Jumping on the bandwagon of a good team, not recognizing its flaws, then connecting any loss to the “tortured MN sports fan” narrative; 4) knowing exactly which players should be in the lineup; 5) mistaking hustle for productivity and emotion for leadership; 6) knowing just enough about MN teams to fit in socially (i.e. complain about a team with friends or family) but not enough to really understand in order to avoid being viewed as a “nerd”; and 7) believing anything read on or heard from a network pregame show or web site, as long as it comes in a ready-formed opinion they can just repeat. I’m sure I missed some, but notably missing on there are 1) keeping sports in their proper perspective and trying to have fun with it, win or lose; 2) understanding that nothing their team does is under their control, unless they’re a fan at the game and can make enough noise to benefit their team in some way; or 3) looking past their observational biases to better understand how and why certain things happen.

    For example, last Friday’s game. Instead of a low-energy small crowd or a nervous, tense crowd that was worried about whether they’d win or lose (the most common ones by far this season), a huge group came out in a known non-playoff season during a game when the Wolves were missing 3 of their 4 best players against a team that had crushed them 3 times already and just got into the game and all of the improbable, small-sample-size things that can happen in one game. If someone truly likes sports, why would their reaction be “why wasn’t Dieng playing earlier in the season” or “they should trade Pek” or “Brewer was just lucky” instead of just “wow, that was fun” or “I can’t believe I just saw Corey Brewer score 51 points; good for him”?

  5. Lots of good points, gkj. This season has been a blast. Despite this team’s lack of identity and late game futility, I feel much better about this team’s future with Flip in control. The pieces he assembled didn’t get us over the hump, but you have to believe this team – like the Suns – is on the precipice of greater things. Be interesting to see how he remakes the line-up over the Summer.

  6. It’s been a good season. Yes, I know we didn’t make the playoffs and I know that we have lost a lot of games by a few points only. Still, it’s been a good season. It’s been fun to watch the games. We’ve improved a lot this year. 40 wins! There were several years when we were dreaming about that.We did keep our draft pick so there is still something to look forward to this summer.

    There will certainly be changes this post season so it will be interesting to see what will happen. There will be as many opinions as there are fans.

  7. I appreciate being lumped into the “Minnesota Sports Fan with Limited Knowledge” group. I am not making suggestions about whether Deng should have played earlier in the season, or whether we should have made this trade or that trade. You’d be correct to assume that I haven’t watched every game, I already pay League Pass to watch the Vikings, which should be all a sports fan should have to suffer through. But I do record the T-Wolves games that are televised in DC and frequently watch them with my kids, who are both wild about hoops. For the record, we all play and I do a little coaching.

    The above said I am not an optimist about anything. I’m really sorry if that brings you down. I would rather expect a worst case scenario and be pleasantly surprised, than Pollyanna my way through life and be surprised by a mixture of bad luck/incompetence. I am not going to judge you as harshly as you seem to judge me. I have been a T-Wolves fan since the beginning, when they took Pooh over Timmy Hardaway. When I want to make my hoops buddies laugh I list T-Wolves draft highlights (they usually lose it when I mention Felton Spenser, the real hard cases can hold out until I get to Cherokee Parks) so I am really sorry if I sound jaded.

    I guess I am making noise, I suppose things could be worse, I could be a Knick fan. I can hope that Flip can turn things around, but he has to deal with the hand Kahn left him with.

    Also I wanted this team to be fun to watch, and often they were. As for the season being a blast, I don’t know. If you don’t mind watch the inevitable fourth quarter fade, or the bench blowing a lead I guess it was fun. These aren’t eight year old girls (I coach them and one of them is my daughter) where we can say “Boy that was fun!”, and “They sure are competitive.”, this is a team that expected to make the playoffs. How quickly we have forgotten that. This is also a team that let Swaggy P light them up.

    The comparison to the Suns is telling. The Suns exceeded expectations in a big way. They were supposed to be as bad as any team in the West and almost made the playoffs. They had a point guard that improved in every phase of the game. They don’t have an all star, except for the unexpected Dragic. The Wolves, on the other hand, have the best power forward in the league putting up career numbers, a oft injured but very good center, Kevin Martin, who was supposed to space the floor, Corey Brewer, who was supposed to shore up the defense and Ricky Rubio who when he’s aggressive can be very good. The Wolves instead have fallen short of expectations which we suddenly decided were not to make the playoffs, but instead are to finish .500.

    The Suns play with huge effort. I wouldn’t say that the Wolves played the same way. There were many games when Love left everything on the court, but the defensive focus for the starters and second unit frequently wasn’t there. I don’t think it makes any Wolves fan particularly happy to mention the Suns. I didn’t watch too many post came press conferences, but my guess is that Hornechek’s post games praised his teams effort, while Adelmann frequently looked sad and frequently admitted he didn’t know how to get these guys to win.

    In its history this team has had two of the best bigs to play the game, Garnet and Love, and will, I’m afraid, have done nothing more than turn them into superstars for the rest of the league to use. I’m sorry but I have spent my adult life being judged by results against expectations, not by “Well you fell short, but not by much.” We seem to have forgotten that last year’s team was supposed to sniff the playoffs before everything hit the fan. This year’s team was supposed to be better. Now all of sudden expectations have been lowered to “It’ll be great to be close to .500!”, wow. I wish my performance appraisals went that way.

    As for “We’ve improved a lot!” Last years team was missing on average about two heavy rotation starters per game. That isn’t true this year. So I don’t know how we could not have improved. It will be sad to see Adelmann leave on such a dismal and disappointing note. But the only significant result of this season will be a middling pick and the loss of Kevin Love, who will go somewhere else and light the Wolves up in future seasons. By the way, there isn’t single sports talking head who thinks that Love is sticking around, so you can call me whatever you want, my glasses are prescription, but not rose colored.

  8. NBW, I understand your frustration and can see why you feel that everything bad that can happen to this team, will happen to this team. However, there is potential and if the Wolves play their cards right they can retain Love. If you look at it only in a negative perspective then why look at all? It would only bring me pain if I never had hope. I’m not even 20 yet so I have not been a fan as long as you have, but I have been a fan throughout this entire playoff drought. I could not have done this without hope. Does it hurt me sometimes to have my hopes thrown out the window? Of course it does. That does not mean we should stop hoping. If the fans don’t have hope, why should the players?

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