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.