(Note: I really wanted to put up a video for “The Future” by Restorations, but couldn’t find one. It’s on Spotify if you want to hear it.)
Here are two things that aggravate me: moral victories and people who complain about them. Lucky for us, then, that tonight’s close loss to the Chicago Bulls was not a moral victory. It was a loss. But when I said it was a good loss, several people got at me to say they were tired of moral victories as Timberwolves fans. So here’s what we need to do: stop talking about moral victories and also stop being sick of them.
The Bulls were without Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson, but they also went to the playoffs as a #3 seed without Rose last year and in the offseason they added Pau Gasol, a former All-Star and NBA champion who was nevertheless in the Lakers’ doghouse the last couple years. Furthermore, the Wolves lost Thad Young — who’s arguably been the Wolves’ best overall player in the first two games of the year — in the third quarter to a neck strain after he collided with Jimmy Butler’s elbow going for a loose ball. It could also very well be a concussion, given how he fell limply to the floor.
But before that, the Wolves played the Bulls pretty evenly in the first quarter, then fell way behind in the second. Saunders pointed out that they had eight assists in that first quarter and three in the second when both players and the ball stopped moving on offense for the Wolves.
But in the third, with Young out, Anthony Bennett went off, which was great to see. In 7:45 of floor time, he was 3-3 for six points to go along with two rebounds and a steal, on his way to 12 points, five rebounds, two steals, an assist and a block in just about twenty minutes on the floor. For a guy who was written off more than once last year, that’s pretty damn good.
His fellow Canadian Andrew Wiggins had a rough shooting night (3-10 for eight points) but he did manage to contribute six rebounds, two steals and two blocks. But of course, what’s going to be remembered about Wiggins in this game was how he bit on a pump fake by Jimmy Butler and fouled him, sending Butler to the line with a chance to win the game with .2 seconds left. Butler hit his shots and the game ended 106-105. (For what it’s worth, Butler pretty clearly traveled on the play, but the game overall wasn’t particularly well-officiated. You have to play the game you’re given, not the one you want.)
Real quick, here’s all the stuff about that: It was a mistake, and he made it in the 73rd minute of his NBA career. Butler has played 5,084 minutes — and that’s just this season (cue rimshot). But seriously: if you think it was a coincidence that the Bulls sent Butler against the most junior player on the show hoping for exactly the result he got, you’re not paying attention. It’s natural for a young player who prides himself on defense as much as Wiggins seems to could get baited into overplaying his man in the closing moments of a tight game and the Bulls used that against him. It might not be the last time Wiggins commits a bad foul, but he undoubtedly learned a good lesson. As Corey Brewer told him in the locker room after the game, he has 79 more chances this season. He’ll be all right.
It’d be easy to look at this close loss and think it somehow had something to do with the Wolves’ close losses last year, but that’s completely asinine. The Wolves tonight went down swinging and swinging hard. In some cases literally, as when Kevin Martin hit a huge 3-pointer to put the Wolves up 105-104 after a raucous Wolves possession that featured three offensive rebounds and proceeded to do the Sam Cassell-trademark big balls dance. You know the one. Both Bennett and Wiggins made big shots down the stretch to keep the Wolves in the game.
A win would have been good because, as Saunders said in the press conference, “you’d like to see positive reinforcement in how we played.” But Bennett got a great taste of success, and it seemed to suit him. Wiggins was shaky to begin, found his groove, then made a rookie mistake at the end. Rubio got to play late in the fourth (until he fouled out) and had 17 assists, matching his career high. When the team got deep into the bench after Young went down, Robbie Hummel provided quality minutes as a stretch four. The darkest spot was probably Chase Budinger, who was pressed into service after not seeing the court against the Pistons and looked rusty and unready.
So back to the “moral victory” thing. I don’t like it because it seems to almost imply that the it’s losing in a way that’s morally superior, which is kind of stupid in basketball because is there really morality at play here? There’s no point in claiming a moral victory when we’re talking about basketball and no one should do it.
But to be unable to differentiate between a game that got thrown away and one that was an opportunity for growth? That just shows you’re not paying attention. If all you want are wins and you’re a Wolves fan, I’m sorry: you’re following the wrong team. The Wolves are not only a young squad, but a new squad with a mix of new and old veterans and a new coach. Kevin Martin looks more engaged, Mo Williams (in spite of some Barea-esque “hero ball” moments down the stretch) looks like a vet who very much wants to work with the young players, and everyone is talking to each other almost all the time, with Pekovic giving little tips to Wiggins during timeouts and Williams talking animatedly to the lineup on the floor during a timeout at the start of the third.
This team is going to lose more games than it wins this season — that’s all but certain. You should enjoy the wins when they come, but if you can ONLY enjoy the wins and not see the learning opportunities and growth that comes from losses, you might want to just check back in some time next season.