Clippers 89, Timberwolves 76: There’s a whistle solo

Watching the parade of personal and technical fouls that characterized Monday night’s Wolves-Clips matchup got me thinking about one of my favorite Elliott Smith covers, “Jealous Guy.” At the beginning, Smith asks the crowd, in his uniquely timid way, if there are any whistlers in the crowd. “This is your big chance,” he says, “there’s a whistle solo.” Which is basically what a Clippers game is: a chance for referees to strut their stuff as whistle soloists, because hot damn, the games take forever and their high-pitched “tweeeeet” sounds are constantly in the background.

At risk of being called a jealous guy (see what I did there?), I find L.A.’s strategy of working the officials to be very annoying. It starts at the top, with Doc Rivers, who often protests mundane, obvious calls so vehemently that it’s hard to take him seriously even when he does have a case. Despite his routine protests, he still has a tremendous amount of slack with officials. On the court, Chris Paul is the Clippers’ ringleader, bullying officials by chirping at them after or during damn near every play. As a team, L.A. has been assessed 75 technical fouls this season, more than double the league average of 37. If you combine the technical foul totals of just their regular starting five (Paul, Redick, Barnes, Griffin, Jordan), they outpace the number of technicals 18 teams have been hit with.

In some ways, picking up an early technical helps some players earn leeway to protest calls, because it seems as if officials are hesitant to pull the trigger on kicking them out of the game (which is what a second ‘T’ would entail). Very few players in the league work the officials quite like Chris Paul does, yet he’s been ejected from just one regular season game in his entire career. I don’t know what the solution is, because the system seems to work alright for most players and coaches, but the Clippers are the outlier that mocks the entire process.

Anyway, between all the whistles (42 personal fouls and three total technicals) a basketball game happened, one that the Clippers won handily. Kevin Garnett sat out the game to rest, leaving Nikola Pekovic, Adreian Payne, Gorgui Dieng and newcomer Justin Hamilton to try to handle DeAndre Jordan. It didn’t go so well – the Clippers’ big man finished with 20 points on 10-of-11 shooting and collected 17 rebounds. Jordan threw in eight dunks, many of them on the same pick and roll, over and over and over again, but the Wolves never really found a way to stop it.

Adreian Payne had a close-up view for several of Jordan’s emphatic throwdowns. It was a very interesting night for the Wolves’ rookie power forward. He led the team with 16 points and 15 rebounds, but looked lost or confused on the defensive end several times. Payne had a few spectacular dunks of his own, showing off his length and athleticism nicely, and even swatted away a DeAndre Jordan shot attempt, but often failed to communicate effectively in pick-and-roll defense and committed three turnovers.

The Wolves’ other rookies had rough nights, with far fewer bright spots than Payne. Andrew Wiggins struggled to contain J.J. Redick (26 points on 10-of-19 shooting) and scored just 11 points on 5-of-16 shooting in one of his worst performances since December. Zach LaVine was very bad in his 13:56 on the floor, shooting 1-of-5 from the field and committing four turnovers. Early in the fourth quarter, he called for a pick and roll in transition, and just as Payne arrived to set the screen, he decided to try to split both Clipper defenders as well as his teammate, resulting in a collision and the ball heading the opposite direction on a fastbreak. While he’s been somewhat better as of late, he still has a long, long way to go as a point guard. A looooooong way.

As a team, the Wolves made just 8-of-36 midrange shots (22%). Although Ricky Rubio finished with 12 assists, his jumper wasn’t there last night (1-for-8 from the field). The Clippers did an excellent job denying Kevin Martin the ball, and when he did get his hands on it, he made just 2-of-6 shots. Collectively, Minnesota shot just 37% from the floor and attempted 8 three pointers. Thus, their cumulative total of 76 points makes a lot of sense. It was about as bad an offensive performance as they’ve put together this season.

Defensively, the Clippers assisted 30 of their 35 field goals… so it wasn’t a great night for the Wolves defense, either, even though they held L.A. to just 89 points. Chris Paul got wherever he wanted with the ball and was able to facilitate when arrived there, dishing out 15 assists. Austin Rivers torched Minnesota’s second unit, scoring 13 points and handing out 6 assists in 21 minutes.

It was a lackluster start to Minnesota’s four game road trip. Kevin Garnett ought to be available Wednesday night in Phoenix, so that should help with the defensive communication. Losing isn’t the worst thing in the world, especially when ping pong balls are at stake, but the Wolves want to at least be competitive the rest of the way. Last night, they weren’t. It was more or less a forgettable night in Los Angeles.

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