Blazers 106, Timberwolves 101: The normal thing to do


If this were a normal game recap, I’d talk about the final minute, about Andrew Wiggins’ basket interference with 54 seconds to go being reviewed and upheld, the “inadvertent whistle” call with 29 seconds to go that nearly bailed Portland out of a shot clock violation, the jump ball foul called on Karl-Anthony Towns with 12 ticks left, and the non-call on Kevin Martin’s three point attempt that led to an Allen Crabbe layup and the Wolves’ fate being sealed.

I’d talk about how Minnesota was outscored 85 to 67 over the final three quarters of the game, and that despite the questionable officiating at the end, they probably didn’t deserve to win anyway. I’d lament what happens when Ricky heads to the bench, despite the fact that the gulf between the team’s plus/minus under Ricky (plus-3) and plus/minus under LaVine (minus-8) wasn’t as vast as it may have seemed. Perhaps I would even nitpick at Sam Mitchell’s decision to leave the starters out a bit too long as the final period began, even though his rotations have been pretty solid ever since the first quarter of the Laker game.

Then I would shift gears and wax poetic about the Blazers’ Damian Lillard, who is simultaneously a symphony weaving through traffic on drives and a lion stalking his prey one-on-one out on the perimeter. I’d spend a brief moment sort of wishing the Wolves had drafted C.J. McCollum a couple of years ago, because he looks like he’s really becoming a player, before ultimately deciding that having Shabazz and Gorgui instead is preferable. I’d make a joke about not being able to tell Meyers Leonard and Mason Plumlee apart. I’d argue that the real story of the game was second chance points (Blazers 24, Wolves 6), and that despite the free throw disparity being in Minnesota’s extreme favor (Wolves 39 attempts, Blazers 20), they never really got in a rhythm once the first quarter horn sounded, going one seven minute stretch without a field goal.

I’d mention Martin and Dieng’s nice nights off the bench, the steep learning curve Nemanja Bjelica is facing at the moment (though he’s fighting through it, and the coaching staff is sticking with him, which is encouraging), and the rough way LaVine ended the opening frame (letting Dame pick his pocket, then running an awful possession which resulted in a miss). I’d pre-emptively dismiss worries about Wiggins’ 5-for-17 night, cheer Ricky’s near triple-double, and marvel, again, at both Karl-Anthony Towns’ flashes of brilliance (we saw some three-goggles and four blocked shots out of him) and KG’s fire for mentoring him.

On a normal night, I’d do all that, and by God, I’d do it well.

But it wasn’t a normal night.

Nothing about this situation is “normal.” It sucks, and it’s going to continue to suck for all of the guys who knew him so well. When a tragedy happens, people wonder during the quiet moments afterward what they are supposed to do. What the “normal” course of action should be. The Wolves’ coaches and players have had over a week to grieve, and funerals (Flip’s was held on Saturday) are supposed to help bring closure, but since basketball is what brought all of those guys together in the first place, and was the glue that bound so many of their relationships, I imagine it was hard to treat Monday’s game like any other regular season contest. Wins on the road against the Lakers and Nuggets were nice, but they were never going to make coming back to Target Center any easier, and finding a way to beat the Blazers wasn’t really going to help, either. Yeah, the final minute was rough. But I found myself unable to muster much more than “Ah, damn, that’s unfortunate.” Monday night was about so much more than a win or a loss.

Grief doesn’t have a start date, or an expiration date. It’s cyclical. Everything these players and coaches and fans have felt over the past week will come up again, and again, and again. But maybe the shock will wear off, and the pain’s intensity will wane. But for more than 20 minutes on Monday night, the packed house stood, silently, and watched the beautiful tributes the Wolves had put together, the heartfelt stories from people around the league who respected and admired their fallen leader.

The final image of the tribute was one of Flip, and it lingered on the screen as the near-sellout rose to a loud ovation. A moment later, the lights were turned on and a basketball game began.

Like it was the normal thing to do.

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7 Responsesso far.

  1. finchy74 says:

    Have to be made of stone to have clear vision after those videos.

    I suspect there were plenty at TC last night that were hoping for a fairy tail ending to last night’s game. But as you point out, William, there’s no clear direction on what the team (and the individuals it is comprised of) is supposed to do with a tragedy like this. Win the game for Flip? Sure. But this team will want to go out and win every game for Flip this year.

    When you lose someone important to a family or an organization, or in this case something that resembles both, it’s called a “loss” for a reason. You’re less than what you were before.

    Hopefully by some point in the season, that sense of loss turns into a sense of resolve for these young players. Not for the sake of owner or for the sake of the fans, but because that’s what Flip would have wanted.

  2. Shelton Burkart says:

    Flip was my hero growing up, he was everything I ever wanted to be. He and KG were why I watched basketball, and why I am now in my senior year of college, about to earn a degree in coaching and another in sport management. Flip’s passing crushed me, and I don’t think basketball will ever be the same. That said, I am happy I got to experience his coaching, his management, and his personality. It has made my perception of sport, and life, completely different.

    • finchy74 says:

      It’s startling sometimes about how certain people we’ve never met can become so important to us. The man was a legitimate role model and basketball fans of this state have so many great memories because of him.

      As much as I liked and admired Flip, I’m still a bit surprised at how much his death has affected me. I’ve only met him once (he was extremely friendly and gracious) but I feel like I’ve lost a friend. I can only imagine how much you’re affected given that Flip inspired you to be on your current professional path.

  3. gjk says:

    /bites tongue about several game things

    I can’t imagine playing a game after basically seeing a eulogy for your coach. It didn’t help that Al-Farouq Aminu made the first jump shots of his career last night.

  4. pyrrol says:

    The old adage ‘the refs didn’t lose the game for you, you lost it for yourself’ is generally true. That being said, fans should never be subjected to officiating like we saw in this game. This is a professional league.

    I think this loss stung the fans because it was sort of Flip’s night with the long tribute, and emotions were running high. It would be OK for us to go out and fight hard and lose a clear cut, fair and square game. But to lose with so much tinkering from the Refs made people ‘not happy’ and a little survey of the Wolves blogosphere makes that clear. It wasn’t just the bizarre end sequence of calls (that jump ball call could set a bad precedent–hold your opponent down if you think you can’t win a jump and takes your chances!) but also the ticky tacky stuff early that took Towns off the court too much. They weren’t calls other guys were getting whistled for, and it was clear early that Plumee and Leonard couldn’t handle Towns. It was bad all night and it made the game less competitive.

    Hoping we can find a few minutes for Miller. I’m not even saying play LaVine less (which I wouldn’t mind…) but you could slide him over to the 2 some of his time and get Miller some minutes.

    One thing that Flip would be proud of how hard the guys have played in their first three games. Keep it up! Even in an annoying loss, we’re much more fun to watch this season.

  5. karl says:

    Where’s Tyus Jones at? He’s not even listed in box scores.

    • gjk says:

      They don’t list the inactive players in the box scores. He’s a healthy scratch, which basically means he’s the least-essential player on the team at this point due to his position and inability to contribute.

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