Nuggets 111, Timberwolves 108: Don’t Leave the Keys in an Unlocked Car


I begin with a story. Bear with me, it has a point:

A few months ago, I had my car parked outside, which is unusual, because I have a two car garage (my wife was painting some furniture in one of the stalls, if I remember correctly). I also had a spare set of keys inside the car, which is unusual, but I had locked myself out of my vehicle a few days before, and when a friend picked up my spare set and brought them to me, I just tossed them on the dash and forgot about them. I also had the door unlocked, because a co-worker was swinging by my house early the next morning to pick up some parts he needed, which is also unusual.

You can probably guess where this is headed – around midnight, I heard an engine rev, and thought, “Oh, shit.” I looked out the window and saw my car backing away from the house. It smoked the garbage cans at the end of the driveway, eased into drive, and slowly started down the street. After a few moments of panic, I called 9-1-1, and flipped the exterior lights on. The guy stopped the car for some reason, got out, and began stumbling towards my house. I lost my mind – I sprinted to all the doors to make sure they were locked, grabbed a baseball bat, and peered out the front windows, ready to defend myself if I had to.

But the guy was gone.

From the window, I could see the car was about 50 yards down the street, but it wasn’t moving, and it didn’t look like anyone was inside. I waited for the police to arrive while sitting on the front steps, my heart racing, marvelling at the close call. After telling them my story, offering my description of the guy (tall, thin, white, blonde hair, blue sweatshirt and jeans), watching K-9 units scour my neighbors’ backyards and the empty lots across the street, chuckling at the sight of a half-empty wine bottle in the cup holder of my car (which explained the stumbling – the perpetrator was drunk), picking up the garbage cans that had been knocked over, and finally being allowed to bring the vehicle back to my driveway – one of the police officers handed me his card and told me they would follow up if they got any leads.

“And hey,” he said before hopping in his squad car and driving away. “Don’t leave your keys in the car anymore.”

I immediately felt my face turn red. I probably didn’t need to hear that, but I understood why he said it, because, hell, I LEFT MY KEYS IN AN UNLOCKED CAR THAT WAS PARKED IN THE DRIVEWAY. I didn’t exactly bring the attempted theft upon myself, and he wasn’t saying that I “deserved” it, but my poor judgment made such a thing possible. It was an error of omission rather than commision, but it was an error all the same.

Sort of like allowing the opponent who has been kicking your ass all night (Danilo Gallinari) to be guarded by Kevin Martin (nooooooooot a defensive stopper) one-on-one during the biggest possession of the game.

Except, maybe Sam’s error was a little bit worse. Remember the play before Gallinari’s dagger? Denver inbounded and immediately forced the switch so Martin would have to cover Gallo. Martin panicked and grabbed a hold of him, resulting in a foul. But instead of subbing Martin out at that point, even though it was clear what Denver’s game plan was, Sam let it ride. Denver inbounded again, got the switch, and the 6’10 deadeye shooter buried a clutch jumper right over the hapless Martin.

My story makes me look kind of bad, but imagine a neighbor had come by earlier that afternoon and said, “Hey, pal, Whitey the Notorious Blonde Alcoholic Car Thief Has been spotted in the neighborhood, you may want to make sure your outdoor vehicles are secure!” If that was the case, I’d look even worse, right?

I’ve been critical of Sam Mitchell for a bunch of different things, but most people who cover and write about the team seem to think he’s doing a fine job given the circumstances. I do, too. I think he and KG are laying the groundwork of some important defensive principles, and he’s empowering his young guys to shoulder the load. The Wolves went to KAT and Wiggins a ton down the stretch and in overtime, with mixed results, but I’ll take that as a positive development. That’s good for them.

But leaving Martin to square off against Gallinari one-on-one, especially after he’d just seen that was what Denver wanted to do, is an x’s and o’s gaffe that is going to stick out for awhile. I hate pretending to know more than the coach, and I’m perplexed by the people who took to Twitter after the game to lobby for Sam’s firing (seriously?), but one thing is for certain, and one criticism is totally fair: as the coach, you CANNOT let that possession happen the way it did, like you SHOULD NOT leave your keys in an unlocked car outside. Gallinari still had to make the shot, and Whitey the Notorious Blonde Alcoholic Car Thief still had to make the decision to steal my car – but both Sam Mitchell and I left ourselves open to being victims of our own negligence.


  • Kevin Martin had 22 points, which was a fine night, but his first two possessions of the overtime frame were dreadful. When the officials aren’t buying his blatant attempts to draw a whistle, it leads to some really ugly sequences.
  • I loved drawing up a play for KAT to get the three point attempt at the very end of the game. He entered the game 7-for-16 this season from beyond the arc, and since he’s nearly 7 feet tall, it’s difficult for defenders to really bother his shot too much.
  • Jameer Nelson kind of kicked Ricky Rubio’s butt during the second half. It was, um, a little troubling to me.
  • Ricky Rubio was a minus-7 in this one. Zach LaVine, on the other hand, was a plus-3.
  • 34 minutes for Tayshaun was surprising. He went scoreless, missing all five of his field goal attempts, but was still a +2 on the night.
  • Damjan Rudez coming in for six random minutes was unexpected, but welcome. He’s now hit 6 of the 12 threes he’s been asked to shoot. The reason I’m not worried about Rudez, despite his inconsistent playing time, is that the guy is ALWAYS ready to go..
  • Regarding Sam Mitchell: Listen, you may not like his style, you may think the Wolves need to move on in order to take the next step, you may think he’s even stunting the growth of some of the young players on the team. But please keep in mind that he was thrown into this situation, and that he, perhaps more than anyone outside of Flip’s immediate family) was/is affected by his death. He wasn’t expecting to be in this position, and he’s trying to find his way through it the best way he knows how. I’m not saying he’s immune from criticism, of course – please see the first 800ish words of this recap – but I think it’s important to be mindful of that context before you start, say, a petition to have him fired, or before you threaten to revoke your fandom if he is still the coach at the beginning of next season.

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15 Responsesso far.

  1. sportsbygreg says:

    Garbage. It has become apparent that I have to completely lower my expectations with this team and that Sam Mitchell is just not the guy moving forward. Plus team just has no heart and honestly may be the weakest and dumbest team in the league. Oh well, I just have to accept that we are just a sad lottery team AGAIN. #pitiful

  2. gjk says:

    Everything about Sam has been hashed over a bunch, but a notable stat so far: only 3 of their losses have been by double digits this season, and the worst was a 13-point loss to the Warriors. Last season at the 22-game mark (which included significant stretches with Pek, Martin, Mo, and Thad healthy), 12 of their 17 losses were by double figures, including 6 losses by more than 20. 2 seasons ago, with a team that was .500 after 22 games, they had 4 double-digit losses already. I question his effect in a lot of different areas, but how competitive a team is on a nightly basis has a lot to do with the coach; even veteran teams and good coaches will have an absolute clunker by the quarter point of the season.

    • gjk says:

      Also, it’s amazing how shoddy their pick and roll defense still is. Just watching Nelson’s and Gallinari’s made 3s, it’s appalling how many times they messed that up. Why is Wiggins going under the screen against Gallinari? As much as I like Rubio’s defense, he’s still not figured out how to effectively navigate a screen (though Jokic fouled him on one of the screens that opened up a Nelson 3).

      • William Bohl says:

        Sorry it took so long to get back to this – the Wolves’ general defensive principles, even last year under Flip, dictated to go under screens unless otherwise instructed. They’re rarely instructed otherwise. It leaves them open to big games from opposing point guards who are comfortable firing when they come off a pick with space. The advantage, supposedly, is that it mucks up the paint and makes driving to the hoop more difficult, but the Wolves aren’t very good at defending the restricted area, either. So it’s an odd choice.

  3. sportsbygreg says:

    And Sam talks about how he told the team at halftime about going under the pick and roll. Okay, but what about during the 3rd and 4th quarters? Why didn’t he tell them then? He obviously didnt. It’s that type of coaching that’s frustrating, along with playing washed up players heavy minutes at the expense of younger more talented players. The guy is living in the old days. I mean, he has done a decent job of getting them to move around with purpose and at least look like they want to play defense, but they kind of put me in the mind of a grown up playing against a little kid. You know how when the kid runs around with at the start and at certain segments of the game with a whole bunch of energy and is really trying but the adult grown up knows he can take over at any time and whenever he wants. That’s what it seems like teams feel they can do against the Wolves, like taking candy from a baby. And in Sam’s defense a lot of that is on the players, they have to man up and quit playing like they have ADD. I understand Sam has gone through a lot with Flip’s sudden passing and my prayers are with him. He seems like a real cool guy who it would be nice to have a beer with, BUT this stubborn and 1970’s way of thinking and coaching are mind boggling to say the least. Again, his propensity to play washed up players heavy minutes is going to cost him. Buzz only 16 minutes and Tayshun 34 min. Seriously bruh? Sam, this is not the Tayshun Prince of 2005 dude. That’s just one headscratcher among quite a few.

  4. pyrrol says:

    It’s Chinatown…

    This is the type of game that should make me lava angry, but it just made me slightly mad. On the surface that seems like a good thing, but I’m not so sure it is a good sign. There was a feeling of inevitability–a feeling that we wouldn’t win handily, then one that Denver would come back, then one that we would drop yet another game we shouldn’t have. It feels like a logical progression.

    To the Sam discussion, I’d say that he’s done well in that he’s emphasized defense and gotten us to compete in almost every game. Part of these good things are simply the better personnel he has to work with. But he deserves some credit. Also of note, in the last few games the offense has looked a little less stagnant. The other side of the coin is, however, that Sam is simply not a very good coach. In almost every game there’s obvious miscues that hurt our chances–something a lot of other teams don’t have to put up with. He’s gotten the team to compete in almost every game, yet he has a 9-13 record to show for it, an array of blown leads, and very few decisive victories. The Nuggets game was just what a fan of the Wolves comes to expect, and I guess that is a pretty sad expectation…

    I think Sam was put in a tough situation—we all were when Flip passed. That said, I’m sure Sam didn’t want it this way, but I’m sure he was gunning for another head coaching try someday. So it’s not like he’s put upon here—it’s a good opportunity for him and something he’s prepared for based on prior head coaching experience. I don’t feel bad for Sam, circumstantially other than to realize he lost a big person in his life. Sam is getting to the point where he’s coaching himself out of this opportunity. At season’s end, if the Wolves know what’s good for them, they won’t want anything to do with Mitchell. And other teams will want him to be an assistant or nothing. He’s not impressing his way into a career boost this season…

    I don’t really think Nelson kicked Rubio’s butt. Nelson is very capable and did have a good night and Mudiay looks not good. There is no way Rubio should have fouled out–what is the deal with this officiating? I don’t want to act like a martyr here, though. The officiating has been bad and strange league wide this season so far, and it is now getting tiresome. Another thing is the schedule. Everyone talks about how amazing the Warriors are, and they are incredible. But it seems almost politically incorrect to mention they’ve had a strangely easy schedule so far this season. They don’t even see the Spurs until January. Meanwhile, the Wolves have had an up and down schedule, sometimes a lot of games in a few days, sometimes large gaps, easy runs, tough runs, and we’ve already played out our games versus Atlanta and Orlando.

    Kind of funny—Sam seems overly fearful of foul trouble with his players and pulls too quick and too long when they get fouls. And then tonight his big nightmare finally happened–someone fouled out (and right before overtime!). And that person was point guard Ricky Rubio. Oh, NBA!

  5. Marshall Andersen DVM says:

    I really have no problem with losses during this development season, but I must ask: How does Kevin Martin contribute to the development of this team? seriously the guy takes the worst possible shots, sometimes he makes them other times not so much. He is inherently a selfish player and not a good defender(most of the time). We probably owe Martin x amount of wins over the last few years, but I keep thinking–any possession time that martin has with ball could be possession time players like shabazz, lavine, or one of our mentor veterans could have instead (there is probably a fallacy or two in that statement but bear with me). And so I go back to my initial question: How does Kevin Martin fit in our development apparatus? maybe as an instructional display of offensive prowess?

    • gjk says:

      He’s been an awkward fit, but he’s still their best volume 3 point shooter, and it’s not particularly close. He’s shooting 54.5% (6-11) on clutch 3s this season while LaVine is at 13.3% (2-15; Wiggins is 0-7 and Towns is at 28.6%), so even though he’s been in a slump, he’s been good when it matters. It’s nice to have that type of shooter to help finish the few close wins they have. He shouldn’t be taking any shots off the dribble, but it’s pretty clear some of those shots are coming with the shot clock winding down; also, he gets hurt the most by this really basic offense because his game looks much better when he can get shots cutting off the ball and spotting up. I hate watching him right now, and he’s seemingly the odd man out, but it probably looks worse than it actually is.

      • pyrrol says:

        I think Martin might be gone by season’s end, but yeah, he does have a role, I just think it is too big and not tailored to what we need and what we don’t. In this game he took some really bad shots at the end that hurt the team. I look at this as a Sam and Martin combo for blame, but it was odd that we went in that direction at the end. I also think too many minutes have been given to Martin in general, and hopefully we are shopping for ideas about who our starting 2 will be in the future. This question could get complex–Wiggins could be moved back to 2 at some point, LaVine could get moved to 2 someday when we have different back-ups etc. Part of why we play Martin so much is that he’s a three point threat, but he’s been taking a high number of bad non-three shots. I’d like to see Rudez get more minutes if we are concerned about threes (and we should be).

  6. sportsbygreg says:

    Every year is a development season. That’s the problem. At what point do you finally take the next step, should have been this season.

    • pyrrol says:

      I agree, but it’s not a black and white thing. We should try to nab that 8th seed still, and if that gets out of reach, try to win and develop an ability for the young guys to be ‘winners’ instead of breeding acceptance of losing as a culture. But we still have a lot of developing to do. So it’s grey–we’re not in a develop only mode like the Lakers are moving toward (finally), we can and should win games, but the guys are still very young and learning a lot and expectations should be modest.

      Just thinking about the playoffs etc, I wish there was more of a rivalry for the Wolves. The Bucks aren’t even in our conference. I hope someday the Wolves can move to the east and play similar towns like Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago etc. Considering the playoffs in the west lately, if you aren’t a pretty good team you’ve got nothing to dream of. The east looks a little better this year over all, but I think the NBA needs to try to be a bit more regional, and they need to find a way to make the conferences more even. It is crazy to consider just removing all conferences? Perhaps, but it matters so much which conference a team is in now, and geographically the Wolves seem like they are in the wrong one.

    • Marshall Andersen DVM says:

      No it should not have been this season lol when we brought back kg and hired miller and Prince it was obviously to teach our youngsters. Our guys are a bit too young to make the run if u know what i mean..

      • sportsbygreg says:

        Pyrrol you make great points as usual. Marshall you have a point about KG and the guys coming to mentor BUT I guess I just see enough talent on this team to jockey for position for an 8th seed, even this season. If we keep it real they have the ability to play and beat just about anybody, with the exception of GS, Spurs and Cavs, ifthey are not dramatically blowing leads and such, and I know that’s to your point about them being young. But Towns has hit the ground running, even though an occasional blunder. He is a franchise player and can have an immediate Tim Duncan effect on a team. Obviously Duncan had David Robinson, ect. I guess what I’m trying to say is that an 8th seed this year, even in the West, is not out of the realm of possibility if they can stop blowing these damn leads and giving games away. Should easily be at least 13-9 by now.

  7. Brad says:

    I was laughing when I was listening to Bill Simmons Podcast with Joe House on Friday. Simmons mentioned how Luke Walton almost Sam Mitchelled Golden State into their first loss. Not good when a national guy is writing this about your head coach.

  8. sportsbygreg says:

    Oh, and the Thunder. I honestly think they can beat just about anyone else, including Clippers and Rockets. Even though Clips has one 14 straight. Lol

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