Cavaliers 114, Timberwolves 107: Ahab’s whale was also just a whale


“Symbols shmimbols. Sure they’re important but… Well look at Ahab’s whale. Now there’s a great symbol. Some say it stands for god, meaning, and purpose. Others say it stands for purposelessness and the void. But what we sometimes forget is that Ahab’s whale was also just a whale.”

–Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves

Due to the Kevin Love-for-Andrew Wiggins swap, the Timberwolves and Cavaliers are inextricably linked, like Johnny and the fiddle-playing demon, Faust and Mephistopheles, and yes, Ahab and the white whale. To the rational person, those comparisons seem unfair, or at least unwise. This was no battle between good and evil, or a deal someone made with the devil, or a myopic quest for vengeance beyond all reason or understanding. It was merely prudent; Minnesota had a star to deal, and Cleveland had an asset that could facilitate a swap, thus jump-starting the former’s rebuild and elevating the latter’s title aspirations. Win-win. No eternal doom to befall either party, no tricks, no souls wagered or sold, and certainly no homicidal sea creatures.

But twice per season, for every year Andrew Wiggins is in the NBA, and every title quest Kevin Love embarks upon with the King and his Cavaliers, they will meet head to head. There is to be a winner and a loser, and several thinkpieces to be written in the days leading up to it, re-hashing who won or lost the deal, and updating everyone on how each of the principal parts were thriving or struggling in his new home. “Each team acted prudently” makes for a boring recap of the trade, even if it is the truth. Who the hell is going to click on that?

It is worth noting that one side experiences much more heartache than the other when pondering the exchange. (Note: given my other main writing affiliation, I feel uniquely equipped to comment on this matter.) I’m sure there are Wolves fans who miss watching prime Kevin Love rebound like a madman, chuck beautiful outlet passes the length of the court, and put up unprecedented numbers. Hell, I miss it. But he wanted to leave, and no one could blame him, and now he’s gone, off to a contender. which is what he wanted, or what he says he wants. And from that ugly, awful situation, Flip Saunders was able to procure the top draft pick, a potential franchise player. It was the right thing to do.

But there’s no such consensus among Cavs fans. Love has had a difficult time fitting in (or is he supposed to fit out?) with his teammates, both on and off the court. His role, his production, his body language, his agenda, his favor with LeBron – it’s all tenuous.

Some openly wonder if they would have been better off keeping Andrew Wiggins – whether or not such a thing was even an option in the eyes of LeBron, the real Captain of their ship. Would the Cavs be better off if they’d never made the deal? Or made a different deal, for someone other than Kevin Love? If David Griffin could go back and undo it, would he? Some Cavs fans are stuck on Wiggins, unable to move on, or at least eager to pick at his nits, because he was an idea in their mind for a brief moment, and then he was gone. He’s a phantom reincarnated on another team, an elusive whale resurfacing in other waters.

Or maybe all of that is foolish. Maybe the whale was just a whale. Maybe Kevin Love can still be what the Cavaliers need, and not the devil losing his battle with a young man on a hickory stump, or the doomed Faust being carried into fire and brimstone, or Ishmael waiting for the Rachel to retrieve him from the water. This thing Cleveland is chasing, punctuated by dramatic chapters, is the quest for something tangible. A title. Not revenge, nothing immaterial, just the Larry O’Brien trophy. Holding it will let them know they “won.” The Wolves feel they already have won the trade, in a metaphorical sense, which is good, because they won’t beat this team in a literal sense any time soon.

So, on to last night’s game.

neely, 7/24/07, 11:02 PM, 8C, 4114x10331 (2548+250), 138%, Repro 2.2 v2, 1/40 s, R59.8, G56.3, B76.5

Photo credit: here.

The Cavaliers are desperate, and sort of played like it. The Timberwolves have a bit of extra chutzpah as of late, and they played like it. Cleveland is much better team, with much better players, and in the end they emerged with the victory, 114-107.

Minnesota’s fight was commendable. They trailed by as much 12 late in the 3rd quarter, but cut it down to 8 with a pair of Gorgui Dieng free throws (he went a perfect 9-for-9 from the line in the game) 15 seconds into the final frame. Eighty seconds of game time later, that lead ballooned to 15. At that point, Andrew Wiggins checked back in for the Wolves, and a surprisingly effective LaVine-Muhammad-Wiggins-Bjelica-Dieng lineup helped Minnesota go on a quick 16-4 run to get themselves right back in the thick of things. But a few costly turnovers by Rubio and LaVine helped Cleveland’s transition game get going, and with 3:30 to go, Cleveland was back up by 13 points.

Again, the Wolves didn’t relent – led by Towns, Wiggins, and Muhammad, the Wolves crawled back. It was 4-point game with a minute to go, when Kyrie Irving brought the ball up the floor, sort of just ran into Wiggins, and drew a foul. Irving hit the pair, the Wolves went down 6 with 42.7 seconds left, and that was pretty much all she wrote.

A few odds and ends:

  • Per Elias Sports, tonight was the first game in NBA history that three teammates, each under the age of 21, all scored at least 20 points (Towns 26, Lavine 21, Wiggins 20).
  • 26-11-4 with a steal and a block for Towns, and he made it all look so easy.
  • A very, very Ricky line for the Wolves’ point guard: 4 points on 2-of-7 shooting, 7 rebounds, 10 assists, 2 steals. So Ricky. Much Rubio.
  • The Wolves went just nine deep in their rotation – KG missed the game with some knee issues, Kevin Martin sat out with right wrist soreness, and Tyus Jones, Andre Miller and Damjan Rudez never took off their warmups.
  • Unless you count Mo Williams’ 5 minutes, the Cavs went just eight deep tonight. No Varejao, no James Jones, no Richard Jefferson.
  • Delly is really good, nowadays (18 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists off the Cleveland bench in this one), and I kind of love watching him play. His chemistry with Tristan Thompson is off the charts; they connect on one or two of those pick-and-roll lobs per game.
  • Don’t tell anyone at Fear the Sword I said that. It’s our little secret.
  • Not to be a “Sweet Dribbling Vine Truther” but I really thought Tayshaun did a fine job, here? Still got a hand in his general vicinity, right?

  • Crazy degree of difficulty on this Wiggins turnaround:

  • The Wolves took just 16 threes, and they made 4 of them. The Cavs took 31 and made 11.
  • The Wolves have made 232 three-pointers this season.
  • Steph Curry has made 210 three-pointers this season.
  • If the Kevin Love trade is LeBron/the Cavs’ Captain Ahab moment, hunting for the white whale that is Cleveland’s search for a title, cost be damned what is the Wolves’ decision to pass on Curry in favor of Jonny Flynn? I’ll take your answers in the comments.

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5 Responsesso far.

  1. HawkEye says:

    I find you constant forgetfulness of mentioning Wiggins shortcoming in doing anything of value in games besides scoring (he had a fantastic 20pt-1rb stat line this game) very disturbing.

  2. pyrrol says:

    I’m about out of moral victories appreciation, but I’m proud of the guys for not falling apart and keeping it a game to the end. It’s a good sign that with many opportunities to turn into a blowout, this game never did.

    I think Cleveland vastly overestimated Love’s value and may someday be sorry that they let Wiggins go. I guess they can afford to overestimate folks if anyone can. In many ways Thompson looks like as good a player as Love, particularly with that roster. There was speculation of ‘running more stuff’ for Love now that Lue is coach. If Love was the player they hoped, they wouldn’t need to run stuff for him. His skill set is amazingly close to Lebron’s when it comes down to it (but not as good), and there isn’t that much room for him to do his thing. Also, he’s mostly an offensive player and this team has a lot of offensive options.

    I personally am confused by the coaching change in Cleveland. There has been an awful lot of talk about it, much of it defending the decision. I keep coming back to how banged up Cleveland was last year and yet they still made it to the finals. That took some coaching. Folks talked about how Blatt had no NBA playing or coaching experience and thus didn’t have Lebron’s respect (he’d ignore the play call at important times). Guess what, Lebron’s ego is such that he’ll do that with almost any coach. I’m sure there will be a honeymoon with Lue, particularly because he’s an ex player. But as soon as the Cavs aren’t doing quite as well as they want to be, or there is a slight philosophical disagreement with how things are being run, the same Lebron authority issues will return. It’s both funny that Blatt was not seen as good enough and that Lue is seen as this instant answer (he’s 38 with no head coaching experience). And lets not discount the importance of continuity. It seems unlikely this is the answer, but then again, was there even a problem? If there was a problem, was it coaching? The Cavs reek of desperation, which is never a good sign, but is odd when they have arguably the best player on the planet and legit championship aspirations.

    You could argue again that the Wolves held down the fort in most aspects of this game, but lost it again with threes. The problem is two-fold. We aren’t taking enough, but we are also bad at the ones we are taking. While we will have three point issues no matter what because we don’t have enough shooters on the floor, this could be improved. The plays we run and action we use doesn’t help free up three looks like normal teams plays. We’ve made no adjustment to turn our longest 2’s (which we take a lot of) into 3’s. And Sam makes no effort to make sure that our crunch time/biggest minute combos have a three point aspect. Sadly, a lot of this aspect comes down to Prince. We are sacrificing not only offense in general when he’s out there, but also 3’s and spacing on offense. He may be better suited as a defensive anchor of the second unit, with an injection of scoring and 3 point possibility into the starting line-up. At this point, this basically means Shabazz as a starter. In the future it could mean LaVine as starting shooting guard or other options as the roster evolves. But it is sad to see the guys play this hard only to see their strategy bit them in the ankle again.

    I’ve got no literary analogies, but I’m sick of hearing the Curry thing. Four other teams passed him up (Memphis took Thabeet, ouch). More importantly, no one thought Curry would become this type of player. Not one person. I’m not defending the Flynn pick, but that was a bad pick in a sea of bad picks the Wolves have made in the recent past.

  3. pyrrol says:

    I forgot to add this: The uneven, biased and sometimes plain bad officiating in the NBA can lead to conspiracy theories. It was hard to not read into the biased toward Cleveland officiating in this game, to see it as the league helping Lue get his first win and get things calmed down for the league’s golden goose.

    Whether this is taking conspiracy theory too far or not, there were a lot of bad calls that favored Cleveland, few questionable calls of any kind favoring us, and a lot of no calls when we were obviously fouled. The officiating was unacceptable and favored one team. I was proud of the guys–it didn’t seem to surprise or rattle them this time. They just put their heads down and tried to deal with the slanted reality.

  4. Tim says:

    True or false: The Wolves should pursue Blatt this offseason and try to hire him as head coach for next year.

  5. Ryan Fortson says:

    I’m over the Curry non-pick too (more or less). Curry was seen as a great shooter, but probably too short to play SG and without the skills to be a PG. And a huge defensive liability. Still probably a better pick than Flynn, but not the no brainer it is today. But if we are going for analogies, I’d say the Hindenburg — a massive explosion by an arrogant bag of hot air. Oh the humanity!

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