Timberwolves 106, Grizzlies 101: Shabazz Palaces
“Everything it is, everything it takes
We got in trumps, baby, you know how we bump
No if, ands, maybes or sparkles from the jump
Up and down, in or out, round and round we crazy just blast it”
Shabazz Palaces, ‘Blastit’
Have you ever found a musical artist to be quirky and odd, but you love them anyway? Not only that, but you love them in part because of how off-the-wall they are? That’s how Seattle-based hip hop duo Shabazz Palaces is for me. Recommended to me a few months ago by our own Steve McPherson (believe it or not, the four of us writers talk about something other than the Wolves from time to time), I immediately dug their fuzzy, experimental beats, catchy hooks, short but loaded albums, and lyrics that range from the deliberate (Hollywood is on their mind/all chasing it blind/ Make sure that your shine is the result of your grind) to the absurd (like this track or this track). And suddenly I’m telling other hip hop fans about it, and here I am, leading off a game recap with one of their tracks.
Those of us who follow the Wolves have our own quirky Shabazz to appreciate, and not just because he’s been very good for a few stretches during his three-plus seasons in Minnesota. It’s also because he doesn’t fit the mold. Wings aren’t supposed to rebound like he does, especially on the offensive glass. They aren’t supposed to relish punishing people by posting up on the block. And nobody can play this damn hard every night, and sprint to and from the bench when he’s taken out of the game or inserted into it, and successfully launch himself into larger bodies tussling under the hoop, right? And who the hell runs the floor this hard, with singular purpose, eyes on the rim, hellbent on destruction? But Shabazz can. If his game were a mixtape, I’d be burning copies for all of my friends and insisting, wide-eyed and forceful, “No, you NEED to give this a listen. It’s quirky and intense, but it’s beautiful. You’ll love it.”
Since New Year’s Eve, Bazzy is averaging 15 points per game on 48% shooting in just over 27 minutes per night. More importantly, even though the Wolves have struggled over that stretch, Muhammad is fourth on the team in Net Rating, behind only KG, Nemanja Bjelica (!!!) and Ricky Rubio. His defense still isn’t great, and maybe it never will be, but this team badly needs offense, and holy shit can Bazzy fill it up. Not only is his scoring up, his decision-making has improved as well. Shabazz has just one assist over his past 155 minutes of floor time, so I’ll understand if you’re a bit skeptical, but I really believe I’m seeing progress in his floor vision and passing, even if it’s not reflected in assist totals.
Last night he scored 25 points on 15 shots, got to the line 8 times (and sank all 8), and was a plus-13 in his 32 minutes of action. Muhammad entered the game with 4:39 to go in the first quarter and immediately made an impact:
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) January 24, 2016
Shabazz didn’t come off the floor for the rest of the first half, and was a major part of Minnesota’s 37-22 advantage in the second quarter, keyed by a very fun stretch of Rubio-Bazz-Wiggins-Garnett-Towns. Rubio was particularly awesome, dropping 11 of his 15 in the second, dishing out 4 assists, and providing a pair of steals as well. When he checked in with 5:27 to go in the first half, the Wolves trailed 38-33. From that moment until the halftime buzzer, the Wolves outscored the Grizzlies 24-to-8.
Karl-Anthony Towns had the signature highlight of that run…
Of course, the Wolves’ lead, which ballooned to as much as 16 points in the final minute of the first half, didn’t really mean much to those of us who follow the team closely. The Wolves have squandered five such leads this season, and for awhile, it looked like Saturday night would be the sixth. When Shabazz Muhammad re-entered the game with 3:53 left in the third period, and the lead down to nine points. Memphis immediately cut the lead to seven, but Shabazz hit an 8-footer to push it back to nine; Matt Barnes nailed a three to cut it to six, and Shabazz responded with a three of his own.
This tug-of-war continued into the fourth quarter, with Memphis eventually clawing their way back into it. The lead dwindled to 7, then 5, then 3, and another Matt Barnes three with 2:01 to go made it a tie game, 99 apiece.
Giving up yet another double-digit lead was less than ideal, but the good news? Muhammad stayed on the floor for the entire fourth quarter. Nemanja Bjelica was out there for almost all of it (11:25), ditto for Andrew Wiggins (8:05). Ricky re-entered with 6:45 to go and stabilized things. Karl-Anthony Towns scored 6 points, grabbed 3 rebounds and handed out an assist during crunch time. While the guys got bailed out, sometimes by the referees (immediately after Ricky hit just 1-of-2 free throws to give the Wolves a one point lead, there was a so-so 5-second call made against the Grizzlies on an inbound, and Mike Conley got slapped with a few whistles that were iffy at best), it was encouraging to see the future of the team on the court when it mattered most.
For fans of Shabazz, it was encouraging to see him included in the group that finished the game, something that has become a trend. Prior to New Year’s Eve, Shabazz averaged 17.2 minutes per game, and just 5.5 minutes per 4th quarter stint. Since New Year’s Eve, Muhammad is averaging 27.6 minutes per game, and his fourth quarter minutes have ballooned to more than 10 per game, tops on the team.
It looks as if the record label is buying into the unorthodox Shabazz. Before too long, those of us who liked him from the start will be Bazzy hipsters, bragging about how we liked him before it was cool, before it was mainstream, when it was just a hard-working dude with the lefty hook and boundless enthusiasm bouncing to his own beat.