Jazz 94, Wolves 92: When There Are No More Excuses

Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Games like these are frustrating, I know. The Wolves played well, built up a lead, and then let it slip away in the game’s final minutes. They played well enough to win the game against a fully healthy Jazz team, a playoff hopeful that’s been more successful this season.

It was frustrating because Ricky Rubio shot the ball better than he has all season, all while playing solid defense on the extremely tough (and underrated) George Hill. It was frustrating because Karl-Anthony Towns got it going in the second half, and the beginning of the fourth, playing like the future superstar Wolves fans hope and think he can become. It was frustrating because Zach LaVine was on-point from deep. On those fronts, last night’s game was frustrating because those things happening weren’t enough to get it done.

It was frustrating because Andrew Wiggins, fresh off a stellar 41 point performance in Washington, followed it up with a dud last night. He pulled up for elbow jumpers off screens, and even missed a couple bunnies at the rim. It was frustrating because the bench didn’t bring much of anything to the table.

The frustration came through in no greater way than that of Tom Thibodeau. Thibs is known for his anger-inspired antics on the floor, in the heat of the moment. But post-game was the most frustrated I’ve ever seen Thibodeau in front of the media. When Jon Krawczynski asked Thibs if his antics were impacting the way the Wolves performed for him, his response was straight up.

“You can look for all the excuses you want. We have to get the job done,” he said. “You can say this, that, whatever. We have to do our job. Everyone has to do their job.”

He basically dismissed it, which is understandable. And, as Jon K mentioned on his Twitter account, the players backed up Thibs on this one. Thibs’ on-court demeanor may not appear to be the most endearing to his players, but the Wolves had his back in the locker room. 

So, the team is blowing leads at an unfortunately regular rate, their best players have been inconsistent at best on defense, and they currently sit at 11-26. So, when a game like last night’s happens, how does one deal with it?

There are a couple options. One is to simply stay frustrated until shown reason to react otherwise, which is perfectly justified. But, even when the Wolves are making games miserable for their fans, basketball remains too fun to have a negative attitude about. Even when the Wolves are at their worst, it’s hard for me to get totally bummed out, especially after hearing from Thibs and the players. Here’s why.

For a while, I had concerns that Thibodeau’s tendency to let his anger get the best of him would eventually get to the players. It’s mid-January, and the players have spoken. They’re on board with him. They agree that they need to play better.

“There is no excuse,” Ricky Rubio said bluntly last night, almost identically to Thibs.

This is where my confidence remains strong. No, this will not be the team that wins 50 games and makes the playoffs as a 5 or a 6 seed. But this team, while perhaps not evident by the results, seems to be on the same page otherwise. They need to be better, and they know that.

The team is on the same page as the team’s often flamboyant and energetic coach. The trick will be for this young, promising group of potential future All-Stars to properly channel that, and play with a stronger sense of purpose. Then they won’t need excuses.

PS- This dunk was awesome.

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2 Responsesso far.

  1. Tom says:

    We are coming up on Feb 6th, but it feels like wolves fans have lived with Ground Hog Day as long as Bill Murray did, and just like Phil Conners “there is nothing I can do about it.”

  2. pyrrol says:

    We are really bad at winning. We played well enough to win 90% of this game and still lost.

    Perhaps I myself have become an excuse maker for this team. I’ve come to expect poor play so much that wins come as a surprise to me. But why should I expect (and thus to some degree excuse) this kind of play we see most nights?

    On the other hand, I have voiced concerns with this team. Even for them, this loss was a bit shocking. It provided a jolt of anger. At the same time, after a few moments of shock and rage, acceptance washed over me. What is disheartening isn’t so much losing a game like this—a game where we competed against a potential playoff team all game and showed signs that we will be a competitive team soon—but how losing has come to dominate this season and kill all the good will that came with it. Over on canis hoopus a guy who goes by Ebomb said this and this sums an important aspect of this season up: “I’m sure someone is going to let me know how this was always a development year, and talk about patience, and talk about how Thibs is doing things the right way, but there are consequences to losing. Consequences in morale. Consequences in habit. Consequences in Free Agency. Free agents don’t give a *uck about draft picks.”

    Were expectations too high coming in? Sure. But what is a red flag isn’t that we have games like this, where we go into contortions to find ways to loose, but how there isn’t enough to counterbalance these bad things. We don’t have enough promise to show for our embarrassment. We’re a very young team. Young teams have struggles and embarrass themselves a lot. But good young teams, teams who think they are going somewhere in the future balance those youthful moments with moments of brilliance and we just don’t nearly enough. And it has added up to the rubble of a record we have.

    “You can look for all the excuses you want. We have to get the job done. You can say this, that, whatever. We have to do our job. Everyone has to do their job.” That’s Thibs responding to a question about possible negative effects of his sideline demeanor. It’s an odd answer. He doesn’t just come out and say, ‘That’s bull, of course some yelling on the sidelines isn’t our problem.’ Yet, he also deflects. He doesn’t really answer the question and sort of implies that the question is a search for BS excuses. While Thibs rarely seems happy at the end of games even if we win (what could you expect from a professional malcontent?) he doesn’t really seem to be totally including himself when he demands everyone do their job and not make excuses. I have concerns about how these individuals will develop and come together to create a good team. It doesn’t seem like the sure thing it used to. But I’m also concerned Thibs isn’t doing a good job of facilitating this process, which on some level is harder to forgive than immature players or players who might not get to their media-set ceilings.

    The release of John Lucas III sends rumblings that Thibs might privately be admitting to himself that the wheels have fallen off this process enough that we need some help before the deadline. This is a subtle, quiet, form of admission, that things have not gone as well as hoped. It’s kind of a funny sign of it, because I can’t for the life of me figure out why JLIII was even on the roster to begin with. The joy in this team has long been run out of them, and as a fan they just aren’t as fun to watch as the sum of their parts should be. They aren’t a punky (or god forbid overachieving) underdog. They are flat. Some of this is personality, but so much of it goes back to that facilitating thing. If you force Wiggins to be your go to face of the franchise player, what do you expect the team to look like? In many ways Wiggins is a lazy player in how he approaches the game, and he’s been a slow learner. Does he really look like a 3rd year player with upper echelon talent most nights? Does he bring any intensity and leadership most nights? If he’s the poster child of your team, the guy most things are run through or for you kind of have to expect a joyless, lethargic team. And forcing that and the identity (or lack of it) that creates is on the coaching and management. Similarly, poorly using a positive asset like Rubio throughout the season does not facilitate success of any kind. Whether or not these things are done for developmental reasons, they have damage. Look to the empty seats. And know they are empty not just because our record is bad (and worse than it should be) but because we are rarely fun to watch because we don’t play with joy or looseness.

    In all this it is kind of refreshing to look at a guy like Gobert. I was a fan of the pick, but thought it was a nice little chance. I didn’t think he’d be such a good all around center by age 24. He’s so good at what he does (rim protect) that it hardly matters that he’s skinny. He just knows what he is good at and does a fabulous job at it and in the process has proven all the many naysayers wrong. I guess our closest version of that is LaVine. But we need a lot more of that type of thing. Maybe we have too many guys who’ve been told they were good too long…

    Random thought. Wiggins’ body (plus the sort of floppy, lazy way he often moves) doesn’t seem to have changed from high school. I mean, if you have a body like Wiggins does in college and high school, mixed with his athleticism, you can coast to success. But he’s in the NBA and still looks like he did in 2013 physically, except he’s playing men every night.

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