Some nights, the words for these recaps come easily; there are so many basketball games to watch and write about that churning out approximately 1,000 words, summarizing the experience, becomes second nature. A process forms, and no matter the result – a win, a loss, a blowout, a narrow defeat – as a writer, you contextualize what you can, highlighting moments that made this particular game stand out, attempt to offer helpful commentary, adding your personal voice, and hopefully wrap a bow on it at the end.
Minnesota’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday night didn’t feel anything like a regular game, which meant I needed to throw my process out the window. It simply wouldn’t suffice. After 48 minutes of positively sublime basketball from Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford, there were five minutes of free basketball (overtime), followed by an evening of smoldering discontent from Timberwolves fans and media types. Why did the Timberwolves lose? They were ahead by 5 with 30 seconds to go in regulation. With 13 seconds left, they held a two point lead and possession of the ball. With 46 seconds left in overtime, they were up by 2 (again). All favorable scenarios for victory, but none of them played out that way. Who is to blame? And what does it mean? Where to begin? Continue reading Clippers 120, Wolves 116: Things Fall Apart, the Center Cannot Hold
This was a weird game. It’s a well-worn cliché that basketball is a game of runs — that when one team falls behind by double digits suddenly, it’s just a matter of time before the other team scores a bunch of unanswered point. But this game pushed that to extremes. The Clippers opened up the game with a 12-0 run, which was probably the easiest one to see, but look at the game flow from ESPN’s box score.
The whole first half was just runs back and forth. Here I’ve highlighted Clippers’ runs in yellow and Wolves’ runs in light green (just because the colors used for each team were red and blue) and you can see that aside from about a minute and a half in the first quarter where the score went from 12-0 to 16-4, the game was seesawing back and forth precipitously. Yet at the end of the first, the score was 24-24 and at the end of the half it was 46-46. Continue reading Timberwolves 98, Clippers 102: A Game of Ruins
Over the years, most Timberwolves fans have had their share of moral victories, and most have likely grown sick of them. If you’ve been a fan for more than this season, you know what I’m talking about: although the team loses, they keep it close, or maybe at least show some teeth somewhere in there. But any long-suffering fan is ready for moral victories to be replaced by actual ones, and now that the team is actually winning games they’re supposed to win and looking pretty damn strong — both on offense, where they’re second in pace, and defense, with the league’s sixth best defensive rating at 98.1 — maybe we can begin to accept that there are ways to be successful without necessarily winning, and not feel like we’re just trying to talk ourselves into it.
Last night’s close loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, which came down to three opportunities to score on the final possession and a Kevin Love tip-in that came up just short, showed us a lot. On a basic level, it reinforced something we already know: the Timberwolves bench is in trouble. But even this is interesting because the bench seems to be poorly understood by a lot of people. Almost by definition, your bench is going to be flawed in some ways — if the players there were closer to flawless, they’d likely be starting. Continue reading Timberwolves 107, Clippers 109: 99 Problems, Of Which The Bench Is One (And Probably The Biggest)
Maybe it doesn’t matter what type of team you have.
People get tired and worn down. It’s hard to continue to fight for something that really doesn’t have an end game. There are days you don’t want to be at your job, even when you make a lot of money and have a cool profession. And what we see with a lot of teams that don’t have anything to play for at the end of a lost/wasted season is they give in to the regular human nature the majority of us have and they just kind of stop fighting like they used to. It’s something that you can get frustrated about as a fan, but at the same time, I get it.
Here’s a sight for you. If you had taken a peak down the Wolves’ bench in the fourth quarter of this rigorously un-lovely loss to the Clippers, you would have seen: Lou Amundson, Greg Stiemsma, Lazar Hayward, J.J. Barea, lots of empty seats. Larry Bird is not walking through that door.
Past Timberwolves teams have been dislike-able for a host of reasons. From last year’s grim-faced underachievers to the callow, talentless bunches of years past, there have always been reasons to distance your self from the awful things happening on the court. But, in their basic competence, in their plucky, Euro-inflected flair, and in their foreignness to the Wolves’ rancid culture, this team has been unprecedentedly appealing.
Which makes it all the more of a bummer to see them so completely threshed by misfortune that even home games against upper-echelon opponents have come to feel essentially un-winnable. Even before Nikola Pekovic and Alexey Shved hobbled off the floor, this game was pretty dark. Facing the single-minded, absurdly long Deandre Jordan, Pek was just 1-8 from the floor. Shved looked every bit the fatigued rookie, as he has for most of the past month. Dante Cunningham continued to awkwardly brick his signature jumper. Ricky Rubio continued to play as if he is recovering from a reconstructive knee surgery that kept him off the court for nearly a year. J.J. Barea continued to attempt yogic finger-rolls over multiple shot blockers. The Wolves hit 21.1% of their threes. They hit just 14 of their 35 shots in the paint (!!!). They whiffed on wide-open layups; they bricked dunks.
As my wife often reminds me, there are a lot of games in an NBA season and truly, this was one of them. I mean, listen: they can’t all be State of the Union-level referendums on the soul of the team. So here’s the game wrap, shorter edition: The Wolves outrebounded the Clippers 52-35 and took 9 more free throws, but shot 27% from the arc, had 10 fewer assists, and let the Clippers score 22 fast break points. Even with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in foul trouble down the stretch and players like Matt Barnes and Ronny Turiaf getting technical fouls, Minnesota couldn’t take control. I guess you could say at least this wasn’t like the games of the 5-game losing streak where they would jump out to a lead only to see it disappear in the third quarter. Although they almost established a double-digit lead in the second, they felt shaky the whole game and that it was even close towards the end is more an indication of the Clippers’ own difficulties than anything else. Continue reading Timberwolves 95, Clippers 101: Universal Magnetic
“Hanging around. Hanging around. Kid’s got alligator blood. Can’t get rid of him.” – Teddy KGB.
It starts with a run. The Clippers came out of halftime, inexplicably only up three points and looking to put this game away early. A layup from Randy Foye drops in. Blake Griffin hits a jump shot. Randy Foye makes a 3-pointer off of a pass from Blake. The Clippers are carving up a young Wolves’ team with passing and effort. They’re being more physical. They’re quicker to the ball. They’re now up 10 within the blink of an eye.
For some reason this season, the Wolves find a way to stick around. There are plenty of games in which I’ve watched the action unfold before my eyes, then look up at the scoreboard and wonder how Minnesota had kept it so close. They have sneak ways of going on runs immediately after an opponent’s run. And it’s rarely anything but subtle.
Luke Ridnour made a technical free throw after an illegal defense. After a missed 3, an offensive rebound by Rubio and DeAndre Jordan swatting a shot attempt, the Wolves got a stop against the Clippers. Pek gets to the foul line for two, Wes hits a jumper off the Rubio setup, and then Rubio finds Wes in transition for the layup. All of a sudden, the 10-point lead is a two-point deficit and you’re back in the grind of the game.
The story of the mini-runs and the grind it out mentality of this team kept them in it. But the bench certainly won the game for the Wolves tonight.
Wolves-Clippers games always seem to have a peculiar hum. Perhaps it’s their interlocking histories and their penchant for duplicating one another’s rosters (like, literally–see: Gomes, Foye, Smith, Telfair, Jaric, Cassell et. al.). Perhaps it’s their shared legacies of baffling mismanagement. Maybe it’s just a sense of futility that has characterized both teams; when they face one another, their common penchant for goofy mediocrity, for playing just below the level of their opponent, is multiplied exponentially.
Against the Clippers, the Wolves did at least three things that they haven’t done consistently for years. They: came back from a double-digit deficit in the second half when it appeared that the game was slipping away; made poised, aggressive plays down the stretch; executed a last shot out-of-bounds play–and actually made the shot. (In fact, I’m pretty sure the last time they did it was Michael Beasley against these Clips last fall, and that game was no where near as interesting or encouraging as this one). This was a wild, ragged, competitive, thrilling game–with Hubie Brown providing the breathless, grandfatherly commentary. In short, its a game we’re not used to seeing our Timberwolves even playing in, much less winning. It was an awful lot of fun.
There are days when it’s really difficult to be a Timberwolves’ fan. The season is grows long. The weather changes in strange ways. The accumulated disappointments and tiny humiliations, the constant losses begin to take their toll. Did you know that Rudy Gay was drafted just after Randy Foye? Did you know that Deandre Jordan was drafted in the second round, three spots after Nikola Pekovic and one spot after Mario Chalmers, whom the Wolves traded away for basically nothing?
Did you know that the Wolves’ last three lottery picks are now, in no particular order: playing on another continent; missing 21 out of their last 25 shots (and looking terrible doing it); “resting”? That the Clippers had lost consecutive games to Cleveland, Toronto and Milwaukee, allowing two of the three to shoot over 50%? And that the Wolves managed just a gnarly 35.4% against that same crew of Clips? Well it’s all true.