Last night, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics played a game with the knowledge that one of their respective teammates wouldn’t be there anymore. Players often remind us that the NBA “is a business”, but even with that in mind, NBA players are still people. When personalities as bright and fun as Ronnie Turiaf and Corey Brewer permanently exit your locker room, you’re going to think about it when you’re playing, at least right away.
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In preparation for tonight’s game in Boston, I had a chat with SB Nation’s Celtics Blog writer Dustin Chapman, a guy I’ve talked basketball with for a long, long time. Click here to follow him on Twitter. We talked about the Rondo trade, key matchups, and discussed Pek vs Vitor in a battle of the giants.
Early in Minnesota’s 102-86 loss to the Golden State Warriors, Andrew Bogut was hobbling up and down the floor. It was unclear what was wrong at the time, but it was clear he needed to be taken out. Swiftly, new Golden State head coach Steve Kerr moved to put in backup Festus Ezeli. Bogut would not return to the game.
Golden State came into to the game already a man down, having lost David Lee to a hamstring injury during the Warriors’ season opener. This was not an ideal situation for the Warriors, who have faced the consequence of injury struggles come playoff time the past couple years.
Tonight, however, the Warriors faced off against a Timberwolves team that, when fully healthy, is probably still a worse team than Golden State was short-manned. But Minnesota isn’t healthy right now.
That was ugly.
Tonight, the Philadelphia 76ers finally got over the hump, ending their 17-game losing streak to open the season in a win over the Wolves. Understandably, the Sixers will likely celebrate, or at least let out a big exhale after tonight. Still, tonight’s game probably the worst NBA game I’ve ever been to. It’s to the point where I’m not sure I want to write the recap. Instead, I’ll let technology take care of it.
Tonight’s game was goofy.
On one hand, it would be easy to shrug off tonight’s 103-86 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. The Wolves were down to just 10 available players, had a pair of teenagers in their starting 5 (to be fair, so did the Bucks (tonight was the first time in NBA history 4 teenagers started in a game)), had many playing way out of position, and had Thad Young, its only returning player, come back noticeably (and understandably) rusty. They played hard, but got beat by a healthier team.
On the other hand, they were in the game for 3-plus quarters, and let some bad defense get the best of them. To be fair, the limited options Flip Saunders had to work with forced some guys to play more minutes than they’re used to. They got gassed towards the end, and when you get gassed, you foul. Brandon Knight took and made 8 of Milwaukee’s 13 free throws in that final quarter, where the Wolves were outscored 31-16.
Past the game itself, the storylines were surprisingly ample for a Bucks-Timberwolves game. Let’s look at a few:
Like Parquet Courts (or, now, Parkay Quarts), the Timberwolves seemed keen on counting down the days until it was time to head back. After a road trip that nearly totaled 3 weeks, they returned with a slew of injuries and sickness, with the absence of Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Ronny Turiaf to show for it (along with Thad Young, who remains with his family following the passing of his mother).
Even on a depleted roster, things can go right for a team when its most experienced plays well. Tonight, Mo Williams and Kevin Martin combined for 51 points on 19-29 shooting against a Knicks defense that seemed to take the Wolves’ recent history with the 3-point line a bit too seriously.
It wasn’t a fun night to be a Wolves fan. The Timberwolves played a tightly-contested game with the young Orlando Magic for the entire game, neither team grabbing a double digit lead in regulation. With 28 seconds left in the fourth, the Wolves were up 2 with the ball, and had a chance to put what would likely be the seal on the game.
Yes, Deron Williams isn’t the player he was in Utah, but he still gets you 18 and 8 on most nights. No point guard sees a matchup against Brooklyn as a night off. He’s still a beast.
Yes, Brook Lopez has a lengthy injury history to his record, but a healthy Brook is still a dangerous Brook.
Yes, Joe Johnson doesn’t deserve to have the third biggest paycheck in the NBA, but he’s still giving the Nets very good (All-Star caliber?) production in the latter stages of his career.
Speaking of latter stages, yes, Kevin Garnett is nowhere near the dominant two-way player the he once was, but he’s still a useful starter in spot minutes. Plus, this just happened a couple days ago.
Lastly, it’s true the Nets aren’t the title contenders some hoped they’d be when they acquired Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce a year ago. Still, you’ll see them competing in the playoffs this spring.
The Nets are the ultimate “yeah, but still” team in the NBA, and they’re who the Timberwolves face off against tonight to start their November road trip.
The Timberwolves fought to the final seconds tonight, but couldn’t get over the hump against a borderline top-tier Memphis Grizzlies squad. Mid-broadcast, Dave Benz mentioned the Grizzlies haven’t won an opener since they moved to Vancouver. It was a tough 105-101 loss, but it’s important to remember the quality of competition that the Wolves were facing tonight, and the connotations that a win would bring for said competition.