What a struggle.
For three and a half quarters of tonight’s Wolves-Jazz game, the Target Center crowd mixed groans with boos as Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love tried to one-up each other with ugly missed shots and turnovers. Love was manhandled all night by Utah’s beastly power forward, Paul Millsap, leaving many wondering if he were sick, and me wondering if perhaps he just had too much fun last night (and invited his teammates with him?) I haven’t read the official word on whether he had the flu, but something was wrong.
But even as the woes of the team’s best players continued, the Wolves hung around in this one, just enough to prevent the crowd from emptying early. Instead of giving up, J.J. Barea (who played a WRETCHED first half of this game) turned up his game and started knocking down treys (5-6 from downtown for the game). Nikola Pekovic caught fire for a short stretch in the third quarter and finished with 15 and 12. And perhaps most importantly, rookie Derrick Williams stepped up during winning time. He scored 9 points in the final 5:20 of the game; the exact stretch of time that saw the Wolves erase an 89-80 Jazz advantage and steal what seemed like an impossible win. Two of D-Thrill’s buckets came from key offensive rebounds. He was beasting.
But even with Barea’s shooting touch and Williams’ heroics, this game was still in doubt. When Paul Millsap finally let up on the (probably) ailing Love, Big Al Jefferson took the wheel. Isolated outside the right block, one-on-one against his old buddy (or his “son”–didn’t he call Kevin that once?) Jefferson buried a jumper to tie the game at 98 with 7 seconds left. But all this did was up the excitement and bring fans further into the moment. Of course Luke Ridnour answered the call by dropping in a rainbow floater as the backboard lit up red.
It’s a weird feeling to be pissed off for 90 percent of the game, and then rejoice as the buzzer sounds. Fans high fived their way to the streets. Even if you (or I, at least) don’t like Luke Ridnour playing shooting guard, he’s the kind of guy you feel happy for when he takes a turn as game hero.
* A problem area in this game was off-the-ball defense. The Wolves played some 2-3 zone, and allowed big men (Millsap, Favors) to slide behind the low man for slip pass dunks. In man defense, Barea and Webster were back-cut on consecutive possessions. Josh Howard was cutting in front of his defender ALL. NIGHT. LONG. Wes Johnson was a victim of some of this cutting. I’m sure he wasn’t alone, but I don’t have the game tape to be sure. Howard moves without the ball. He had a hell of a nice game, before fouling out. Perhaps he’s healthy again? Or motivated? He had a fairly-conspicuous fall from grace after leaving the Mavs. Even though I don’t think Utah is going anywhere far this year, perhaps Howard will be a relevant NBA baller again. This was the best I’ve seen him look in years and I don’t think it was ONLY due to Wolves’ mistakes.
* Pat and I keep throwing out trade idea posts, most of which surround Derrick Williams. This isn’t because we don’t like him (far from it) but simply because he’s got a positional problem on this roster with Kevin Love on it, and Pekovic emerging as the permanently-starting center. Games like this one make me reconsider ditching a nice young player on the rookie scale. Oklahoma City brings James Harden off the bench, and that seems to be going okay for them. I don’t know. I’m sure we’ll continue to virtual trade Williams around the league, if nothing else for our own kicks. The only thing I’ll add is that he should get bigger minutes if he’s going to stay. He has tendencies in his game that need game reps to improve. Even with those warts, his skill set, athleticism, and motor can lead to big moments like his crunchtime heroics of tonight’s game.
* So, back to .500, and the Wolves have now matched last year’s win total of 17. What better time than the All-Star Break to enjoy this accomplishment? The Pups don’t play again for six days, when they travel to Staples Center and rematch with the Clippers (recall Love’s buzzer-beating heroics the last time they matched up in LA.) Saturday night will feature D-Thrill (and certainly Rubio as a passer) in the Dunk Contest, and K-Love in the three-point contest. Between now and then, Love can work on getting his stroke back to its usual excellence and start burying more treys in games. If tonight was any indicator, he could probably use some rest, too. He continues to lead the NBA in minutes per game.
Enjoy the break, I’m sure we’ll come up with some post ideas between now and the 28th.
Season Record: 17-17