Stars Shine (but almost collapse): WOLVES 108, Hawks 103

This win could be described quickly and simply, or in great detail on each key Timberwolf’s impressive performance.  I’ll try my best at each.

Quick and Simple

The Wolves hosted a good Hawks team tonight; one with an impressive and relevant road record of 9-6.  From almost the opening tip the Wolves dominated.  They defended well, provoking those inefficient shots (contested 2′s) that Britt Robson wrote about the other day.  On offense, they made shots–something that has not happened often in this injuries-to-shooters plagued season.  The Wolves led by 10 after 1, 16 after 2, and 14 after 3.  With 8:11 remaining in the game, Ricky Rubio checked out; his night’s work complete.  The Wolves were leading by 11.  It was at that moment that two things happened: 1) The Wolves defense relaxed; and 2) The Hawks shooting heated up.  A game that was largely dominated by the home team went down to the final possessions as the Hawks steadily chipped away at that lead.  Dante Cunningham sealed the deal; first with a baseline jumper to extend the lead to 3, with 15 seconds to play; and second by tipping away the entry pass of the Hawks out-of-timeout play.  An impressive win was had for the Loveless Timberwolves.

More Detail…

Derrick Williams Scored

For the second consecutive game that did not include Kevin Love, Derrick Williams came off the bench.  For the second consecutive game that did not include Kevin Love, Derrick Williams scored in bunches.  His 3 treys in the 1st Half built momentum, capitalizing on the flashy passing on display in the Ricky & Shved Show that had fans out of their seats.  If you follow this team with any interest you know how badly it needs perimeter shooting.  Williams is, by the numbers, its best three-point option.  Away from the numbers, he differs from his perimeter teammates in one important respect: He does not hesitate (not much, at least) to catch and shoot.  J.J. Barea and Andrei Kirilenko often will catch a nice kickout pass and dribble in for another round of penetration.  Luke Ridnour will catch and shoot, but his release point is so low that most close-outs force him to head fake and shoot it off the dribble.  He’s very good at that, but it lowers the shot value from 3 to 2.  Alexey Shved catches and shoots some, but he’s a drive-and-pass player at heart.  Williams not only has catch-and-shoot instincts, but also the size to get his perimeter J off of most halfway-decent passes.  Bigger shooters (like Kevin Love will hopefully once again become) are better floor spreaders because of how difficult the close-out becomes.  Williams shows signs of helping in this area.  He certainly did tonight.  D-Thrill had 17 points in 21 minutes.

Ricky Rubio Passed

There’s a lot to enjoy when watching this team.  I’ve written about it in some detail and my opinion is, I think, shared by most hoops junkies around the country.  But really, nothing quite compares to what Ricky brings to a game.  He came out tonight and whipped two of those sidearm whip entries to the rolling big man.  The first one was kicked out to halfcourt by a defender, so he did it again.  Exactly the same way.  That time it worked.  For much of his 19 minutes on the floor, Ricky was either pestering the hell out of the opposing guard (he had 4 steals in that limited amount of time) or wheeling from the backcourt around the wing and all the way down the baseline through the paint.  Just the usual head-on-a-swivel/you-haven’t-a-clue-where-he’s-going-with-this/oh-he-just-found-an-open-shooter/basket-good kinda stuff.  Rubio had 8 assists and 4 steals in 19 minutes.  He didn’t attempt a field goal.  His +10 was the team’s best and it perfectly represented his impact on this game.  His absence down the stretch was a noticeable factor in the defensive lapses that nearly cost the Wolves the game.

Alexey Shved & Andrei Kirilenko… A bit of everything

Kirilenko had 21 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists.  Shved had 15 points, 7 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks.  Kirilenko had the more efficient game, and Shved’s late jump-pass turnover (led directly to a Josh Smith dunk) was a killer.  But each Russian was good in this game.  At Target Center they did a funny video for AK’s All-Star campaign.  If any Timberwolf makes the squad, it should be Kirilenko.  His defense, cutting, and all-around play has been the team’s best, this year.

Nikola Pekovic: Beast

The Godfather had 25 points and a career-high 18 rebounds.  I’m not sure what else to say.  He outplayed an All-Star in Al Horford and controlled the paint throughout the entire game.

The [almost] Collapse

It’s worth mentioning that had this game gotten away, it would’ve been arguably the most disappointing loss of the season.  There were certain things that couldn’t be controlled.  Lou Williams hit an ill-advised dribble trey.  Horford hit a late bank shot that was perfectly defended by Cunningham.  But my takeaway was pretty simple, and alluded to above: The Wolves need Ricky Rubio on the floor at the end of games.  Both ends of the floor.  He’s way better than Luke at creating scoring opportunities against late-game, full-throttle defense.  He’s way stronger with the ball than Alexey Shved, whose creativity sometimes blends with carelessness at inopportune times.  On defense, Luke gets slammed by screens, like the one he dropped behind when guarding marksman Kyle Korver on a late-game possession that saw Atlanta cut it to 3 for the first time in the fourth.  Ricky doesn’t get slammed by screens.  He’s incredibly active whether on the ball or off, and his instincts and long arms lead to more tip aways and steals than mistakes.  I’m not saying they should force him back if he isn’t physically ready.  I’m just pointing out what’s probably obvious: The team needs Ricky.

Wolves travel to Oklahoma City tonight where the Thunder will be rested tomorrow night from having tonight off.  OKC is a mighty 17-3 at home.  Should be tough.  Should be fun.  Until then.

Season Record: 16-15

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Stars Shine (but almost collapse): WOLVES 108, Hawks 103

  1. Dave A.

    Nice defense by Ricky. Four steals. And who discovered Cunningham? What’s his history? The man does what’s needed at critical times.

    • Cunningham was last in Memphis where he was a role player for the recently-great Grizzlies. I’m not sure who in the front office spotted him, but he’s been a big help. The guy we traded, Wayne Ellington, was never consistent but in fairness he had 26 points last night for his team in a win. (I’m very happy with that trade.)

  2. Mike

    Proper recap. If I’ve anything to add, it’s to note how Rubio’s presence in the game infects his teammates to play a little bit more awesome. Examples: Williams’ lone assist from around the top of the key, a nifty bouncer to either AK or Pek for a lay-in; what I think I remember as a Ridnour to Steamer alley-oop; Shved’s semi-harebrained reverse-no-look-granny pass to AK which resulted in nothing, really, but was cool (I like the idea of Shved getting a little bit more balls out weird playing with Ricky). Overall, the ball movement with Rubio in the game jumps a full three notches and it’s really a pleasure, every time.

    • Mike–
      Good call on the backwards granny pass. I forgot to include that in the wrap, but that was really something else… I only wish AK47 had shot the corner trey because it would’ve been one of the weirdest, coolest highlights of the NBA season.

      Agree about Ricky. Adelman, hardly one to bullshit or buy into narratives, has been pretty open about how he thinks Ricky has the effect on teammates that you describe. He’s a special player.

  3. Jim Petersen made a good call last night down the stretch: the Wolves current lack of go-to guy down the stretch is going to lose us some games. Shved was trying to carry the team through scoring in the 4th. We love Shved, but that’s not an ideal role for a frail rook who’s really a point guard at heart (but happens to have a solid skill set that includes shooting and creating scoring opportunities). Not sure Derrick Williams can give much more than sporadic bursts of points. Kirilenko is Kirilenko – not an offensive guy, though he’s nice when in the right sets. So who should we be calling on? This is where we miss Love, as much as the rebounding.

    • It’s a good point, and I think it’s where Ricky’s name will be called. Hopefully sooner than later. He won’t take the shots–not usually, at least–but he’ll pressure the defense and create opportunities.