The story of last night’s game is best begun with a picture. From espn.com:
In the first quarter, the Lakers curve is pretty much a straight 45 degree line. Everything they put up went in. They scored 37 points (13 from Pau Gasol) and led by 13.
In the early part of the 2nd Quarter, the Lakers inexplicably got even hotter. Their curve spikes upward at a point when Wolves fans at Target Center were desperate for some regression to the mean. They made 7 of their first 8 field goal attempts to open the 2nd Quarter. 4 of those were 3-pointers. With 6 minutes to play in the first half, the Lakers held a 61-32, 29-point, almost-doubling-up-the-opposition lead.
On the graph, you notice two things begin midway through the 2nd Quarter: One, the Lakers curve flattens out. Finally. Two, the Wolves gets steeper, after a sluggish start to the 2nd Quarter. Their shots — including some much-needed three-pointers — began to fall. The Wolves closed the first half on a 21-7 run, cutting the halftime deficit to a troubling but not insurmountable 15 points. Ricky Rubio was key to that stretch, blending his usual feisty defense with some scoring (2 nifty layups, 1 dribble jumper) and capping off a fun stretch with a behind-the-back dime to D-Thrill for a huge dunk.
Things got even closer in the 2nd Half, after Adelman committed to a zone defense that gave the Lakers fits. Until they realized how Pau Gasol was born to be the hub of a zone offense, that is. Once Pau started filling the gaps, and his teammates started hitting him in playmaking spots, the Wolves struggled to defend. But they did cut it to 4 midway through the 4th Quarter, which is an admirable comeback attempt from the 29-point deficit earlier in the game. Moral victories and all that.
Chris Johnson: Play the man.
Through 6 games as a Wolf, center Chris Johnson is averaging, per 36 minutes, 20.0 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 2.2 blocks. Only 1.5 turnovers. His field goal percentage is 72.4%. His free throw percentage is 75.0%. He skies for high-bouncing rebounds that none of his teammates — perhaps save Dante or Derrick with a running start — have a chance at.
Now that Adelman’s had a little bit of an opportunity to see how this works (he was away with his wife during all of Johnson’s games prior to last night’s) perhaps his minutes will increase. Is his PER of 26 unsustainable? Probably. No, not probably — yes, yes it is unsustainable. But Johnson makes the decision to play him an easy one by only doing the things he is good at. Dunk, contest shots, rebound, dunk again, shoot a jumper if he has to. He plays like a seven footer that wants a place in the NBA. I’ll be surprised if the Wolves let him go after his 20 days are up.
ESPN’s David Thorpe wrote yesterday that, right now, Ricky Rubio is probably the worst point guard in the NBA (Insider). While I don’t agree — at all — with that page-view seeking conclusion, Thorpe rightly focuses on Ricky’s shooting woes as the cause for the struggles he has had in many games this year. I’ve tried my best to find the source of his shooting struggles, and I hope that Shawn Respert is able to make fundamental changes to how Ricky transitions from catching a pass to shooting the ball. But I must say — repeat, perhaps — that Ricky’s dribble jumper does not look bad. Aside from it sometimes being too flat, his dribble jumper that he usually shoots around the elbows looks pretty decent. This is huge, because that elbow jumper can be devastating for pick-and-roll point guards. Just watch Chris Paul and Tony Parker, the two best in the league. If Ricky never learns how to shoot 3’s, he can still be a very good player. He’ll just need shooters around him, instead of the cast he has right now with guys like Kirilenko and Williams at the 3 and 4. Chase Budinger and Kevin Love (the one with knuckle bones intact) are ideal forwards to play with Ricky.
Oh, and speaking of Ricky’s, look who was in the house last night!
Does Buckets still live in the Twin Cities, or does he just enjoy sub-zero temps so much that he flew up for the weekend?
“Breaks” Running Diary*
Halberstam writes of Coach Jack Ramsay:
A college coach, Ramsay believed, was granted authority almost automatically by virtue of his position; a professional coach gained what authority he could by exercise of his intelligence, his subtlety, his very being. He was on his own and Ramsay believed as an article of faith that no loyalty, either from those above who employed you, or those below who played for you, could be expected. Ramsay believed an owner would always fire a coach if he was perceived to be slipping; the players, if it served their purpose, would just as willingly withhold part of their game from a coach. Therefore a coach must learn that loyalty was valueless, and might even work against him, as for example when it encouraged him to keep on an older player, whose skills were diminishing, but whose past heroics he was still grateful for, instead of coldly picking a younger player with potential for the future. For this reason Ramsey rationed his emotions in his personal relationship with his players. They might produce this year; he might still have to let them go next year; life was hard. Ramsay devoted his most intense emotion to winning, and his connection to the players seemed to end at the locker room door each night; when he and the players departed that room, they departed into very separate lives. Professional basketball was, he though, a very tough world, a world that by its nature allowed for very few illusions. The questions remained whether it was possible to survive and even triumph in such a world, and still exist outside it. Ramsay indeed seemed to be a man within whom the needs of his job and the needs of his humanity were constantly wrestling. “When you are discussing a successful coach,” sports psychologist Bruce Ogilvie once said, not of Ramsay but of the entire profession, “you are not necessarily drawing the profile of an entirely healthy person.”
Three interwoven concepts about coaching a professional basketball team: 1) Authority is earned, not granted; 2) Loyalty doesn’t exist; 3) It’s difficult to maintain a healthy psyche when coaching without loyalty and assurance that you are in charge. The first point is increasingly understood and accepted by basketball fans. But how exactly is authority earned, other than purely by winning or having a winning history in the league? I really don’t know. But the opposite — authority not being earned — is more easily observed. Coaches of losing teams who resort to college-style bullying tactics “lose the locker room” and get fired.
What about loyalty? My friend Brian, a big Celtics fan, tells me that Boston is special because of the loyalty they have, starting with Kevin Garnett. My counter to that would be, “What about Ray Allen?” They shopped Ray multiple times and he paid them back to bolting to title-favorite and Celtics rival, Miami. Kevin Garnett is shown loyalty, perhaps, but he’s also an All-NBA caliber player. It’s easy to be loyal to the great ones. I side with Ramsay on this one. There isn’t much true loyalty in professional sports, and when it is shown, it’s usually a mistake.
* I’m finally getting around to reading David Halberstam’s, “The Breaks of the Game.” Bill Simmons calls it the greatest basketball book ever written and an early inspiration for his writing. As these Wolves games lower in meaning, I thought it’d make for good blogging to share tid bits from an NBA classic.
Season Record: 17-26