Darko Milicic opened this contest with a jump hook that gave his Wolves a 2-0 lead over the Clips. (Darko played great the whole contest, by the way.) But this lead would be the only one the Wolves enjoyed until Kevin Love sank an open 28-footer as the buzzer sounded. Narrowly edging out his friend and rival, Blake Griffin, Love capped a rather-amazing comeback for his team on a night when baskets were all-too-difficult to come by. Ricky Rubio in particular (1-11 FGM-A, 9 points) couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn and looked as rattled as we have seen him in an NBA uniform. But as everyone noted after the game, his competitive fire never waned and his playmaking and free-throw shooting were crucial to the victory. Immediately before Love’s heroics, Ricky tied the game with a corner trey. After missing all ten of his field goals to that point, he didn’t hesitate for a second in taking and making the big shot. For all of his struggles, Rubio was a (+2) for the game; the only starter in the positives.
But enough about Rubio for now. This game was built up by the talking heads as a matchup of the league’s best power forwards–LaMarcus Aldridge and Dirk Nowitzki may have things to say about this, but whatever, we’re going with it–who thrive even though they could hardly differ more in terms of their length and athleticism. In the early going, Blake struggled to score against his bigger defender, Darko. He resorted to jump shots, clanking almost every time. As the game progressed, Blake showed some smarts, challenging Darko with spin moves and up fakes. He finished the game with a respectable 21 & 11, but his 5 turnovers were excessive and his missed pair of free throws with a minute to go (Darko fouled out respectably, corralling Blake to prevent the basket and putting the lid on his most-productive performance of the year – 22 points and 7 rebounds) proved to be fatal. Love had an equally-mediocre game by his own high standards, until of course, the buzzer-beating dagger. He shot 5-16 from the floor, but grinded out a 17-point, 14-rebound, 3-assist, and 0-turnover stat sheet. I would call the individual matchup (even though they didn’t guard one another, we’re calling this a matchup) a wash, except that Blake choked at the line, and Love was the hero in the end. Love wins this one.
Look at the box score, and you’ll notice that the bench has the big pluses in the +/- column. Derrick Williams in particular stands out, as he chipped in 9 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists in only 14 minutes of action. The Wolves were a whopping (+17) in that short bit of time while D-Thrill was wreaking havoc. He showed off the move I’ve been clamoring for more of: that 15-17 foot jab step dribble drive. Amar’e and Bosh use that all the time and Williams has that type of athleticism and dribbling ability. He did it in college and it worked for him tonight and I hope to see more of this in the future. Given that the Wolves are searching for offensive proficiency in Michael Beasley’s absence, I have been disappointed to see Williams’ minutes cut.
Wayne Ellington continues to bury jumpers at a nice rate (6-9 FG; 1-2 3PT). Wellington comes off a pick and fires like Rex Chapman or Eddie House. Is this a sustainable way to produce? Maybe; maybe not. But as a limited reserve, there are worse things than a quality chucker. Thirteen games in, Wayne’s field goal percentage is up from his career average (41.8 percent career; 46.3 percent this season). Some of that is attributable to Rubio setting him up better than Flynn (ya think?) or Ridnour could in seasons past.
Anthony Tolliver didn’t play his best game, and here’s why: he forgot what his role is. I think Hubie Brown (who was awesome, by the way–who doesn’t like color commentary in the second-person?) pointed this out, but Tolliver needs to shoot the ball when he’s open. (So does Wes Johnson, but I’ve given up hope, there.) Tolliver has seemed to understand his role in the offense better than most players and has hit huge treys off of Rubio dimes. In this game, he put it on the floor too much and, as often happens for him, he turned the ball over. A player of this type should not have 3 turnovers in an entire game’s work, let alone 19 minutes. He was the only bench player in the minus column, with a (-4).
The elephant in the room is that the Clippers were without Chris Paul (and Caron Butler, but Gomes did just fine replacing Tuff Juice). Chauncey Billups thinks it’s 2004 and this is a problem for Lob City. As Mo Williams showed the world last night (25 points), he is actually a good basketball player. Billups relies almost exclusively on trying to draw fouls and doesn’t pose the same threat that he used to as a playmaker. When Williams was ejected (two separate technical fouls, almost-definitely swung the game’s outcome) Billups put on his hero cape and came up short with turnovers and missed shots. In my opinion, the Clippers would benefit from ditching Billups and running with Paul and Williams for the bulk of minutes, and some Randy Foye mixed in as a change-of-pace reserve.
Oh, DeAndre Jordan. It was almost comical watching the little Wolves trying to shoot over this guy. Ridnour hit a floater that must have gone 15 feet in the air, and DJ damn-near got a hand on it at its peak. Jordan is worthless offensively, but his defensive impact is obvious on a single viewing. In case you forgot how bad Kevin McHale was at drafting players, he passed on Jordan with the 31st (Pekovic) and 34th (Mario Chalmers, traded to Heat) picks in the 2008 Draft. Can you imagine walking away from that draft with Kevin Love and DeAndre Jordan? I digress.
Looking Ahead (a few hours)
Wolves travel to Salt Lake tonight where they’ll face a seemingly-improved Jazz team (9-5, but against a relatively-easy schedule so far) led by an old favorite of my own, Al Jefferson. Big Al is leading the Jazz in points (18.3) and rebounds (9.2) per game, but is hardly the focal point that he once was on some terrible Wolves teams. EnergySolutions Arena (the Delta Center was so much easier to say) is a tough place to leave victorious. The Jazz rested last night and the Wolves will have their hands full. In the interest of getting way ahead of ourselves, if the Wolves want that eighth playoff spot in the West, Utah would probably be the team they’d displace.
Season Record: 7-8