Twitter was going wild on the Timberwolves Injury Report front in the hours leading up to tonight’s game at Staples Center. First, the good news:
Such. Great. News. I can’t wait to see Minnesota’s most-entertaining athlete back on the floor at Target Center. Should only be another week or two.
Now, the bad (for tonight’s game anyway):
That hurts. Through 13 games, AK47 is the team’s MVP. Without him, taking on a title contender, on the road, on 0 days rest, is not a winning proposition. But as Chris Berman might say if he were segueing into a game in which an unexpected result occurred, “That’s why they play the games.”
To the action…
The Wolves busted out of the gates with hot shooting all around. Malcolm Lee continued his better play from last night with a game-opening trey that was quickly followed by another from Josh Howard who started in place of injured Andrei Kirilenko. Luke Ridnour, Kevin Love, Alexey Shved, and Dante Cunningham also buried jumpers of their own in the opening period that gave the Wolves a 28-23 advantage after quarter number one. On the other end, veteran Chauncey Billups duped Wolves defenders into silly fouls, while Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and even DeAndre Jordan kept the game close with scores of their own. Paul was noticeably deferential in the early part of the game, allowing others to touch the ball and post up. A criticism I sometimes have of Paul is that he doesn’t do this–instead, he dribbles for 15-20 seconds until finally (but succesfully, nevertheless) finding an open shooter after sucking an extra defender or two his way. Paul does an excellent–elite, even–job of controlling the ball and making sure somebody gets a decent shot. Sometimes a layup or dunk. But there’s a benefit in others handling the ball throughout the game, too. In this game, he made me question this preconceived notion. He was sharing the ball all over.
The CP3 deferring changed in the 2nd Quarter when he noticed who was guarding him. Sometimes Alexey Shved. Sometimes Luke Ridnour. Sometimes Malcolm Lee. Never anybody who stood a chance. As the pace of the game picked up, to the benefit of athletic Clipper bigs, the halfcourt sets were dominated by Paul who ended the half with 11 points, 6 assists and his team leading by 2. J.J. Barea had impacts both good and bad in the 2nd Quarter. He made a couple of tough buckets to extend the lead to 9, at 36-27. I probably wasn’t alone among Wolves fans in hoping he’d be yanked, as his scoring bursts lately seem to be followed by turnovers and bad decisions. He stayed in the game and quickly melted down, losing the lead with his head. The 11-0 run that the Clippers went on, when Chris Paul was on the bench, was a crucial point of tonight’s game that eventually became a Wolves loss.
The 3rd Quarter was all about Clipper fouls and dysfunction. The Wolves were in the bonus with more than 7 minutes left in the 3rd and kept going back to the stripe. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, each playing well in the game, had to sit down with 4 fouls a piece. Kevin Love in particular drew foul after foul on Clipper big men. Love shot 16 free throws for the game, making 12. However, Minnesota didn’t do a great job of capitalizing on the non-stop hacking and only led by a point after 3. Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford were seemingly the only two Clippers with cool heads and kept their team afloat heading into Winning Time.
There’s no way to describe the 4th Quarter other than “back and forth.” For the first 9 minutes, the lead kept changing, none greater than 3 points. When Blake Griffin finally extended a Clipper lead to 5, with 3:01 to go, Nikola Pekovic immediately answered by collecting an offensive board and following it up with a basket and the foul. Both teams missed shots and the Wolves had the ball with a minute and a half to play, down by 2 points. In the most disappointing possession of the game, Luke dribbled the air out of the ball, eventually turning it over. A major disappointment of tonight’s competitive 4th Quarter was the amount of time that Luke possessed the ball instead of Alexey Shved, the better initiator and crunchtime option. The turnover on this integral possession was pushed ahead for a DeAndre Jordan dunk, and the foul, and the game.
As I made clear at the outset of this post, this was not a game the Wolves were expected to win. So there’s a moral victory in there somewhere for keeping it close. But the Clippers meltdown in the 3rd Quarter had all the makings of a disappointing loss and when things shook out like they did, the fans who stayed up late certainly had a bitter taste in their mouth. A few jottings to wrap this one up and get ready for Milwaukee on Friday (back at home, finally):
* 3-point shooting continues to be a weakness. Tonight, the Wolves shot 27.3 percent (6-22) which is right about the season average heading into the game of 27.7 percent. Love continued to struggle, going 1 for 5. He nearly airballed the key shot attempt that Pekovic thankfully rebounded (on the late-game possession that cut the lead to 2, mentioned above). Love will get it going, and the sooner the better. The other two cold 3-shooters were J.J. Barea (0-4, eventually quit shooting them on some would-be-nice assists from Shved) and Derrick Williams (0-3, probably shouldn’t be chucking like that from distance).
* Derrick Williams had 2 turnovers in just 12 minutes. Sounds like a small thing, but just 1 less might change how the final minutes played out in such a close game.
* The Wolves rebounded 21 of their own misses tonight. While some of these came on “miss after miss after miss” situations around the basket, the number is nevertheless very high and kept them in the game despite shooting only 37.8 percent from the floor. Pekovic had 4 offensive boards. Cunningham had 3.
* Alexey Shved played 36 minutes. If nothing else, a sign that Adelman is gaining confidence in his best healthy guard is a good sign for the team. Now Shved needs to take some ownership of the offense and demand the damn ball the way J.J. Barea does. It’s in the best interest of the team that he run the show as much as possible until Ricky gets back. And get those reps in now because they’ll certainly be more limited at that time.
* Four games upcoming against the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee at home, followed by Philly and Boston on a two-game road trip, and then Cleveland (likely without Kyrie Irving) at home after that. Those are four winnable games. Yes, even Boston. I’d really like to see the Wolves take 3 of them and get back to .500 before hosting Denver on December 12.
Until next time.
Season Record: 6-8
6 responses to “Unarmed (CLIPPERS 101, Wolves 95)”
Funny. This was never one I thought they would win. Throughout, it felt like a loss to me. There was one moment, up 83-80 I think, when they got the ball back in semi-transition and JJ pulled up for a 3. Anyway, that goes in, and maybe they find a way to hang on, but it didn’t, and they didn’t. (and I thought it was an OK shot; as good as anything they were likely to get later in the clock).
I think it felt like a loss throughout for 2 reasons: seemed like the Clips were just getting too many easy ones at the rim all game. That coupled with the fact that the Wolves were staying afloat at the line so much in the 3rd quarter, and it just felt like those calls were going to go away eventually, and where would they score?
I had low expectations heading in. I would have, even if AK were healthy, given the no rest, no Rubio, and the Clips being a good team. But the fouls and technical fouls were pretty ridiculous in the 3rd–Matt Barnes was inching toward an ejection–and I thought the Wolves might pounce on that dysfunction and steal one. Even after not really capitalizing on that, they had a chance. Not a bad loss, but not one that I can totally dismiss as a “you’re just not going to win that game” either. Another little blunder I failed to mention was Mal Lee fouling Chris Paul on a jumper in one of the last possessions of the game. Paul probably makes that elbow jumper 60% or more of the time, but you can’t foul him there. (Lee played an otherwise-solid game though. Nice to see him look like a pro for two straight games.)
NBA games usually come down to the last two minutes of each game. My wife doesn’t watch until the second half. Several years ago we had a CBA team in Rochester. One point was awarded for winning the quarter and three points for winning the game. It made each quarter more intense and special, better than the NBA system. If a team won three quarters and lost the game, they earned three points and winner four.
That is an old adage, and sometimes it seems correct. Plenty of games are one-sided throughout though. A time when I think “The NBA is a 4th Quarter game” applies is when a great team is on the road against a weak opponent, especially if they’re on short rest. They’ll coast a bit until they step on the accelerator in crunch time. I think it’s Jeff Van Gundy that said something to the effect of “The NBA is actually a 1st Quarter game” citing stats that show 1st Quarter leads become wins in some relatively high percentage of games. When I watch playoff basketball I notice more clearly how important early-game swings are. Possessions *seem* to matter more, because the game means so much more. I’m all about having late-game scoring options–last night, Luke’s inability to create was a clear example of what happens when you don’t–but I don’t buy that the games usually come down to the last two minutes. Every possession counts and it’s easier to win a game when you enter the 4th Quarter with a 10-point lead than a 1-point lead like the Wolves had last night. Had they better handled that 2nd Quarter stint when Paul was on the bench, or burned the Clippers for more points when they were in the penalty so early in the 3rd Quarter, they probably win last night’s game.
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I noticed the smiles and seemingly friendly conversation between players in last night’s LA vs. Minnesota game. It reminded me that regular season NBA games are more about entertainment than competition until the fourth quarter. Something needs to be done to make the first, second, and third quarters count. CBA had the answer. See above.