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