Tonight’s loss at Orlando had a similar trajectory to those early-season losses that caused so much fan frustration. A double-digit lead was squandered in the second half as missed shots seemed to affect decision-making and effort. With 1:18 to play in the first half, Glen “Big Baby” Davis charged Kevin Love (a call that was obviously correct, on the video replay) and was T’d up while flipping his jersey out and exposing his belly for the world to see. The Wolves’ 6-point lead quickly became 12 when Ricky Rubio found Love for a trey with a second left in the quarter. Things were looking good for Minnesota after an all-around impressive half of basketball. A five-game winning streak appeared to be almost inevitable.
What exactly went wrong in the second half? Wolves’ radio voice Alan Horton helped explain on Twitter, after the third quarter won by the Magic, 25-17:
Big Baby was alive! And kicking Timberwolves ass. Didn’t they read the Punch-Drunk Wolves game preview? Sure, Baby looks goofy and about got himself ejected before halftime. But the guy isn’t terrible and he came out and showed everyone that he had something left after a rough first half. Davis finished the game with 28 points on 13-17 shooting.
But Big Baby wasn’t the only thing that went wrong. Far from it. In the third, Love cooled off after a hot first half (he had an efficient 17 points and 8 rebounds at halftime) and shot just 2 for 8. Pekovic, also a major force with 15 & 7 of his own through two quarters, was 0 for 4 in the third. [Correction: Pekovic was 2-6 in the third quarter. I once again made the mistake of trusting ESPN.com, which routinely screws up the game stats. Even this morning, the game flow fails to show Pekovic’s two third-quarter baskets.] Kirilenko, the third prong of the Wolves dominant first-half front line, was 0 for 3 in the pivotal period. When nothing was dropping from the big men, guard play became rattled.
Ricky couldn’t quite get going tonight. He had a sweet bounce pass to a rolling Love that looked similar to the one he threw Barea the other night, setting up Love on the opposite block to get fouled. (What do we call those Ricky passes where he reaches out his right arm with the ball while crouching down before flipping it hard with a snap of the wrist? I’m going with “whip pass.” I hope that’s okay.) But he went scoreless in 16 minutes and had almost as many turnovers (3) as assists (4). Ricky showed some of the rust to be expected on an ACL-recovering guard.
Alexey Shved had 4 turnovers in just 28 minutes of action. His 1 for 8 shooting, and a particularly-frustrating turnover when he passed up an open three set up by Ricky to drive in the lane and jump pass to a Magic player, was all Adelman could take. He yanked Alexey, handed the keys to the J.J. Barea Circus, and effectively conceded the outcome. J.J.’s 10 points (on 4-13 shooting) and 6 assists without a turnover do less to explain his performance in the second half than his team-worst (by far) -18. The ball movement of the first half stood in stark contrast to the fourth-quarter offense that became All J.J. All the Time. Not good. Jim Petersen made the point, that I agreed with, that Shved probably should have been put back on the floor when the game was still close. It’s easy to second guess after the fact, but Barea had things looking pretty shaky during all of Winning Time. Also, it wasn’t as if Shved had a nightmare of a game. He did have 5 assists–a high number for a single player in those minutes, given the unselfish passing and general cohesion of the team offense for much of the Wolves’ good minutes. Shved also played solid defense, as he seems to be doing most nights. J.J. Redick had a great game, and Shved guarded him some, but very few if any Redick points resulted from an Alexey breakdown.
Any other silver linings, or positive takeaways?
I loved the game Dante Cunningham played. Non-stop effort on defense and in loose-ball situations. Smart, controlled offense, befitting of a role player. Derrick Williams made 2 of 3 field goals and pulled down 4 rebounds in 10 minutes of action. One basket came on a perfectly-executed drop step. The other came on a silky-smooth pick-and-roll and Rubio behind-the-back feed. More of that, please. A final positive takeaway, limited to the first half I suppose, is that Kevin Love really synced up with Andrei Kirilenko for some of the prettiest forward-forward action we’ve seen this year. Love was cutting and passing. If that becomes the norm, it’s just one more weapon tuned into this new system.
But I can’t gush too much about a loss to the Magic. Orlando won’t be in the playoffs at year’s end no matter how good of a coach Jacque Vaughn looks to be. Wolves play at Miami tomorrow night, host Oklahoma City on Thursday, and travel to Madison Square Garden after that. Tonight was a win they really wanted.
Season Record: 12-10