Wolves get Grizzled

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Photo by Tiny Banquet Committee

"Once again our youth was exposed," said Wolves coach Kurt Rambis after this latest minor heartbreak. It was a game the Wolves led by double digits at certain points, leads they acquired by coupling an attacking offense with conscientious, fervent D. They then, in the third quarter, graciously handed those leads back with some lost, rattled play, the kind that us Wolves fans have become a little too accustomed to. Still, in many ways this was a heartening loss. The Wolves played most of the game with a renewed energy and even occasional poise. They mostly looked like an NBA team, and they would've won easily if Al Jefferson was anywhere near his old self.   

Forever Young

If our grandchildren remember this game (they'll probably be too busy with their text messages or their space elevators, but if they do) they will probably remember that Ramon Sessions missed free throws that could have tied the game with just over one second left. This will not be totally fair to Ramon since he was only in that position because he attacked the rim with time running out, drew a foul and nearly tied the game right then and there with an acrobatic left-handed scoop that barely rolled off the rim. What's more, despite his somewhat modest numbers (16 points, but with four turnovers and only one assist), Sessions righted the team's ship after their third quarter collapse, restoring balance to a game that threatened to get out of control.

This in contrast to Jonny Flynn. In many respects, this was Flynn's best game. He seemed to play with a newfound vision and sense of calm, finishing with a career high nine assists and, for him, an extremely thrifty two turnovers. The early part of the game saw him smoothly operating the offense and finding Damien Wilkins for scores with with two crafty open court passes.

But his inexperience also played a huge part in many of the game's decisive moments. Flynn's inability to command and organize the offense was at the center of the Wolves' discombobulated early third quarter. Here's a moment that encapsulates his play during that ugly, frantic run.  Flynn put his head down to drive (heedless, as he so often is, of the other nine players on the court) and found his way to the lane blocked. He then jumped for no evident purpose, spun around in midair and lobbed a wild pass somewhere in the dead space between Ryan Gomes and Corey Brewer. Because the offense had no rhythm or cohesion at that point, Gomes and Brewer were standing right next to each other and the possession ended in a turnover.

Later, with just 50 seconds left and the Wolves down by one the Grizzlies missed a shot, which Wilkins rebounded and moved on to Flynn. Instead of taking advantage of the long clock and the Wolves's open court numbers advantage, he, much to Rambis's chagrin, retreated and walked the ball up the floor, allowing the Grizzlies to set their defense. Flynn again misread the situation out of the ensuing timeout. Rambis had called for a pick and roll, allowing his rookie guard to penetrate the lane, drawing the defense and creating an opening for one of the Wolves' shooters (Gomes, who had made 8 of his 13 shots would have been a nice candidate). Instead, Flynn tried to bull his way to the basket, through the long bodies of Marc Gasol and Zack Randolph.  He found himself trapped and flailing under the backboard, with no choice but to heave a hopeless shot.

Couple these two misbegotten plays with a confused ensuing defensive possession--he gets lost guarding Mike Conley on a pick and roll; he switches onto O.J. Mayo; he totally overshoots O.J. Mayo, who blows by him on the way to the hoop--and you get three wasted fourth quarter opportunities. Youth is exposed, for sure. 

Rudy Can't Fail
 
It's been rumored (and I sure do love a rumor!) that the Wolves will try to sweet talk Grizzlies swingman Rudy Gay into signing with them as a free agent over the summer. This makes sense in lots of ways. For one thing, Gay looks amazing on the floor. He stands straight and tall with long lean muscles that somehow unfold both languidly and also extremely quickly. He's creative with the ball for a taller player; he's got a graceful, towering shot;  he can jump real, real high. Best of all, he combines all of that athletic ability with a certain regal calm. Its like he understands that power and quickness are great and everything, but they're no excuse for wasted motion. Wouldn't be dignified.

He would seem to fit in with the Wolves' scheme, too. In Rambis's offense, the ball often ends up on the wing with the shot clock running down and the team in need of a creative play. Right now, Corey Brewer seems to often end up in that spot (he's second on the team in field goals attempted--that just ain't right, son) and there are lots of heaving jumpers and balls dribbled off of feet to show for it. It's really nice to imagine Gay in those very same positions.

On the other hand, that aforementioned sense of dignity sometimes seems to morph into something more like a daydreamy ambivalence, like  Rudy's thinking about a nice, sunny place or a delicious sandwich (which I totally understand, dude). The Grizzlies are a strange team--loaded with talent and yet aimless and somehow half-formed--and it can be difficult to tell just how good any of their players actually are. Last year, for instance, no one seemed to know which of the Griz's point guards were worth keeping, but now Kyle Lowry is breaking atoms in Houston while, back in Memphis, Mike Conley still looks a little lost and irrelevant. With seemingly little inclination to share the ball, communicate on defense, or do much of anything besides watch each other play one-on-one, the Grizzlies seem like teammates only coincidentally, like five ships passing in the night.

So, for example, why, despite the fact that Gay is blatantly the better athlete, did he allow Damien Wilkins to blow past him to the baseline three times in the first half? And why do so many of his shots seem to come in isolation, following a long bout of lovely, but rather aimless dribbling? And why, although Wilkins was no match for Gay on the defensive end, did Gay barely touch the ball in the fourth quarter? Would any of these things improve if he played in a system more attuned to his skills, on a team that shared a modicum of trust? Its confusing.   


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