Timberwolves get happy and beat Sacramento
Photo by Maggiejumps
We T-Wolves fans really don't ask for much. Show us at least a modicum of effort, a smile or two, a few wild Corey Brewer dunks and a maybe a win once a month or so and we'll pretty much be okay. Nice, then, to see all four as the T-Wolves beat the Kings on Wednesday, averting not only the franchise record for consecutive losses, but also the team's first ever win-less month. Not so hard, right?
This game had an bewildering, up-is-down quality that played out in a few ways. First, and perhaps most importantly, in the Kings the Wolves finally encountered an opponent even less coherent offensively and even less committed defensively than themselves. This was, for the first time in a while, an opponent not battling for a playoff spot and, probably most importantly, an opponent without an insurmountable advantage in talent. To their credit, the Wolves have worked hard to keep up their spirits and stay together during this long, painful slog; Sacramento, battling injuries and disappointment, seemed to be shutting their eyes, clapping their hands over their ears and wishing it was all over.
And so the Wolves found themselves forcing the Kings into aimless, empty possessions, forcing them to take contested jumper after contested jumper. And they found themselves actually able to execute their offense, able to move the ball into the post and back outside, to switch sides of the floor and create passing angles. This resulted, lo and behold, in open shots, in players shooting the ball comfortably and in rhythm; it resulted in 56% shooting and 30 assists on 46 made baskets.
But it wasn't just Sacramento's defensive apathy that enabled the Wolves to look like a somewhat capable offensive team. Despite a few of the expected bad possessions--balls thrown away, shot clocks dribbled out, deeply ill-advised shots--for the most part, Jonny Flynn did a pretty nice job of running the show. He shot the ball well (7-15 and 3-4 from three) moved the ball early in possessions, found open shooters (he handed out eight assists) and generally facilitated that snappy ball movement, particularly during the Wolves best stretch of play, a twelve minute second-half run in which they outscored the Kings 28-14.
Another element of striking unfamiliarity: with the seven-foot Spencer Hawes sitting with an injury, the Wolves had a significant size advantage, which they actually managed to take advantage of. The Wolves, totally uncharacteristically scored 50 points in the paint; Darko and Big Al were repeatedly able to get good, open looks at the basket. Even less characteristically (and even more exciting), Darko and Al combined for 10 blocked shots; Al even managed to block the Kings' Carl Landry three times on one possession. After the game Al dropped this gem: "I think I have to realize we play well when I play great defense." Um, yes Al, that's true.
But the night's most impressive sight was Kevin Love's pitched third-quarter battle against Landry. Landry was, remember, randomly shot in the leg last year and played in a game two weeks later. He also, earlier this season, deposited three of his teeth in Dirk Nowitzki's elbow. While Dirk had to miss some time getting that elbow right, Landry was back the next game. Basically, Carl Landry is a really tough dude. So it was cool to see Love mixing it up with Landry, pursuing the ball, wrestling for position, battling for rebounds, all with an icy, murderous look in his eye. This is the Kevin Love the Wolves are used to, and the one they desperately need. Love grabbed five rebounds in the third quarter and four more in the first five minutes of the fourth and was a major cause of that terrific Wolves run.
And then...Kurt Rambis sat him down in favor of Darko for the remainder of the game. The Kings promptly whittled a 13-point lead down to five; what had looked like a blowout win was, for the moment, in doubt. Darko had certainly been protecting the basket and shooting well, but the Wolves dearly missed Love's tenacity in the closing moments of the game. Darko, with his gray pallor and sickly smile does not look like he's in the physical condition to play 35 minutes per game, as he did on Wednesday. Sure enough, the big fellow was unable to hit a shot, collect a rebound or dish out an assist in the game's final seven minutes.
It seems that Rambis is trying his best to integrate Darko into the team, to give him a taste of crunch time and improve his game conditioning to boot. But is this worth benching perhaps your best player in the only game you've had a real shot at winning in over a month? Is this worth failing to reward same for his best effort since the All-Star break, failing to help rebuild his nearly shattered confidence? I'm not so sure about that.
Did I say most impressive? Nope, the most impressive thing on Wednesday night, as it is most nights, is Oleksiy Pecherov's totally stoned benchwarming. Since his playing time dried up with Darko's arrival, Pecherov has been turning not playing into performance art. We've caught him doing some goofy, rubber-necked dancing (basically to whatever comes on during timeouts), attempting to write on Reggie Theus's ridiculous suits with a sharpie, whipping the head of security with a towel, and doing all of the above with bloodshot, puffy eyes and a supremely satisfied grin. He may not have figured anything out about playing for the Wolves this year, but Pech has perfectly embodied the necessary attitude for watching them. In that, he's been a real source of inspiration. Thanks, Stewie.