The Three-Pointer: Technical Glitch
1. Little lineup works
2. KG gets rattled then recovers
3. Don't fret...at least not yet
Hey folks. Those who know me understand how technically incapable I am with computers. Until today I have been remarkably competent/lucky with preserving my Three-Pointer posts. That streak has come to an end with the vanishing of my longest Three-Pointer to date. I was literally two sentences away from wrapping it all up when I heard my email sing, flipped over, saw it contained an attachment, and hit the link for it. Three hours of mad opining and frenzied analysis just went down the drain. It rivalled the Beach Boys Smile album, I'm sure.
I don't have the stomach to try and regurgitate it all now. But I am very curious in your reactions to the past two gut wrenching defeats, and so I'll provide the barest of descriptions of what I was writing before so rudely interrupting myself.
1. Little lineup
Against Sac, that go-go trio of AC, Mad Dog and Wally that I have been enamored with for the past ten months or so finished plus-16 in two extended stints encompassing about 17 minutes of play. And against San Antonio, the triple point guard alignment reared its head for the first time since the second week of the season, with mostly good results. Just as AC and Mad Dog complement Wally by running the floor and either creating (on offense) or closing (on defense) seams in the half-court sets, AC and Jaric are tailor-made for T-Hud's virtues because of their defensive tenacity and relative willingness not to shoot.
There was one significant drawback in the little lineup on Thursday, however. Wally got burned a couple of time on treys from the corner because he was new to the power forward assignments on defensive rotations. Most of the time, obviously, Szczerbiak is a small forward and so he was inclined to shut off the lane rather than fly over to guard the corner, which apparently is the assignment for the power forward.
2. KG rattled then recovers
This was a long and no doubt brilliant description of how KG can be too responsible for his own good. For nearly a decade, he has been the unquestioned leader of this franchise. That hasn't changed this season. But his rebounding and assist numbers are off thus far this year; he missed a couple of golden opportunities to sink the winning shot versus the 76ers; and he was having another statistically subpar night (2 rebounds, one assist at halftime) against Sacramento when that go-go lineup I mentioned earlier helped spur Wally into a bout of magnificence to begin the 4th quarter. When Garnett sat to begin the 4th, the Wolves were down 2. Wally nailed 9 points in six minutes putting the Wolves up 6 with 5:59 to go when KG returned. Szczerbiak had been a catalyst the entire game. Now he was showing real leadership while KG rested.
For one of the very few times in the hundreds of games I've seen him play, Garnett looked rattled by the circumstance. When he got fouled just over a minute later, I wrote in my notebook, "moment of truth for rare case of KG nerves." He missed both free throws. Any doubts about what I was seeing were set aside when KG tipped an offensive rebound to Madsen for a slam dunk 30 seconds later, then triumphantly raised his finger aloft as he ran down the court, an overexuberant sign of relief.
With the Wolves up by one in the final minute, there wasn't a Kings player who didn't know that the Minnesota would try and ice the game by having Garnett do his patented outside shoulder turnaround jumper from the left block--three players were in his face as he went up. It clanked. Bonzie Wells hit the prayer at the buzzer and for the second game in a row Garnett had missed an opportunity to cinch a Wolves win.
The happy ending is that KG shrugged all that off on Thursday versus San Antonio. He banged home three of four jumpers in the first quarter, all from no closer than 13 feet. Guarding Rasho Nesterovic and/or Tim Duncan instead of worrying about Allen Iverson, Kyle Korver, Brad Miller or Sharif Abdur-Raheim on the perimeter, he had six rebounds in the first quarter, after getting just a dozen total in the previous eight quarters.
With the game on the line in the last minute, Casey called a timeout and drew up a play with KG is the semi-high post, feeding Marko Jaric cutting on the baseline. It would have worked beautifully if Jaric was more than a mediocre finisher, but he isn't and it didn't. Next time, KG dished to a wide open Anthony Carter in the corner, with predictible results--AC ain't a shooter even under unpressured circumstances. KG then launched his own miss on the third attempt at forcing overtime or gaining the lead, and Troy Hudson finished it off with a last second miss. Even so, KG stuffed the stats with 24 points, 21 rebounds, and 6 assists.
3. Don't fret...at least not yet
Moral victories are for average teams. Average is a pretty good description of what I imagine the Wolves to be this season--40-45 wins and on the playoff bubble--so I have no problem seeing the positive side of three gut-wrenching losses.
First of all, the odds of inspired play diminished for each of the three losses. Against Philadelphia, the Wolves executed their defensive game plan almost perfectly and made Chris Webber beat them. Chris Webber then beat them. Okay, no great shame in that, except they faced the daunting prospect of absorbing that tough loss by coming home for the second game of a back to back. After going down 14, they staged an impressive rally and were beaten on a very low percentage, buzzer-beating rainbow. Yeah, they shouldn't have put themselves in such a precarious position, but they fought gamely.
Who expected them to play the Spurs tough? I certainly didn't, especially after San Antonio snuffed them with an 8 point second quarter. Against arguably the best defense in the NBA, the Wolves then proceeded to score 59 points, with 11 assists and just two turnovers, in the second half. There have been some very disappointing losses thus far this year--my "favorites" are the Jaric and Kandi debacle against New Orleans, Szczerbiak clanking shots in the overtime loss to Seattle, and this recent loss to a bad Sacramento team. But this team has demonstrated thus far that they can't be counted out.
Pluck only lasts for so long, however. The tough part of the schedule is upon this team, and dropping another two or three games in a row would begin to exert its influence. Fortunately, as Jason Napora correctly told me before the season started, the Wolves' division is weak and up for grabs. And until and unless the Wolves deliver the sort of putrid effort that typified at least a dozen losses last season, they deserve the benefit of plenty of legitimate doubts.