The Three-Pointer: A Necessary Refreshment
1. Common purpose
Heading into tonight's wire-to-wire win over Portland, the Wolves were getting tossed about by one of those bouts of trepidation--call it a prelude to panic--where serious consequences like somebody getting fired or traded or benched are mulled over if not endlessly discussed. A four-game losing streak that offered no clues, directions, or much hope for the team's future was the cause. The ballclub needed to stem the negativity that pervaded the squad, and they did, in the best way possible; not by one or two spectacular individual performances, but with their most unified and completely performed effort of the still-young season.
Not a single player was horrible, and most of them were better than their numbers would suggest. For example, Mark Blount committed two fouls, grabbed only one rebound and was 2-2 FG in 5:38 of play in the first period. But in the first few minutes, Blount's defensive rotations were anticipatory and crisp, sealing off two drives to the hoop and anchoring a defense that didn't yield a field goal in the first 5 and half minutes of action (at which time Minnesota led 14-1). Blount was also taking Zach Randolph, the tougher of the two interior matchups (Kevin Garnett had Jamaal Magloire). Blount's final line was 7 points, four rebounds and four fouls in 16:37 deceptively good minutes of action.
Ricky Davis, Mike James, Trenton Hassell, and of course KG were likewise engaged and very very aggressive at both ends of the court. Portland was plainly struggling with its own rhythm, absent super rook Brandon Roy now in addition to Joel Pryzbilla and Darius Miles, but you don't get 50 rebounds and make 27 assists (versus 15 turnovers) without a majority of the squad filling their roles with a common purpose. It was a sign of faith in the future.
2. Garnett as primary dime-dropper
I enjoy watching this team so much more when most everything runs through KG. That's because Garnett not only makes the best decisions on the ballclub, but most every other element of his game is elevated when he is getting mucho touches as the waystation of the half-court setup. Take tonight's line: 20 points (on 6-15 FG and 8-11 FT), 7 assists, 13 rebounds, 3 steals, 5 blocks, 6 fouls (he was DQ'd with 1:10 left)and 4 turnovers. By comparison, Ricky Davis had 18 shots and but four assists (and played better, but not good, defense), and, like Mike James, frequently went to the hole for his points. Davis is capable of beautiful passes and bunches of assists, but he doesn't think like a point guard, in terms of keeping everybody involved and regulating the passing tempo at a pleasingly, almost hynotically, metronomic clip the way Garnett does it when he's on and in control. Tonight was the first time all year I've really seen him in that vintage mode. Oh, and in the 4th quarter he scored 11 points (next highest Wolf had 3)and led the team in boards, blocks and (tied) assists, plus executed a layup and a pretty assist immediately after the only two occasions after the first quarter that Portland cut the lead to single digits. In the locker room, he went out of his way to praise James, Davis, and Casey, the former two for being aggressive and the latter for utilizing his mismatches on Magloire (out on the perimeter) and rookie LaMarcus Aldridge (down in the paint).
3. A few quick hits
Mark Madsen returned from injury for his first minutes of the season and quickly ascended over Griffin and Craig Smith as Blount's primary backup on the strength of his able jousting with Zach Randolph and others down low. Front line players should enjoy playign with Mad Dog, who (1)boxes out well and (2)contests for loose rebounds, (1)giving his teammates space and lanes to grab boards and (2) opportunities to belatedly join the scrum or have a ball bounce into their hands.
Nate McMillan gave Minnesota a gift with an extended rest of Randolph in the 4th period. Otherwise, KG might have fouled out sooner and Madsen would have been even more spent from his return to action.
When Blount was bowled over in the fourth quarter, KG ran from midcourt down to the paint to help him up. You can name the superstars on one hand who would do that for a teammate.
Great rebounding and the Wolves' "flow" offense remains a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum. Tonight they owned the glass, 14-3, and the scoreboard, 20-5 two-thirds of the way through the first period.
Casey said in the postgame press conference that the team emphasized ball movement and penetration, running drills that discouraged dribbling. It showed.
Finally, I will be heading out to celebrate my father's 80th birthday for a week on the east coast and will thus miss the next five Timberwolves games. Anyone interested in trying their hand at a trey after any of these tilts? If so, mention it along with your comment (I'll go in and edit it out) and we'll set up some sort of schedule. In case of duplications, frequent posters will get the nod. And, worst case scenario, we'll run open threads or continue comments from previous treys so the forum can continue. I'll have a laptop, but, alas, no TV access or NBA ticket, so anything I say will be flying blind.