The Three-Pointer: Season's Best (Thus Far)
1) Too thorough to be a fluke
So the Utah Jazz tote the NBA's best record (15-4) into Target Center and play quality hoops in the first half, yet manage only a three point lead at 46-43. That's because point guard Mike James comes out with the jets on, burning second-year counterpart Deron Williams for 6 quick points in the first 2:20. Still, Utah plays that Jerry Sloan game, grind-it-out, physical ball with a lot of aggressive traps on defense and weakside player movement on offense. The Mutt and Jeff center tandem of Mark Blount and Craig Smith finish the half with 3 fouls apiece. The smart money would still be sliding toward the Jazz.
Then the Wolves play their best quarter of basketball in this season at least, and probably last year as well. Wary of Andre Kirilenko's incredible help defense via his penchant for both blocks and steals, they heed coach Dwane Casey's admonition to keep the ball moving, and zip the rock around like the vintage days of Flip Saunders.
Speaking of vintage, Kevin Garnett dips into his MVP-style vault for a dandy stretch where he swatted away two of Carlos Boozer's shots and intimidated a bevy of other Jazz attempts, and owned whoever was pretending to guard him. Boozer entered the game with primary stats (22.7 pts, 12.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists) very similar to KG's customary numbers (21.3, 11.9 and 3.6 respectively), but wobbled out in single digits on 4-17 FG, 13 boards and three assists). KG busted out for 31 points (12-22 FG), 14 rebounds and two assists, plus a trio of blocks and two steals (Boozer was shut out in the latter two categories). And Boozer probably did the best job of anyone defending KG. When he went to the bench with 3:15 left in the third, Sloan made the mistake of putting Mehmet Okur (who looks straight out of central casting as the slightly dissolute villain in a James Bond movie) on Garnett. KG proceeded to pile up half of his 3rd quarter's 16 points during that 195-second span without short-circuiting the delightful passing rhythm Minnesota had established. Not to mention his own shooting rhythm.
Bottom line, Minnesota hung 67 second-half points on Sloan's vaunted team, enjoying a 34-24 bulge in that game-deciding third period. Garnett-Ricky Davis-Mike James did their best MV3 imitation, combining for 80 of the squad's 110 points. Kirilenko, old AK47 himself, never got untracked as the dominant force he can be at both ends of the court, finishing with 12 points to go with Boozer's 8. A tired Wolves team might drop the tail end of a back-to-back Saturday night in Chicago, but the sheer confident joy and common commitment they exhibited tonight was too thorough to be a fluke--it would take a couple of very bad performances to stem and then reverse this positive momentum.
2) This Blount object not a bad thing
In the media dining room before the game, Wolves announcer Jim Peterson reiterated his support for center Mark Blount, and his contention that Blount is the best center in franchise history. Then Blount went out and made Pete look smart with the kind of unsung game he simply wasn't capable of playing last season. Known for stroking the jumper, Blount was the only starter not in double figures for the game, and managed a paltry 3 rebounds in 38:25. But his defensive hustle--Casey would call it playing with his pants on fire--was in evidence, as was the trust and swagger among all members of the starting five, who genuinely seem to like each other even when their play on the court is dysfunctional. Of course it helps that Casey went back to his shorter bench rotations; aside from Eddie Griffin's foul-trouble related 1:21 of "action" only the two rooks and Marko Jaric were subbed in, and even they failed to top 20 minutes.
3) Dreaming Iverson
Now that the Wolves are truly functioning with synergy and spirit, wouldn't you know it that the Wolves are rumored as one of the teams in the Allen Iverson sweepstakes. AI, who pretty much said sayonara to Philly in demanding a trade earlier this week, might be had for as little as Randy Foye, Mike James, and Marko Jaric, according to ESPN.
On the plus side, KG and AI have long had a deep mutual admiration society, in part borne out of the travails each faced in their encounters with the law back in high school, and in part the result of both players performing with huge hearts, enough to grab MVP award but barely a sniff of championship contention. What's more, if Iverson and the aforementioned trio really are the principals in any transaction, the Wolves will have actually cut their payroll three or four years down the road.
The debit side is that a major mid-season deal derailed this squad's rhythm last season. Now that there are at last signs of legitimate teamwork, along comes the huge gamble of investing for $40 million year in just two players who both are past their prime.
Still, Iverson and Garnett together would immediately stamp the club as viable playoff contenders. Foye is particular would be difficult to sacrfice, but if you want a shot at postseason glory, and the drama of watching a pair of aging ex-MVPs rallying the squad from .500 status, it is time to pull the trigger on this deal.