The Three-Pointer: A Point Shy
1. PG FG: 1-15
When your point guards miss 14 out of 15 shots in a one-point loss, it is the story of the game regardless of how they played otherwise. But for the record, I felt Randy Foye (who was 1-10, and hit 3-4 FTs) and Mike James (scoreless on 0-5) played about equally well aside from their miserable accuracy, with Foye better on defense and in keeping the other team's defenders honest, and James superior at running the offense. And I wish Coach Dwane Casey had subbed James in at some point in a very contentious fourth quarter.
Opponents are beginning to notice that James lacks confidence in his jumper and are playing off him, hurting the manuverability of KG and limiting James's penetration. James turned down a number of open looks during his first stint--8:09--and finally uncorked his first missive, a wide open trey, with 3:39 left in the half. Like so many others recently, it hit the front of the iron. From the coach's post-game comments, you know he is rewarding James for dimes and floor leadership more than converted buckets right now, and James had dutifully followed that lead by trying to spread the ball around and shooting less.
Sometimes it works. But it is not really's James's game; being an aggressive offensive force is his metier, and the reason the Wolves acquired him in the first place. Yes, James has forfeited most of those prerogatives with his shoddy shot selection, inept defense, and, most recently, his corrosive self-doubt. But Casey's tighter rein has enabled a more stable, predictible offense when James is running the show, and there are times, like tonight's opening 7:59 of the 3rd quarter, when the Wolves' O is humming with James in the mix.
In the first 4:38 of the period, the Wolves shot 7-8 from the field, with all the baskets assisted, as the Wolves turned a one-point halftime deficit into a five-point lead. When James sat, Minnesota was 9-14 in the 3rd--9-11 without James's three misses--and still up by 4 with 4:02 left. The next 16:02 belonged to Foye, during which time the Wolves were minus 5.
Foye likewise played the first half as if assists were worth four times more than his own conversions, trying to go with the offensive flow and ignoring his own penetration, the absolute key to his game. Second half, totally different story. Put simply, he was 1-3 FG in 11:49 of the first half, and 0-7 FG in 16:02 of the second half. The kid certainly has that sought-after mixture of confidence and guts you want from your floor leader. With 8:15 left and the Wolves down 3, he drove the baseline and skied in traffic for a monstrous tomahawk jam attempt that naturally got waylaid in mid-air, causing him to crush the ball against the side of the rim. Two further points of context: he was 1-9 from the field at the time, and he calmly sank both free throws.
Still, for almost the entire 16:02 Foye played to finish out the game, the teams were no more than 3 points apart. Despite playing nearly 8 more minutes than James, Foye had 2 fewer assists (and one fewer turnover). After James responded so well in the last 4th quarter stint granted him by Casey, it would have been nice to see the coach spell the rook for a 3-4 minutes span and see what happened. Casey probably thought it was too big or a risk or disruption. There was also not a single second of a James-Foye backcourt tandem tonight, although I won't fault Casey for riding Ricky Davis for this game.
2. Davis Comes To Play
You never know what you're going to get with Davis, although with his hefty minutes-played average, you know that, good or bad, you're going to get a lot of it regardless. Tonight was the Davis that seduces with his talent and versatility. He nailed 4 of 7 treys, continue to fill the outside shooting void caused by James's funk. (After starting the season 7-44 from beyond the arc, which is 16%, he has now nailed 23 of his last 51, or 45%.) He ran like a banshee on both offense and defense, putting constant pressure on the Clips to get back. He stripped Corey Maggette on two drives to the hoop (and someone else another time) without fouling, and threw in a steal for good measure. He did a pretty good job on Sam Cassell out on the perimeter (folks say this was also true of the last Clips game at Target Center, which I missed). He did a fabulous job of stoking Mark Blount's hot streak with his pinpoint passing, finishing with a game-high 7 assists to go with his game-high 24 points, and added 4 rebounds.
When will we next see this kind of game out of Ricky? Could be Friday night in Memphis. Could be awhile. When it happens, it sure is fun to watch.
3. Quick hits.
So after achieving that remarkable +20 game a while back, Bracey Wright has been out of street clothes (Eddie Griffin's new gig as the "healthy scratch") but rarely off the bench. Until tonight, when Casey tosses him into the 4th quarter (where Mike James was once supposed to be). Without KG in the game, the Wolves offense is having trouble getting untracked...except for Bracey, who bisects the key and the baseline on a strong, pretty runner for one hoop and soon afterward dribbles short and quick to his left and buries an 18-footer for another. He was ready to play, and although the last thing this ballclub needs is another swingman clamoring for minutes, how do you not root for someone who stayed perched for performance for games on end and then delivered?
Cheap second-guessing: Mark Blount had just come off a 9-point third quarter that was laden with sweet jumpers (4-5 FG in the period), then committed his 4th foul 57 seconds into the final stanza. Casey benched him until there was 5:15 left to play. Reinserted into the game, Blount had lost his rhythm, muffing a perfect, if zipped with a lot of mustard, feed from Davis when Blount was deep in the paint, then airballing a long J from the corner. I'd like to think I'd have left him in until he committed his 5th foul, but since he played the entire third period, I have to agree with Casey's hook. Not bringing Blount back until the quarter was more than half over is more problematical. But that's a pretty cheap second-guess.
After all the ruckus I tried to raise in my last post against an overreliance on Hassell's offense, he racked up 11 points on just five shots--nice efficiency--getting to the line 8 times and sinking what would have been the winning jumper if Maggette's last shot hadn't twined the hoop.
Despite the loss, I thought the Wolves played pretty well--certainly better than in their overtime victory against Philly. The ball movement was crisp (29 assists/11 turnovers), there weren't any obvious albatrosses on defense, and aside from the point guards, the team went 36-66 from the field.