Hawks 90, Wolves 89
Wolves 100, Suns 93
Season record: 2-15
In case anybody asks, the Wolves victory against the Suns on Friday night was foretold by God. The revelation lay in the order of the Wolves’ victories and defeats thus far this season: Five losses. A win. Five losses. A win. Five losses. And, against the red-hot but dog-tired Phoenix Suns: A well-deserved win.
Before we get to the W against the now 16-5 Suns, we should note that it followed a plucky, hard-luck effort at Atlanta. In that game, the Wolves were down by 19 in the first, clawed their way back, and in the last 20 seconds executed two inbounds passes to Jaric for layups, each putting the team up by a point, but each countered by the Hawks, including the last-gasp, heartbreaking, what-can-you-do jumper by Joe Johnson to ice the game 90-89 as time expired.
The most important storyline out of that game—even more than Jaric’s near-triumphant return after two games out with a sore ankle (which, not incidentally, were the two most miserable and lackadaisical losses of the season, against the Bobcats and the Lakers)—was the coming out party of Corey Brewer.
It’s a little weird to talk about a 3-15 shooting performance as a breakout game, but so it was. Brewer was everywhere on defense, disrupting passing lanes with those long, skinny arms, picking up four steals, tallying a blocked shot, and hauling in a shocking 18 boards. Rounding out his line, Brewer had five assists with nary a turnover. The latter is truly remarkable, given that he looked as if he was going to trip over himself several times while running the break after a steal. In each case, though, he managed to stay balanced, although he blew a couple layups failing to get himself fully under control before attempting to finish.
Brewer reminds us a little of Marcus Camby. Not in terms of size or his position—Camby’s got a good three or four inches on Brewer, plays center, and is one of the most explosive shot-blockers in the game. But in terms of energy, which is largely to say disruptiveness.
In the last two games, in pretty much every offensive set the other team ran with Brewer on the floor, it felt like he might do something to completely throw them out of their rhythm. Although Brewer had no steals against the Suns, he pulled down 11 rebounds, and was +9 on the night, second only to Jefferson’s +13.
At one point in the second quarter, Brewer even fought Jefferson for a defensive rebound (which AJ hauled in—one of his 20 boards in the game). After the game, Jefferson was asked about Brewer’s impact on the glass and how that changes things. “He’s taking all my boards,” Jefferson said, tongue-in-cheek.
Clearly, the growth Brewer has shown the last two times out bodes well for his future, if not for the playing time of Ryan Gomes (or Gerald Green).
In one final Camby parallel, both he and Brewer have broke-ass jump shots. Just, ouch.
Al Jefferson won the game for the Wolves against the Suns. He took the ball strong to the hole, scored 32 points on 13-26 from the field, and hauled in 20 boards. His little jump hook, his spin move. These are enjoyable things to watch. And his tentativeness in the previous couple games, his willingness to settle for 15- and 20-foot jumpshots, was largely missing. Let's hope it stays that way.
We’ve looked into our crystal ball, and it has told us the future of Rashad McCants. It is as a Quincy Lewis-style sixth-man, providing instant offense off the bench. Whether he’s filling this role in two years for an NBA contender or for Efes Pilsen Istanbul will be determined as much by his willingness to pass the ball before exhausting all his options off the dribble as by his ability to hit outside shots with some consistency.
The Phoenix game was a microcosm of the point-counterpoint for McCants’ future.
First, the point: In the third quarter, just after McCants had checked back into the game, Telfair had the ball on the perimeter. Jefferson, with his back to the basket and with good inside position, was calling for it. From the bench at the opposite end of the court, a street-clothed Antoine Walker bellowed “GIVE HIM THE BALL!!!” Instead, Telfair swung the ball around the perimeter to Gomes who quickly passed it to McCants, also beyond the three-point line. Unlike the others, Shaddy actually passed the ball to Jefferson, who promptly spun to the basket, was fouled, and hit both his foul shots. Shortly thereafter, with the Wolves having relinquished the lead and with the game tied and seeming ready to slip away, Shaddy hit back-to-back threes, putting the team up 85-80. They led the rest of the way.
Now, the counterpoint:
Shaddy missed all four of his shots in the first half, including two on a single possession, in which he missed a bad jumpshot, got the ball back after Gomes got the board, then shot again and missed. He was taken out of the game shortly thereafter.
McCants still has an ugly habit of dribbling the ball, staring down his defender, only then taking an ill-advised shot or, when he submits to the knowledge that there are no good scoring options for him, finally passing the ball to a teammate, in the process sapping the offense of any kind of flow.
He's coming off the bench now, and that makes a lot of sense to us.
Statistical anomaly? You tell us.
Craig Smith had what amounts to a very solid game against Phoenix. He was 7/11 with 16 points, along with eight boards and only one turnover in 36+ minutes. Yet he was –8 for the game, meaning the 11+ minutes he was on the bench, the Wolves were +17.
Locker Room Notes
Shawn Marion has a fantastic belt buckle. It’s big, it’s probably silver, and it sports a stylized skyline of the Windy City. Above the buildings, it reads “Chicago.” Below it: "S. Marion." It’s sort of urban cowboy, which is kind of how we’ve always pictured Shawn Marion in his daily, non-basketball life.
Steve Nash, by contrast, favors cardigans, and wears a beaded wood bracelet that he slips on his left wrist after games.