If you scroll down the page you will quickly come across a post giving thanks to everything good with the Wolves followed by a post wondering how fans can watch a team with very little hope for a good future. Up and down, I know.
Wolves fandom is becoming a lot like bad golf. You go out and drop good money to make bad shot after bad shot on your way to a 90 but you keep coming back because once or twice a round you put a shot about 3 feet from the pin and you talk yourself into believing that with just a little more practice, you can drop your score by 5-10 strokes, which would make it all worth your while. If I can do it once....
Last night's victory against Denver was that one good shot per round and dammit if it doesn't keep me coming back for more.
First of all, it was nice to see a team that showed some f'ing pride and refused to stop playing hard after being down 40-25 after the first quarter. With Melo hitting on all cylinders and the Wolves being outmuscled down low by Nene and K-Mart, it could have been one of those nights where no one would have batted an eye at a 30 point loss. The game got dangerously close to being flipped to another tilt on League Pass. The only thing that kept me from hitting the remote was a consistent offensive effort for 4 quarters (25, 25, 31, 25).
Getting back to the pride thing, the Wolves were staring a number of futility records straight in the face. From tying the franchise record for most loses in a row and the worst start in team history to going through the entire month of November without a win, it probably was important that they avoided sliding into any sort of "all-time worst" discussions (although that hasn't stopped ESPN).
The second thing of note was that this was a complete team effort. All 5 starters finished in double figures led by Ryan Gomes' 27 points. Gomes carried the team through long stretches of the game before being thrown a bit off with some bad calls against him with about five minutes to go in the 4th. At one point Big Al yelled "f#$k it, keep playing" at him while he was jabbering at the refs.
Gomes' line shows what the Wolves can do with decent production on the wing but you can't count on 12-18 from Mr. Gomes on a night-in/night-out basis. You also can't count on 37-69 shooting from your starting 5; at least not with this squad.
Enough with what the team can't count on. Let's focus on what went right. The Wolves won this game because of an all around team effort and solid shooting. Take a look at the Four Factors:
Shooting, shooting, shooting, and more shooting. They couldn't hit the broad side of the barn from beyond the arc (3-16) but they did end up with several more fast break and transition points than I remember them getting in quite a while. I'll have to dig into the numbers after sites like 82Games and Knickerblogger are updated but the Wolves got a lot of easy looks before the defense was set. This was the sort of offense we saw glimpses of in the preseason. It is also the type of offense that allows Jonny Flynn and Corey Brewer to get the most out of their games.
Speaking of Mr. Flynn, if he ever gets the hang of the running-the-offense thing, he's going to be a pretty good player. He has an amazing ability to initiate contact against bigger players while maintaining his balance and finishing his shot. That has to be really hard to do and it really goes a long way in negating his lack of height in the lane. Moreso than in any other game this season, Flynn was able to drive and kick against the Nuggets. He had at least 4 non-assists that went to guys with wide open perimeter shots who couldn't close the deal. At no point of the game was Chauncey Billups, Aaron Affalo, or J.R. Smith in any danger of being able to stay in front of him with the ball. While he has a long way to go in terms of being able to set up his teammates in the 1/2 court, his speed and ability to control his dribble deep into the lane were, at times, game changers in Denver.
Another game changer was the intangible play of Corey Brewer. With 2 minutes to go Brewer made a fantastic, hey-where-did-he-come-from close out on an Afflalo 3 attempt (which was missed) followed 30 seconds later by another sprinting-out-of-nowhere play that broke up an easy layup by Nene (Brewer forced him to earn his points at the line where he missed 1 of 2 shots). He followed that up by bringing the ball up court against the press with 50 seconds left in the game. Let me repeat that: Corey Brewer brought the ball up court against the press with 50 seconds left in the game. An NBA game. Oh, he also had a huge and-1 with under a minute to go. The guy did it all.
Brewer ended the game with the fewest number of shots amongst the starters as well as being part of several possessions where he ran something that can only be described as a competent and productive 2 man game with a teammate on the offensive end of the court. This is a big, big deal. By being able to run a pick and roll, and by being a danger to put the ball on the deck and facilitate in the 1/2 court offense, Brewer becomes a player that has to be guarded above and beyond being within 10 feet of him (which was often the case in the past).
The main beneficiary of Brewer being a competent 1/2 court player is Al Jefferson, who was able to be useful even when his shot was not going down. Jefferson was able to operate from both sides of the lane (not just the low left block), pass to open teammates, and even disrupt a shot or two on defense. He even had the aforementioned "f-it, keep playing" rah-rah comment to Gomes. Jefferson's biggest task going forward will be to figure out if he can be an Alpha Dog who can affect the tempo and pace of the game simply by drawing double teams, crashing the boards, and running the offense through the post. He doesn't need to simply get the ball in the low block, dribble for 5 seconds and jack up a jump hook for this to happen. Here's hoping he can figure this out somewhere down the line.
I know that this game is probably the Wolves' version of putting one 3 feet from the cup but it was really nice to see some things that, hopefully, can become part of this team's character going forward. The scoring was spread out, the tempo was good, they got out in transition more than usual, Al Jefferson wasn't a black hole, they got production from the wing and opposing fans started leaving their seats with time left on the clock. Granted, a lot of it had to do with getting good nights out of guys who you probably can't count on for that type of production on a night-in/night-out basis, but the style of game was the type of thing I hope to see much more of in the future with a better roster.
Until then, I guess I'll have to settle for bad golf and a great shot every 9 holes or so.
BTW: I would be remiss if I didn't mention a gigantic WTF for Denver's coaching staff. When the game got close in the 3rd and K-Mart was jacking up 20 footers while Carmelo Frickin' Anthony is standing in front of a bunch of home refs instead of taking it into the lane, I...well, seriously, WTF?! Why wait until 2 minutes to go to give the guy the ball to bring up the court and tear apart whoever is guarding him? You don't get to have teen-quarters against a team like the Wolves with Melo on the team. Post him up, let him bring it up the court, whatever....it was ugly.