I watched a young promising team get dominated on the road at both ends of the floor by a seasoned team of youngsters whose fortunes are on the rise. An offense predicated on the success of its athletic swingmen in driving the lane and hitting open jumpers buckled under stiff defensive pressure and torrid shooting on the other end of the floor. The opposition featured a third year SG who was unconscious from deep, hitting a half-dozen demoralizing three pointers, and the game was a surreal dunk fest for most of the final quarter. The coach on the team's performance:
"There was nothing positive about this game. We showed lack of focus from the start. That's unacceptable. We've got to bring it every night.''
The budding star SF had this to say after being held to single digit scoring for the first time in the season:
``Its tough. We played so hard [the other] night and in games before,'' he said of his team, which was coming off a hard fought victory and looking to win two in a row for the first time this season. ``To come out and not even show up is tough.''
The margin: 47 points
I distinctly remember that game in the midst of the wolves magical January of 09, mostly because I was one of the (maybe) 10,000 people in attendance. It was surreal. For the wolves it was validation that years of rebuilding were bearing fruit and for the Thunder, well, you could tell they were devastated from the way they carried themselves afterward.
It feels strangely numbing to be on the other end of a loss that mirrors that one in so many ways, perhaps because at the end of the day the larger parallels should instill a measure of confidence. This young timberwolves team is clearly better than yesterday would indicate, but just as the Thunder showed us nearly two years ago, young inexperienced teams, however talented, suffer setbacks. A 3-13 shooting night from Kevin Durant, in which he was pulled from the game after 22 minutes of poor play (-27) did not doom him to be a lifelong chucker, just as Michael Beasley's similar performance will not. Russel Westbrook's outwardly impressive double double in the midst of a team wide collapse while he held the floor was not a permanent indictment of his effort any more than Love's was last night.
At the end of the day, Thunder fans could rally behind the reality that their team, having just recently been assembled had a young and promising core with a bright future ahead of them. That team had been constructed with a specific vision to play a specific way around a special young player who like his team needed time to grow. True, they had not yet turned the corner but you could tell even during that dismal season in a loss like that their hopes were not misplaced. I feel the same is true for the Wolves.
Say what you will about Rambis' rotations, Love's defense, or Beasley's shot selection, but the team we put on the floor last night is filled with young, talented, athletic players with potential. Even in the midst of 30 turnovers, there's a night and day difference in their mentality and their competitiveness relative to teams we've put on the floor in the last 6 years. Our guys never gave up, never stopped hustling even after being stomped on 20-5 at the beginning of the first quarter. They were flying around working at contesting shots and fighting for rebounds even as Rudy Gay buried shot after shot in their faces.
Does Mike Beasley look happy? Is he joking around with the other guys in the locker room or taking the loss laying down? Does he seem like the type of player who, when asked if all the losing bothers him would anonymously quip that at the end of the day he gets payed just to play the game of basketball so he doesn't let it get to him? He looks visibly shaken. I didn't hear a single excuse. No, jet lag or inexperience. Nothing...except that they were a disgrace to the game of basketball tonight, didn't execute the gameplan, and that there are 79 more opportunities to go out and play harder.
Michael Beasley may never be Kevin Durant. We might not bust into the playoffs and rattle the Lakers this year or even next, but that type of mentality (which seems to be team wide) bodes well for our future. There's little doubt that we'll improve this year, probably substantially and in a way that can be measured in wins and losses. The transcendent player the wolves are building around has yet to even arrive but when he does he'll see a young and talented team that plays hard every night. That alone should be reason for optimism, even in the face of setbacks.