Jim Pete summed this one up the best at the end of the fourth quarter when he said basketball essentially boils down to matchups. On offense, you say "who's the other team's worst defender?" and you go at him. On defense, you say "who's the other team's worst shooter?" and you let him shoot.
The Warriors subscribed to that philosophy and made the most of it tonight. The Wolves.....did not.
The Warriors are a better team than they get credit for. They have a reputation....largely because of Don Nelson...of being a chaotic, undersized club that only cares about playing offense, and that isn't true anymore. Golden State has a very balanced team this season, with a lot of players that can go both ways and do a lot of things on the court. David Lee, Dorell Wright, and of course, Monta Ellis.
They also have a reputation for being a very young team, which is true from an age perspective, but as Chad Ford likes to say over on ESPN, it's not age, it's mileage. David Lee and Monta Ellis are both 5 year veterans; Andris Beidrins and Dorell Wright are 6 year vets. Despite the odds, this is a well-put-together team that probably should be considered a step above the Wolves. They have more experience, better balance, and a legitimate go-to scorer who has gotten to that level of delivering every night.
What the Warriors did tonight was exactly what Jim Pete talked about. They targeted the Wolves' weakest defender (Luke Ridnour) and went at him. They targeted the Wolves' weakest shooter (Corey Brewer) and let him shoot. It was a very difficult circumstance for the Wolves to get around, because it happened that our worst defender was matched up against their best scorer in Monta Ellis. That more or less necessitated our worst shooter to be on the floor to defend him. But the mismtach there then left our point guard on the much bigger Reggie Williams, who made the Wolves pay by shooting over them.
The end result was a Golden State starting backcourt that outscored Minnesota's' starting backcourt by an absurd amount....60 - 9. Webster, Brewer and Flynn did their best to make up the difference, combining for 31 points off the bench, but there was no way to overcome the initial deficit.
Monta Ellis, for the second time this season against the Timberwolves, was unguardable. Corey did an admirable job of at least slowing him down to a manageable level, but just getting the ball into Monta's hands in the first place proved to be all that needed to be done. Ellis has an amazing ability to get through the smallest of gaps in the defense and put the ball in the hoop around a tangle of arms. When he could see the rim, he attacked it. When Corey took that away, he got it to teammates that still could.
When a Monta Ellis is torching the team, Kurt Rambis needs to realize that and make adjustments. When he makes the adjustment, the team then needs to realize what's changed and predict what the other team is going to change about their offense. It took Rambis too long to adjust to Monta Ellis. It then took the team too long to adjust to Reggie Williams. If Rambis puts a point guard on Reggie Williams, then the team needs to realize that's where the ball is going to go.
It was great to see Webster and Flynn playing again....better than great, even. Fantastic. Those two can really help this team in an area it badly needs help: shooting. But if the Wolves are going to reach the next level, the issue that needs to really be solved is the defense. Even though Don Nelson is gone, the Warriors are still masters at creating mismatches to their advantage, and the inability to fight through that is one of the Wolves' biggest weaknesses.
Other game notes:
- Webster and Flynn did indeed make their season debuts tonight, and both looked really good.
- Jonny did a great job of keeping things simple, playing under control and making the easy pass or shot. He played with poise that wasn't there last season. Hopefully that's something permanent with him. He should have played a lot more than he did, considering how things were going for the Wolves in the second half.
- Martell, for his part, looked very polished. He showed no ill effects from his back surgery, getting off the floor with ease on both ends of the court. More importantly, he displayed a ton of veteran savvy that really, a player can only get from being on a winning ballclub. He has a very subtle but impactful way of seeing plays develop and reading between the lines of the other team's defense, then making a smart decision based off that. His passing in particular stood out tonight...the Warriors consistently failed to jump out on mid pick-and-rolls, and Martell made a number of exceptional bounce passes between defenders that his teammates were unfortunately unable to handle. 3 of his 5 "turnovers" were on plays like that. There's a level of solidarity and composure to him that you don't get from a Beasley or Love or Johnson because he already knows how and when to execute plays the others are still in the process of trial and error on.
- Darko's 25 points tonight are a career high for him.
- Brewer turned in another solid performance. He went 1-6 from the field, but still finished with 11 points thanks to 8-10 free throw shooting, and he was the only Wolf with a prayed of containing Ellis. I'm still baffled by the comments about dropping him out of the league. He's far from fantastic, but he's also far from inept. He's earning his keep this season.
- The Wolves need to find a solid backup big man. I promised I'd say it every night until it happens, and I'm sticking to it. Pekovic, in 6 minutes, racked up 2 turnover, 2 fouls, and 3 more Euro mistakes (2 3 second defensive violations and another in-the-cylinder goaltend). I like his upside, but he just isn't ready for this.
- The Warriors made it a hellish night for Kevin Love. All three of their bigs (Beidrins, David Lee, and Louis Amundson) played very physical against Kevlar and made a strong point to box him out. The refs did miss some calls that should have sent Love to the free throw line, but at the same time, Love needs to realize when his shot isn't dropping and defer to teammates who's shots are.
- David Lee is really hurting. He can't extend his elbow all the way and it's interrupting his shot and causing him to shy away from contact playing defense.
- Sebastian Telfair didn't play at all tonight. Not sure why. Rambis is a big fan of Bassy, so I wouldn't expect his minutes to get cut down to zero
- Before the game, Jonny was said to be able to play "unlimited" minutes, while Webster was to be held to 20. Turns out Jonny played only 17, while Martell played nearly 27.
- With Webster and Flynn both playing again, the Wolves can start getting accurate dividends on what this team is and start planning what moves...if any....should be made by the trade deadline. A lot of you have been asking myself and S-n-P about trade movement, and there hasn't been any because the team wanted to get Martell and Jonny healthy first. It'd be nice if Tolliver was playing as well, but that can't be helped, unfortunately. In the meantime, this next month will be very telling in terms of the true identity of this team and what changes can or should be made.
Timberwolves fly to Phoenix tonight to take on the Suns tomorrow.