The Wolves have had a very recurring theme with point guards ever since Sam Cassell pulled up anchor and sailed into Clipper-land: make the easy play. Keep it simple....make the easy play.
Few point guards make the easy play easier than Steve Nash. The guy is the model of basketball efficiency. Every possession, every play, every time he touches the ball, he's breaking the offense down to as basic as he can get it. The threes rained down on the Wolves, but the core of the Suns' attack was Nash, who held a clinic on point guard play tonight.
Steve Nash is a basketball maestro. There's really no other way to put it. He makes plays that make you wonder if he has a skycam feed embedded in his head, the way he sees the court.
Think about the statline he put up tonight: 11 points on 4 shots, 19 assists. And 6 of those 11 points came at the very end of the fourth quarter when the Wolves played the foul game to try and get the ball back.
That means, at one point, Nash was sitting on 5 points and 19 assists in this game. Nearly a 4:1 assist/point ratio.
What's more, he firmly kept to the mismatch formula the entire night. In the first half, Jason Richardson could not be stopped. He ran off screens, ran to the corners, and beat everyone down the court in transition, and Nash kept it simple. He got JRich the ball.
Just like against the Warriors last night, the Wolves tonight took too long to adjust their defense. The Wolves did finally send Corey Brewer (who's been positively showing signs of actually being the defensive ace he's billed as) after Richardson for most of the second half, limiting him to just 5 points after the break. But Nash again proved his mastery of the ball, adjusting the Suns' offense in response and running the hell out of the mid pick-and-roll with a guy who 'Sota just has no clue what to do with: Channing Frye.
Frye is just killing the Wolves. Flat out murdering. Take a look at his three point shooting in the four 'Sota/Phoenix games last season:
Add to that his 7-12 performance from deep tonight, and....well, it isn't pretty...
78 of the 85 points Frye has scored against the Wolves over the last 5 meetings have been on threes.
The Wolves have a philosophy of not closing out on three point shooters. Even the good ones. Even the hot hands. Even the ones who score 92% of their points against 'Sota from them. Frye is not an unknown at this point. He made the fourth most threes in the entire league last season. Why the Wolves refuse to run him off the line...or even stand in his general vicinity....is inexplicable.
But again, it all comes back to Nash. Making the simple play. When Richardson is scoring, get him the ball. When Richardson stops scoring, find someone else who is and get him the ball. And always, always, always, keep it simple. Channing Frye in the corner with no one near him? Get him the ball. Jason Richardson loses his defender off a down screen? Get him the ball. Grant Hill has a point guard on him? Get him the ball.
It's the sort of basic, elementary playmaking the Wolves just haven't had any of recently. Jonny always wants to make the flashy play. Luke always wants to make the predictable play. Randy Foye just flat out couldn't make plays and Marko Jaric might not have been able to even spell "play", much less run them. The Wolves hope Luke can iron things out, and that Jonny will settle down, and that Ricky Rubio will be NBA ready at this level when he finally gets here. But in the meantime, watching Nash orchestrate an easy, flawless offensive attack really hits home to what the Wolves lack at the present.
Other game notes:
- Once again, Martell Webster looked really really good. 4-6 shooting, 11 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists in 24 minutes, and another display of veteran savvy the other Wolves just can't replicate. I'm really enjoying watching him play. He can be a real difference maker for this team as he settles in and starts developing chemistry with the rest of the guys.
- The Portland/Phoenix playoff series has been over for 9 months now, but you couldn't tell if by watching Grant Hill and Martell Webster go at it. That was a battle bordering on a bloodbath.
- Wes Johnson really struggled chasing JRich on defense in the first half, but found his own offense in the second. He needs to be aggressive like that all the time. He has such a smooth, deadly shot....he's really wasting minutes and hurting the team when he isn't using it. He also continued to show what has been much-better-than-expected passing ability.That's really been something to watch from him this year.
- Also, this is purely observational, but Wes seemed to find a comfort level once he and Flynn finally got on the floor together. Might be something worth watching.
- If Corey, Wes and Martell all play at this level every night, the Wolves will have a very very interesting conundrum to deal with at the 2/3 spots.
- I realize it's a flawed statistic taken by itself, but I do think this should be put out there. Jonny Flynn: +15. Luke Ridnour: -21
- Also, at halftime, Jason Richardson was just +3, while Grant Hill was (if I remember correctly) +15. Maybe we were better off just letting JRich shoot it...? At least that way we knew where the shots were coming from, and they were "just" 2 pointers.
- Overall in the +/- spread, our bench hammered their bench, but their starters hammered our starters.
- Kevin Love and Darko Milicic are both really hurting. Darko had something going on with his right hand all game, and then got his ankle stepped on when Grant Hill suckered Wes on a fastbreak layup. Love, I'm not sure exactly what the issue is, but he could barely walk by the end of the game. Even so, he put up 23-16-4 with no turnovers.
Michael Beasley keeps starting games on fire, then keeps getting into foul trouble before he can do any real damage with the blaze. Ok, he is getting called for some really ticky-tack stuff, but he's got to clean it up. The Wolves can't afford to not have him on the floor in close games.
- I'm so happy to see Grant Hill playing. Even with his athleticism a 10th of what it was in Detroit. He's so skilled, and his basketball IQ is absurdly high. I'm just so glad his career didn't end with all those injuries.
- No Josh Childress tonight though. That was disappointing.
- Again, I can't reiterate enough how exceptional Steve Nash was tonight. He makes everything so simple, then ends up with superstar numbers at the end of it all. The very picture of a guy who makes everyone on his team better...just an amazing player.
The Timberwolves take on the Trailblazers Friday, in what Jim Pete has deemed (and rightly so) a must-win game. Roy is hurt. Really really really hurt. And screwed, because really really really hurt is literally all the healthier he can get now. Personally, I think the Wolves not only were smart, but got lucky landing Martell Webster on draft night. Had the Blazers known Roy's knee would collapse the way it has, I doubt Webster would have been available at all. Should be a good contest, so be sure to tune in.