OK, let's start with the elephant in the room. After getting a few yelps out after watching it go down in real time, it's hard to blame Kurt Rambis for calling a timeout with 10 seconds left in the game and a streaking/unguarded Wes Johnson headed towards the opposite rim. It's hard to blame Kurt Rambis for drawing up an in-bounds play that let loose a wide-open Luke Ridnour in the lane with time running down to nothing.
On a more macro level, it's hard to blame David Kahn for handing out a decent contract to a reasonably productive 7 footer. It's hard to blame the POBO for understanding the dynamics of the Ricky Rubio situation and taking a point guard with a second consecutive pick. It's hard to blame Kahn for taking a flier on Michael Beasley in order to play him at the 3. It's hard to blame him for taking a chance on Martel Webster to play out on the wing.
And so goes the problem with the franchise.
The Timberwolves can be explained and rationalized away with each individual move; yet, taken as a whole, they are a mess. Not only are they a collection of nice individual stories that cannot seem to make its way into a solid tale of team success, but they are the NBA equivalent (on a number of levels) of the island of misfit toys--a mystifying (yet somehow entertaining) collection of justifiable individual decisions that have added themselves up to a big bowl of frustrating nothing.
It's games like the ones against the Celtics where I can't help but to think that if the Wolves simply played the odds--if they simply decided to not get cute--that they would be worlds better off than what they are in the here and now. Yeah, Darko has a reasonable contract, but you know what, we're going to not try and get something out of a player that has teased several franchises. Yeah, the Rambis offense could work in theory but we're going to run a two man pick and roll game between Kevin Love and Michael Beasley down the stretch. Yeah, Luke Ridnour got the ball while being wide-open (and, to be fair, he probably wasn't the first option) but we're going to dump the ball to Beasley in the backcourt and let our chips fall where they may with the guy who clearly wants it and who can deliver, not a career backup point guard.
This was the most frustrating loss of the year. It goes right to the top of the list over the Spurs debacle, the Clippers blow out, and whatever punch-to-the-gut loss you can think of. The Wolves were facing a dinged up Celtics squad, who were on the 2nd night of a back-to-back and who had clearly taken an approach to the game that they were going to try and outmuscle the good guys at every available opportunity in order to win. By sheer grit, the Wolves hung in when the goings were tough, even building up a nice lead in the 2nd half by controlling the boards and getting to the line against a squad that could seemingly get away with whatever thuggery they could cook up in their green minds.
For the better part of the game Kevin Love was able to outrebound the entire Celtics squad. Michael Beasley overcame early (and questionable) foul trouble to work himself into a nice mid-range groove down the stretch. Wes Johnson overcame an early-game inability to work through a labyrinth of screens following Ray Allen around the court to play solid two-way ball. The Wolves guards even were able to (sometimes) identify clear and obvious mismatches and get the proper guy the ball.
Then it all fell away. Just like it always does.
I'll leave it to y'all to come up with an explanation as to why this team is so predictable even in the face of good individual stories and short vignettes of competent action. I'm sure there are several reasonable conclusions: They're young. They play a complicated system. They just need to learn how to play with each other. And so on and so forth.
Each of these rationales are, duh, reasonable on their own and I hope that they allow the most optimistic of fan reason enough to continue to believe. I myself am holding on to the hope that a light goes off in Rambis' head that tells him he needs to hitch his wagon to a Love/Beasley two man game, and/or to pull a card out of Lionel Hollins' book and ride his main horses hard. My mind has told me all year that this team doesn't--and cannot--make sense. Yet, there are moments, and there are individuals that still make me want to believe--that still entertain me and keep me coming back. I'm ready to line up for another run at Lucy's football because one of these times, it just has to click...right?
Random game thoughts:
- I started off the game paying attention to nothing but the Beasley/Pierce matchup. I thought it would be a good gauge of how Beasley is coming along on both ends of the court. Beasley started off well and watching this matchup was instructive for a few reasons. First, to show how little Beasley is run off of any sort of motion action in the offense. Second, to see how a scorer like Pierce is utilized early in the game to get him going (they run a lot of screens). Third, to get a sense of how much Pierce was going to bring it on the back end of a back-to-back (he started off half-heartedly trying to fight his way through traffic). Unfortunately, Beasley picked up a few quick fouls and this experiment was ended too quickly.
- Tommy Heinsohn put in a ridiculous performance. It was grating to listen to his almost child-like bemusement and disbelief that anyone not in Celtic green could perform even the most basic of basketball plays. He spent the entire game bitching about the refs only to end the game saying "I like that ref" when bailed out on a traveling call that could have been issued any number of times against his favorite team during the game and season. This game really puts into perspective just how good of a color analyst Jim Petersen is.
- There are times in the game where the Wolves seem like they are going to start running some traditional 2 man pick and roll action but then quickly devolve into incoherent triangular nonsense. The most blatant example of the night was when Love and Webster--which should be a relatively dynamic duo for the Wolves in this sort of action--set up on the left wing with Love setting a hand off screen for Webster. The two passed it back and forth like a hot potato, not being sure of what to do with the ball in such an obvious situation. They eventually did the triangly thing and kicked it across the floor, negating any advantage they may of had with a traditional two man game.
- I think Corey Brewer is one of the most likable guys on the team and in the league but his offensive liability was especially troubling tonight. The Celtics simply didn't give a lick about him on the defensive end and no amount of decent defense (he got away with a lot on Ray Allen, FWIW) can make up for what he gives up offensively.
- I shudder to think of what this game would have looked like from a physical/mugging standpoint had KG played. At one point in the game, Tommy H bemoaned the fact that a Celtics player got called for boxing out while facing his man. The sad thing here is not that Tommy doesn't know that this is a foul, but that he has become so accustomed to it not being called, that...well, it is amazing to me to think that Baby Davis is considered a functional NBA player when you focus in on what he does on a play-by-play basis. It's wrestling.
Well folks, that's about all I have to say about tonight's game. I keep thinking that one of these times the good guys are going to turn a Groundhog into an Independence Day but that payoff just never seems to come on down the pike. I can try to talk myself into believing individual stories but the end result is just to predictable. Something needs to change. They cannot continue to bang their heads against the wall and expect a different result. There will always be an excuse for each individual game or play that doesn't work in their favor. It's getting harder and harder to ignore the gross (in multiple senses of the word) results.