Well, how about that! I doubt I was the only person expecting an ugly loss in this one. Short rotation, contractual issues, game on the road against the defending champs - this appeared to be the perfect storm for ugly lockout ball. But I watched anyway, because
I paid a lot of money for League Pass this group is the most compelling Wolves team to come along in seasons, and tonight they showed one of the main reasons why.
Previous ‘Sota teams seemed to routinely fold under any kind of pressure or setback. Considering the short rotation and heavy minutes, you might have expected more of that here. At 1:00 of the second, Minnesota was down ten having gone cold and scored only 18 in the quarter. It looked ugly - then, from nowhere, a season highlight 8-0 run closed the gap to two in 56 seconds! This set up an excellent second half performance in which the Wolves took control all the way to the final buzzer, creating and holding a strong double digit lead while facing huge minutes for the starters. A great win, with plenty of team and individual standouts. First, of course, "Mal's Notable Numbers", brought to you by Mass Produced Horrible Weak Light Beer For Morons:
FGA - MIN 75, DAL 95
FTA - MIN 33, DAL 10
More aggressive all game long. Made the difference.
Second half points: MIN 53, DAL 36.
steals allowed-total turnover differential - MIN 9, DAL 3.
The birth of a new
and useless stat, witnessed by you all. Basically I noticed that Dallas had the discipline not to give up the ball often with 3 second violations, hurling the ball out of bounds, moving screens, etc. The Wolves do this far too much, of course.
16 - Dallas offensive rebounds.
.688 and 143 - Kevin Love's eFG% and Offensive Rating. Beast.
2 - consecutive dunks by Nikola Pekovic in the fourth quarter
7 - Darko's blocks, equalling his career high (set against Detroit in October 2010)
2-14 - Lamar Odom's shooting.
2 - Active Minnesota guards
46 - minutes played by Ricky Rubio
2 - minutes Dirk's stint on commentary was too long by.
Time for the grades.
Darko Milicic: 8 points on 4-6, 7 reb, 7 blk, 1 TO in 24 minutes.
Darko gave everyone an invitation to the party tonight (special guest, Lamar Odom). Whatever flaws Darko has, even his fiercest detractors would have to admit that he is capable of stellar defense. Tonight, his seven blocks and effort on the boards made a big difference - with so many players out, we couldn't afford to have him coast again. The especially pleasing factor with the blocks was how many of them came on help D. For once, he was really embracing his ability to come from the weak side to protect that rim from easy layups. His block in the third quarter (3.46) on Matrix Marion was a great example: he came across the lane on the offensive rebound and got long and high to swat it back out to Kevin Love. Great play. On the other side of the court Darko missed two terrible hooks early, but then went 4 for 4. Overall, excellent work from the big Serbian. Now, if only he could produce like this on a consistent basis... sigh.
Kevin Love: 31 pts on 9-16 (4-6 3pt, 9-10 FT), 10 reb, 2 ast, 2, stl, 2 blk, 2 TO in 43 minutes.
I'm going to leave the worrying over the ramifications of Love's contract to people who understand that aspect of basketball far better than I do, and just enjoy watching him go to work for as long as I am able to do so. He owned this game more or less from start to finish. His poor shooting until the Houston game had a few small alarms ringing, but he's rebounded from the cold streak in some style to post 70 points for his last 35 shots. It's true that he didn't have to deal with Nowitzki in this one, but dealt with Lamar Odom pretty comprehensively. A particular highlight was the pick of the year on Beaubois, who went down like he'd been punched by the Batman (8:53 in the fourth - BANG! Heh heh.)
His low rebound total (hah, expectations, right?) is excused by his effort down low to open space for Darko and Pek to rip them down (and he had an o-board incorrectly credited to Pekovic - I'm quoting the official box for convenience) and the sheer amount of activity that is necessary from the opposition to stop him from grabbing twenty. I was watching this game and looking for how they played against Kevin Love when the ball's up on the rim, and it's hardly basketball at all at this point. I can't imagine what it's like to rebound in the NBA in normal situations - the sheer athleticism, size and weight that even the worst forward in the Association can boast is rarely seen in normal life - but for Kevin Love he's now getting two of these guys genuinely attacking him on every possession. I am reminded of this scene in Rocky II - something similar probably plays out in film sessions all over the NBA these days after Love has swept through town.
The one real negative of Love's game tonight was getting blocked by Roddy Beaubois off one of the finest passes you will ever see, a bullet-bounce-pass-arm-cross-no-look-defense-splitter from Ricky. I've had to give him an A+ because I can't really find anything else he did wrong.
Derrick Williams: 10 pts on 4-7 (1-2 3pt, 1-3 FT), 6 reb, 2 ast, 0 TOs in 25 minutes
DWill got the start at small forward and put in a solid 25 minutes. He worked the boards and did a much better job of getting to the basket and finishing (3-5 inside). He did get beaten a few times by Matrix in the post early on which helped the Mavs start the game shooting over fifty percent in the first quarter, but in general he defended strong. There's still a lot to like about Williams' future, but he better spend this offseason getting FTs up. He is excellent at drawing contact with that power explosiveness, but until he's a 70-80 percent minimum player from the stripe he's not going to be a great scorer. His 63 percent on the year desperately needs to go up. If he can improve, and get a little faster in addition to powerful... well, who knows? I think at minimum he'll be averaging 14 and 7 for many years.
Makin' It Wayne Ellington: 16 pts on 5-15 (5-6 FT) 4 reb, 3 ast, 1 stl, 2 blk (!), 0 TO in 39 minutes.
Makin' It brushed aside a rough night against Houston to turn in a performance of real quality. This year is turning into a legitimate breakout for Ellington, who is now the best shooting guard option on the Wolves by some distance. His shooting wasn't great tonight, but he did hit the Wayne Drain from three once and got to the free throw line six times (equalling his career high in FTAs). The shooting can be safely discounted, however, because he contributed in a number of ways that in previous years he has not shown consistent ability with, namely, point play and defense.
Wayne didn't run the point much, of course, since it really isn't his game. For the two minutes Ricky sat on the bench, however, he kept the offense moving, didn't turn it over (at all, in 39 minutes - excellent) and put in an and-one at the end of the third, recognising the complete helplessness of Ian Mahinmi in the face of the mighty Pek clearout and zipping to the rim. On D he was pesky, slowing down Delonte West (who was invisible for most of the game) and forcing Roddy Beaubois to settle for jumpers. It would have been nice if he could have got back faster a few times when Dallas started to really cherry pick on transition, but otherwise excellent.
I really hope this is no flash in the pan from Ellington. If he can continue to play like this he'll be a big contributor off the bench when everyone is healthy - for now, I feel he should be starting at the 2.
Ricky Rubio: 17 points on 4-16 (1-5 3pt, 8-9 FT), 7 reb, 12 ast, 4 stl, 7 TO, in 46 (!) minutes.
Good lord can Ricky Rubio see the floor. I know this is an extremely redundant statement at this point - hell, it was redundant four years ago - but the ability he has to run a basketball team is something so rare and special that I intend to never start taking for granted. I believe quite a few people on the board have expressed the opinion that he has already become their favourite player ever - I'm pretty close to that feeling myself. Today in great assists he had the pass to Love that Beaubois ruined (like smashing a precious vase), the drive and kick to Love to end the first half (beautiful work from the stars to get that shot) and the skip to Wes Johnson for the dagger. End parenthetical gushing.
For the present game, Rubio's stats rather speak for themselves. He gutted it out to play all but two minutes of the game and was largely effective. Once again he flirted with his first career triple double (it's gonna happen - I'm a believer on that now) but couldn't quite grab enough boards. It felt sometimes like he was shooting too much, and once again went for a low percentage from the floor: this appears to my layman's eye to be a consequence of the scarcity of offensive options outside of "put it in Ricky's hands and run the PnR game," and "Post up Love or Darko." He has to create opportunities off the dribble if neither of these is on, and that either leads to amazing assists or Rubio attempts at inside scoring. Right now, it isn't really happening for him from the floor, but his foul shooting is rescuing his point total. On D he had another splendid game - he is honestly one of the best guard defenders in the league already. The magic thiefy hands were on full display and his four credited steals don't do justice to the amount of deflections and broken plays for which he was directly responsible.
The turnovers stick out horribly in an otherwise lovely looking set of stats. Seven is definitely too high but I think we can forgive them considering his huge minutes, all of which were as primary ballhandler. In addition, he was played very physically outside the arc, with near hand checks and hard hedges. He avoids an A+ for the poor shooting percentage and TOs, but otherwise another great double double.
Anthony Tolliver: 3 points on 1-3, 2 reb, in 17 minutes
There's not a lot to say about AT tonight. He got out and put in his minutes and managed to be a net positive while playing good D. He's the glue guy on the team, and without watching the whole game again looking specifically for his possessions his work tonight didn't stick in the mind.
Wesley Daggerson: 5 pts on 2-5, 4 reb, 1 ast, 2 stl, 1 TO in 17 minutes
Grade: A (Bear with me here)
I'm going to give some props to Wes on this one, because from the sounds of it he was really in no condition to be playing professional basketball last night. After his 17 minutes he had to go and be given oxygen from the team physios. And make no mistake, we needed those minutes that he gutted out to counter Carlisle's fourth quarter triple guard set of Kidd, Jet and Beaubois. He played good D through his illness and got a few boards, a field goal and a lovely assist to Pekovic. It was rather fitting in the circumstances that he was rewarded for his effort with the opportunity to stick the dagger in with a late three pointer. Thanks, Wes - you did well.
Anthony Randolph: 2 pts on 1-4, 2 reb in 9 minutes
Not a good outing from Randolph. His nine minutes were the worst of the game for the T'Wolves, coinciding with Dallas stretching their double digit first half lead. His field goal make was off an o-board and one miss was a great block from Brandan Wright, but in general he didn't do much of note on either end.
Nikola Pekovic: 13 pts on 4-5 (5-5 FT), 7 reb, 1 stl, 1 blk (I'm sure he blocked Mahinmi twice), 4 TO (2 violations called on Pek were wrong) in 20 minutes
Pek gets an A range grade because he was just so impactful (just ask Ian Mahinmi, it was his day of Pekoning) that I felt I had to be generous. Partly it's because he was so fun to watch again. He has made the application of overwhelming size and strength into an art form - he is to brute force what Michaelangelo is to painting the ceiling. It's also very gratifying how he has added some BBIQ to his game, particularly in the pick and roll. He is probably the best roll man in the team at the moment.
Pek's high percentage night from the floor was a consequence of good shot selection. His dunk at the start of the fourth quarter really showed off his surprising mobility with a one bounce half spin move to shake off Terry and Yi. Off the stat sheet he sealed defenders away relentlessly with his clearout skills and should have had a nice assist to Love that was waved away for three second violation (a quick count too - honestly, how often do you see a quick count in low post isolations?). What we need from Pek is efficient scoring off the bench and aggression down low to tire defenders, both of which he really provided here - the rebounds and some good defense he added to this performance are usually going to be a bonus. Well played. And keep dunking. That was awesome.
The Dallas Mavericks
Grade: they see you when you're sleeping
This was a terrible result for the American Champions (Spain are the World Champions, guys) on a night where they celebrated their well deserved championship last season with the awarding of some unbelievably tasteless rings. Playing without Dirk is always going to make things difficult, but really they would expect to be a lot closer than 15 down against a short-handed Minnesota, certainly at the Triple A. If I was a Mavs fan, I wouldn't be worried though. The Mavs are clearly taking it easy, resting their older guys for a late run and heavy effort in the playoffs, and I expect them to make the Western Conference Finals. The quality of the people running the organisation, from Cuban on down, is the envy of nearly every franchise in the Association and it shows with the depth and quality all the way down to the end of the Mavs bench. That core of Dirk, Kidd, Matrix and Jet is great to build around - obviously the loss of Chandler hurt because that was the best five players any team could put out on the floor at once. Haywood doesn't quite fill the gap, but they have some very respectable big men role players in Mahinmi and Wright. Also Jianlian, but... eh. West was a good pick up for the Mavericks. Brian Cardinal might consider calling it quits this year. Beaubois would get a lot more burn nearly everywhere else in the league. He'd start for the Wolves, easy. Lamar Odom's performances this year are kinda sad. If you'd asked me 2 years ago to describe the archetype of a basketball player, I would have pointed at Odom and called it a day. Now... yeesh. Blocked five times by Darko Milicic in this game. That's gotta hurt. Bad. Still, if he picks up I'd back the Mavs against anyone in the west over seven games except perhaps Oklahoma. Time will tell.
Overall, an excellent and well deserved win on the road. Next order of business, getting the champagne on ice for the 5-0-0 celebration! Go Wolves!