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Going to 11


One of the reasons why professional basketball is such a fantastic game is that it is a grand athletic soap opera filled to the brim with all sorts of lessons about life, love, and loss.  Sometimes this is an easy thing to forget when you follow a franchise as obviously diseased as the Wolves.   The Wolves' grand life lessons are as follows: 

1- Repackaging manure will only get you so far. 
2- Having a billion dollars does not mean you always know what you are doing.  
3- If you ignore obvious trends and shoot for the "best case scenario" when the "most likely" one stares you right in the face, chances are, it will not end well.  
4- Continuing to do the same things while expecting different results is not only insane, it is a recipe for high comedy. 

Tonight against the Celts, the Wolves actually reminded their fans that other, less generalized and not-quite-as-crushing, life-lessons could be drawn from a single game of pro basketball....even for fans of god-awful teams like Our Beloved Puppies. 

Have you ever found yourself deep, deep, deep in the hole during an important situation only to realize that in order to make your way back into the thick of things you need to put your nose to the grindstone and do the sorts of things you a) don't like to do and b) aren't exactly known for?  This is the glass-half-full view of tonight's game.  After finding themselves down by 19 points at the end of the 1st quarter, the Wolves, led by a highly professional effort by Anthony Tolliver, fought themselves back to a square tilt in the 4th with things called "stout defense", "high levels of effort", and "competent decision making".  Pretty cool, right? 

This was one of the few times (perhaps the only one) in recent memory where the idea of a close game involving the Wolves didn't automatically spurn the following question: Was it good defense or did the other team just suck? It was good defense! 

Tonight the Wolves challenged interior shots, flashed on pick and rolls...hell, they even made a few attempts to close out on three point shooters.  Meanwhile, the Zen Apprentice, excuse me--Kurt Rambis, actually looked engaged in the action.  He was up and about, yelling directions, getting involved in timeouts, and seemingly getting a high quality effort out of his guys. 

There were dives, high drama made shots, hustle plays galore, emotion, story arcs, and 1/2 an arena full of home town fans cheering for the opponent.  It was all there.  It was engaging and entertaining.  It was everything NBA basketball should be.  It was a showcase affair for the casual fan who was brought to the arena to see the mighty Celtics only to get hooked on the scrappy home town team that simply wouldn't give up or take "no" for an answer.  

That was the glass-half-full take: try hard and give a professional effort while doing the things you don't enjoy doing but which need to be done and you will go far in life.  

On the other hand, perhaps it was a good thing that there were so many casual fans in the arena tonight because they also got a stiff shot of some of the less Hallmark card lessons of Wolfdom.  

1- If you don't have the best talent you have to prepare and work hard in advance, not on game day. 

2- If you don't have the best luck, you have to maximize your best available options, not hope for the best possible ones. 

3- You practice for high-leverage situations in advance so you don't choke when they happen in real life. 

4- Don't get cute. 

As entertaining and inspiring as the comeback was, the collapse was every bit as inevitable and crushing.  Missed shots, ridiculously inept execution, an offense that prefers freelance to repetitive precision, a comical final 2 minutes, the other team actually having a higher high gear, and so on and so forth. 

Tonight the Wolves played the role of Nigel Tufnel.  They thought they were accomplishing something by turning it up to 11 without realizing that they simply need to concentrate on making 10 a little bit (actually, a lot) louder.  It's not a switch.  It's a mindset.  It's prep.  It's a given.  This is where 2 years of lackadaisical coaching and nonsensical team management gets you.  Even when you want to turn it on, you can't, because the players have adapted to a system that doesn't make sense and is useless in real time high leverage situations.  The Zen Apprentice learned at the feet of a guy who could roll in at noon, check his emails, head to the beach, and then later on during the game allow his best player to call his own fouls.  Not so much in Minny.  Too much reality in the cold middle of the country. 

One of the most notable moments of the game was when Nenad Kristc made a particularly bad defensive play on Darko and Doc Rivers spent the better part of a timeout berating/correcting the guy about his mistake. From the TV broadcast it was quite clear that Nenad was not playing the way the Celtics had prepared to play and that he was going to be called out/held accountable for it.  On the Wolves side of the ball, even with the Zen Master's newfound interest in actually being involved in game action, it doesn't seem attached to anything substantial.  The Wolves seem like a philosophy major who is working at McDonalds.  They spent all that time working on theory and ideas when everybody around them was much more concerned with things like time clock management, oil temps, and burger flipping times.  There's a reason nobody else is doing what the Wolves are and its fans are reminded of this fact on a near nightly basis. 

If Rambis is going to stick around for a longer haul, hopefully the team is working on ways in which they can simplify their approach and make it more pragmatic and responsive to what actually happens on the court. Maybe their front office can find a way to get itself in line with the rest of the modern NBA front offices and install a robust data operation that supplements traditional scouting with modern analysis so that they can focus on the most likely results instead of the best possible ones.  Hopefully, Wolves fans will eventually be treated to a grander life lesson about the need to roll with the punches and evolve as the surrounding conditions warrant.  This is as positive as I can get right now.  It was nice to see some signs of life and intelligence during an actual game.  It will be even nicer to see them as the result of preparation and practice.  

Until later. 

BTW: Since the Randolph trade, I haven't been able to get the following thought out of my head.  How many reclamation projects can you name in NBA history?  Now tell yourself that the Wolves are trying to run three of them at the same time.  What are the odds for something like this working?  Again, most likely > best possible.  It's not that hard of a concept.  

BTBTW: That was the most embarrassing home crowd of the season.  There were more cheers for Boston than there were for Kobe. 

BTBTBTW: Anthony Tolliver had the non-Love individual sequence of the year when he blocked a weak-ass layup attempt by Kevin Garnett and followed it up with a 3 point make.  Fantastic stuff.  

BTBTBTBTW: This was one of the most classic all-things-Beasley games of the year.  28 points on 28 shots with increased efficiency and effort down the stretch only to be topped off with amazing boneheaded plays when it mattered the most! Oi.  

UPDATE: Now that the game flow is available, check out the short rotations that Rambis put out there.  His hand was kind of forced in the first with the Randolph foul situation, but check out the 2nd half.  6 man rotation with the best players available.  When was the last time something like that happened with the Zen Apprentice?