We've been witnesses to some pretty bad basketball over the past few years. Ridiculous inbounds plays that seemed to be drawn in crayon, Jonny Hops, Brewsists, Darko Hooks, you name it.
Going back even further, it seems like ever since Sam Cassell started roaming into visiting locker rooms demanding a trade away from the good ship Timberwolf, that there has been a steady stream of ever-diminishing returns. Sam and Spree turned into Mike James and Ricky Buckets, who turned into McFoyo, who turned into the amazing David Kahn point guard carousel, who...
Over this sad stretch of basketball there have been moments of inspired play or a few highlights here and there, but there really hasn't been any sort of "oh yeah, they get it" or "this could work" moment that follows up the random great play or so-so stretch of action.
After spotting an awful Detroit Pistons squad a 16 point first half lead, Our Beloved Puppies came out from the break with purpose; playing inspired team ball that featured the first Kool Aid Oh Yeah! moment since the days of the WCF.
With 5:41 to go in the 4th Brandon Knight sank 2 free throws to bring the Pistons within a single point, at 80-81. Since the 10 minute mark of the quarter, both teams were keeping things tight--going back and forth with Detroit leaning on Ben Gordon and Tayshaun Prince, and Minny riding their workhorse Kevin Love along with a surprising bench effort led by Nikola Pekovic, Anthony Tolliver, and Wayne Ellington.
Following Knight's free throw Wayne Ellington shot down the lane for a one-handed flush. On the defensive end of the court, the Wolves were able to get Prince to take a mid-range jump shot that missed its mark. When the ball was tapped out to the perimeter Tolliver got his Creighton hustle on to get a wide open breakaway dunk.
The Pistons then brought the ball back up the court and the ball made its way into the hands of Jason Maxiell, who was, at the time, 2-8 from the line including an air ball.
Now, in past years, I would have expected nothing less than to watch Maxiell rise to the rafters and throw a deflating dunk down upon everybody in the arena. This would have been followed by a 10-0 Pistons run, and Kurt Rambis yelling something at Wes Johnson, benching Kevin Love, and/or putting his head in his hands to think about how he would much rather be in Santa Monica with Phil, Jeanie Buss and his wife, and how totally cool it would be for the Triangle Gang to hang out on the beach and talk about all sorts of Triangley things while reminiscing about how super neat it was to win all those rings, and.....ahhhhhh, memories.
We Wolves fans have been conditioned to expect these sorts of things. We've been trained to prepare for the worst. Maybe Darko would give a half-assed push that would bring about an and-one. Maybe Jonny would foul someone off the ball and turn it into a four point play. Whatever the case, the last thing a Wolves fan should expect in a situation where a terrible free throw shooter who is 2-8 on the night from the stripe has a path to the rim is for him to be fouled in a way to, you know, stop the shot and make him earn his points at the line.
In flew Ricky.
This drew an audible gasp among those of us watching the game at the Y.
"Did you see that?"
"When was the last time they did something they were supposed to?"
"That was better than the behind the back layup."
Yes. Yes it was.
Competence. Roll around in it. The majestic glory of people doing their f'ing job. This one's for you, McNulty.
This small moment, which led to a beautiful assist from Rubio to a wide-open Ellington for a 3 point basket that pushed the lead to 81-88, is a monument to the meeting of average expectations. It won't make any Top 10 play lists or the highlight reel, but it is the sexiest highlight the team has had in years.
- There have been a lot of Pek-related rumors flying around lately about how Pek has been promised that he will be moved to a good team that will give him minutes. Now that Pek is healthy and able to not foul out before the end of the first quarter, he seems to be capable of providing the not-quite-as-horrible-as-the-starter production that could give the team quite a boost if he replaced the stunningly bad production of the current starter. If Pek and Martell Webster can step in and reduce the pain of Team Emo, the Wolves will be even more formidable.
- Last night the Manther went up against Dwight. It was glorious. 11 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks in 21 minutes.
- Wes Johnson doubled his season FTA total last night by going 2-4 from the line. The TV broadcast made a big deal about how Wes is really frustrated with his shot and that the coaches are encouraging him to do more to focus on rebounding, defense, and driving to the rim. If only all of this wasn't so damn predictable it might be easier to swallow.
- Ricky's shot was set to EuroLeague tonight and he more than made up for it by controling the 2nd half tempo while racking up 7 rebounds, 8 assists, and 6 steals. He's going to pop off a goofball triple double this year.
- I love listening to the opposing team feed on Audio League Pass. One of the developing themes this season with the Wolves is that there is some serious villain potential at 600 First Avenue. Love whines and is starting to get calls, Rubio seems to have the sort of competitiveness disorder that we haven't seen in this town for a long time, Pekovic has the potential to dish out some fairly hefty fouls, Derrick Williams is going to posterize someone this year, Tolliver and Ellington hustle their asses of, JJ Barea is JJ Barea...it goes on and on and on. Tonight the Wolves ended the game by trying to set up Ricky Rubio for his ceremonial post-game ball toss. Tayshaun Prince and Ben Gordon were obviously perturbed by having to foul Wes Johnson and getting the ball stripped by Kevin Love when the game was effectively over. I've never rooted for a villain before but I really like my chances with this squad. They have some serious potential on that front.