The night before the Wolves throttled the Knicks, Flip said he was up trying to figure out how he'd put 80 points on the board without Kevin Martin.
He probably wishes now he hadn't been so prophetic.
Martin ended up playing against New York, breaking out of his shooting freeze for arguably his best game of the season. Now he has a broken wrist. Flip was just a game early.
Kevin Martin's absence means the Wolves are now without four of their five starters, and the last man standing is a rookie. That's a bad, bad way to start a game against the San Antonio Spurs, who are the NBA's (and arguably professional sports in general's) gold standard of, oh, the last two decades or so.
The truth is, even on their best night, the Wolves would struggle to beat San Antonio. Not necessarily because the Wolves are bad, but because the Spurs are just that good. They run the most beautifully, stupidly simple system...spread the floor, drive into the paint, kickout for three...over and over ad nauseam Coach Boone style.
As soon as Parker or Ginobili gets by his defender, it's over. It's a layup, an assist for a dunk, or a kickout three. That's it, that's all there is to it, but because staying in front of Parker is all but impossible....especially with Duncan and Diaw setting hard screens...it's a play that can't really be stopped.
The way they [Minnesota] played the pick-and-roll was not as aggressive as Cleveland. Our last game, Cleveland was very aggressive to stop me so I passed to Boris and Boris was the point guard, and Boris had a great game. Tonight they were not very aggressive so I was able to create for myself.
Tony Parker does not see defenses. Tony Parker sees folding chairs— canishoopus (@canishoopus) November 22, 2014
Parker comes off the curl and has his pick of perfect options: Duncan on the roll, Kawhi on the follow, Green in the corner, or a layup for himself. Tonight it was a lot of layups for himself.
And well....a decade of moral victories get tiresome, but under the circumstances the team needs to take what it can get.
1) Andrew Wiggins found a way to assert himself in the third quarter. Even by Third Quarter Wig standards this was an outburst: 9 straight points on an array of smooth attacks. Kawhi Leonard is one of the league's premier perimeter defenders; he's smart, strong, and has pterodactyl arms.
Flip mentioned post game that he was pleased by how Wiggins had the guts to go at Kawhi. But also that Andrew was exhausted at the end, and that he needs to figure out how to be that player all the time. His comments made it apparent that Third Quarter Wiggins is largely a coaching phenomenon, happening because they're intentionally calling plays for him.
It's part of Flip's coaching philosophy of giving guys responsibility one step at a time, seeing how they respond it, then amping up or scaling back based on that. Wiggins has stepped up and handled the possessions his number is called. Sounds like Flip is pushing him to the next step: doing good things even when his number isn't.
2) Anthony Bennet put in a career high. One thing is clear at this point: whatever was holding Bennett back last year, it wasn't a low basketball IQ. Bennett has a natural instinct for this game that can't be taught: he knows where to be, when to be there, and has a good idea of what to do. He's got a good shooting touch (although it'd be nice if he'd step back a few feet on those long twos), moves the ball effectively, and at least has a good idea about what to do on defense, even if he doesn't always follow through.
After the game, Flip talked about wanting to give Bennett extended burn tonight in anticipation of the next few games, to get his confidence up. Three of the Wolves' next five opponents are Sacrament0, Portland, and LAC. That's DeMarcus Cousins, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Potentially without Turiaf, and most likely without The Undertaker.
Pek out here planning someone funeral pic.twitter.com/ttP3v3GLOK— canishoopus (@canishoopus) November 22, 2014
The Wolves are in a state of half-controlled chaotic flux right now. Rubio out; Thad out; Pek out; Martin out....it's not reasonable to expect them to compete with the world champs in that condition. So tonight's result wasn't really a surprise. What the team can go for is teaching moments, as Flip likes to call them, and the Wolves do not lack in players that need to keep learning. Wiggins needs to be consistently aggressive. Dieng needs to figure out legitimate post defense. Bennett needs to figure out consistency in general. Zach needs to just figure it out.
Progress is always a slow burn in the NBA, because after all the flashes and dunks moments that make you go 'wow', you're still losing by 30. Without the veterans, this team is left with the rebuilding half of the roster. And that's tough, but when it's the way things are, the Wolves just have to do what they can.
PS: I love Tim Duncan. We have been beyond spoiled to watch him play basketball. Even tough the Wolves lost badly, I was elated to watch Timmy and Tony and Manu take the court.