Last season, the Timberwolves entered the year as subjects of immense speculation. During the offseason Glen Taylor fired David Kahn, who was replaced by Flip Saunders as the President of Basketball Operations. Saunders hired Milt Newton to be the General Manager. With Kevin Love's future with the team uncertain, the new front office addressed the roster by signing players Rick Adelman could deploy within his variation of Princeton offense.
One of these players was Corey Brewer, who appeared in all 82 games during the previous season with the Denver Nuggets. Brewer returned to the team that drafted him with the 7th overall pick in 2007. Unlike the circumstances during his first few years in the NBA, Brewer returned with a hint of pedigree and a skillset that would serve a purpose.
Brewer started at the wing, working out of the corner, where he could cut back door and look to receive passes made from the high post. He is a decent on-ball defender thanks in part to a lengthy wingspan and willingness to guard the opponent's best player. Off the ball, though, Brewer's somewhat lackadaisical in the disinterested sense if his mark isn't involved in the offense.
Simply, he's a gambler. Brewer sacrificed opportunities to crash the defensive glass to break upcourt anticipating outlet passes, an effective strategy throughout the first few months of the season. For a while, he led the league in points scored in transition thanks to Love's ability to rebounds and throw admirably long, accurate outlet passes the length of the court.
However, opponents scouted, determined and implemented strategies that effectively prevented Brewer from streaking behind the defense in transition. Even if he wasn't marked by a watchful eye, teams would do things to prevent Brewer's teammates from passing him the ball. What was once a commodity of successive, easy and open layups -- which was never a very practical way of scoring scoring -- relinquished by the all-star break.
Injuries and other happenstances attributed to the Wolves unfortunate inability to string together consecutive victories. At no point during the year did they win more than three games in a row. Minnesota was competitive during the month of March, though, and a few key victories could keep the postseason
aspirations pipedream alive.
Accumulatively, losses at home to the New York Knicks, Toronto Raptors, Phoenix Suns delivered an ultimate and deflating blow, consequently crushing the likes of any and all remaining playoff hopes. By April there were few, if any, motives for fans to go and watch the Timberwolves, a product that has time-and-time again yielded mediocre results throughout franchise history.
On April 11th, fans trickled into the Target Center to see Minnesota take on the Houston Rockets. Unexpectedly, a friend called earlier that evening and asked if I wanted to attend the game, and of course I said yes. I arrived at Eric's apartment about an hour before tip-off and we headed downtown.
Unbeknownst to me, Eric hadn't obtained our tickets so, when we parked inside Garage A, our first steps weren't toward the stadium. Instead, we exited the garage and started walking toward Kieran's Irish Pub on the Southwest corner of 1st Avenue and 6th Street. There, we looked for a man -- his name escapes me -- who possessed our tickets, provided by Eric's father but presented with no information regarding where the seats were located. This irritated me.
We found the stranger who had our tickets and discovered these weren't good seats. They weren't even great seats. Moreover, it wasn't just one guy meeting us to hand over Wolves tickets, we joined a group of well dressed suit-and-tie types enjoying beverages at a table in the back corner of the restaurant. To our surprise we were granted passes to an executive suite.
These suite tickets (sorry for the pun) weren't without a catch, though, as Eric and I determined the group drinking mostly whiskey and craft beer would be attending the game that night. We sat, without the tickets and at the group's mercy, forced to wait until the consensus decided it was time leave the bar and head to the game.
Comprised of loyalist fans and casual observers, those who wanted to see the NBA's 2nd best team in terms of scoring in action, the lower level was mostly full. We sat on the suite's porch, alone, while the crowd of strangers behind us talked about business, travel and other various escapades. They were not there to watch basketball. This irritated us.
Thus, at halftime, after a Corey Brewer buzzer beater taken from 50+ feet away, having spent most of the first half cordially shaking hands and pleasantries, Eric motioned for the exit and I aimlessly followed him out the door. He told me..
"I have a plan."
Down the escalators and into the lower-level we went, circling passed the concession standings I trailed Eric as he slipped past a curtain and the unaware ticket clerk standing next to it. Walking down the steps toward the court, I realized this was a classic attempt at the ol' let's find closer, abandoned seats among the people who were there to, you know, actually watch the game.
--The Rockets were without Patrick Beverley and Dwight Howard, although, collectively; Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones and Omar Asik were equally formidable compared to Ricky Rubio, Robbie Hummel, Corey Brewer, Dante Cunningham and Gorgui Dieng-- these were the starting lineups.
The Wolves starters against Houston were rarely on the floor together at the same time last season, so rarely that, in fact, the Rubio-Hummel-Brewer-Cunningham-Dieng combination doesn't show up in the lineup section within NBA Stats. As for the Rockets, their starting-five appeared in 14 games and finished with a net-rating of +1.2. In theory, with Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin on the bench, this was going to be a one-sided outcome favoring the visiting team.
By the half, Brewer scored 26 points on 11 of 14 shooting from the field and hardly anyone really noticed. Well, ok, maybe we were the only ones not paying close attention, because it was clear Brewer had done something to captivate those sitting around us when the second half started. Still, the Wolves trailed Houston at halftime, 59-63.
I say with complete and utter confidence those in attendance on that April evening weren't any more or less vibrant than the fans were during the season opener. I was at that game, too. If you don't remember, Kevin Love connected on a three to tie the game with 13 seconds remaining and the Wolves eventually defeated the Orlando Magic in overtime. Although, this atmosphere was notably different.
Entering the final frame, the crowd, witnessing a spectacle similar to a pitcher carrying a no-hitter to the mound through eight innings of a baseball game, made it clear that the gig was up: They wanted to see Corey Brewer score the basketball. It's as if they were bloodthirsty. This is what fans clung to nearing the end of an ultimately meaningless game-- there was nothing at stake for either team.
Brewer played all 12 minutes during the 3rd and entered the 4th quarter with 36 points. Despite this, the Rockets led by two points as James Harden and Chandler Parsons had 23 apiece. The drama was, indeed, real and the audience wasn't thinking about things on a macro level.
The audience wanted to see the Wolves win but, more importantly, they wanted Brewer to score more points. It wasn't like Houston was oblivious to this, either. The Rockets offense, because they score so efficiently, countered Brewer's ability to sneak behind the defense subsequently leaving minimal transition opportunities for him to score easy baskets.
He scored by way of some open layups, but, astonishingly, a lot of Brewer's points came in halfcourt sets, even though the Rockets knew he was the Wolves' only scoring option at this point in the game.
There I was.
Sitting in the fourth row watching a game I never expected to attend, the Wolves were in a battle against one of the best teams in the Western Conference in, yet another, hard fought contest.
With 10 seconds remaining and the game tied Ricky Rubio dribbled the ball upcourt for a chance to win the game on the final possession. This circumstance was similar to those the Wolves notoriously faltered under throughout the year, one exemption being the home opener; the first game of the season.
I stood, gazing, pretty much on the stairway while wearing my Wolves bucket hat, as my friend Eric held his fist up straight in the air. Why was he doing this? I'm not sure. Who cares. We had dipped out of our brief venture with members of corporate America and made sure we sat among the great maw of regular people. In our minds we were already winners.
The atmosphere was intense as I've ever seen it. We watched with feelings of anxiety as Rubio orchestrated the game winning play of the best game I've attended as a fan. This was how it ended.