Last night's game reminds us that there can be pleasure in fandom even at the unlikeliest of times: at the end of another slog of a season, with almost no chance to win and very little to play for, our team can still surprise us and makes us smile.
There was almost no chance the Wolves were going to win last night. On the road, against the best team in the league, fourth game in five nights, seven guys available, limping to the finish line. So they lost, as we knew they would. And yet...for a couple of hours in Oakland, they made the Warriors work for it. Unlike in many recent games, they did not go gently into that goodnight. I don't know that the Warriors were exactly putting forth every ounce of effort in a game that meant very little to them, but the Wolves forced them to play. Even when it looked like it was about to become yet another blowout in the 3rd quarter, the Wolves fought their way back into the game, forced the Warriors to play their stars until the end, made them work for it.
I had no intention of staying up for the whole game last night--after the loss in L.A. on Friday, with a late start, I was hoping to make it to halftime. I was on the verge of turning it off in the third quarter when the Warriors went up big, and then Zach LaVine happened to start the 4th. After leading by only five at halftime, the Warriors, as expected, turned it on, especially defensively, in the third quarter, holding the Wolves to 14 points and leading by 17 after Steph Curry made a buzzer beating three to end the quarter. It looked like the 4th would be more or less garbage time.
And then Zach LaVine took over the game. Following a Lorenzo Brown basket to start the 4th, LaVine made two consecutive threes and then a monster follow dunk in transition following a Brown steal, and all of a sudden the Wolves were within seven, and Steve Kerr was forced into a timeout. The Wolves kept pushing, and following a couple of Chase Budinger baskets, LaVine went on another personal scoring run, with nine straight points, the last two on a two point jumper that pulled the Wolves within one with just over 4 minutes left.
The Warriors righted the ship after that--they didn't want to lose and had too much talent for the Wolves, but that 4th quarter run where the Wolves outscored the Warriors by 16 was worth staying up for.
The story, of course, is Zach LaVine. He was on fire, particularly from three, where he made six of his ten attempts, and finished with 37 points, a Timberwolves rookie record, surpassing Christian Laettner. His shot, as it sometimes does, looked awesome, especially when his feet were set, and it showed a glimpse of what I think he could be: a good catch-and-shoot guy whose athleticism can help get and keep him open. Season that with his ability to finish in transition, and there might be the makings of a player. Once again he showed that he can be effective when paired with a point guard, even one as limited as Lorenzo Brown.
LaVine has shown a catch and shoot game at times that I think might be his future.— canishoopus (@canishoopus) April 12, 2015
When LaVine sets his feet it's a nice-looking jumper. When his legs are flailing away on the move is when he gets in trouble— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) April 12, 2015
It was a night for LaVine (and all of us) to remember, going up against Steph Curry (who was his usual unstoppable self) and battling him all night.
Meanwhile, Andrew Wiggins had another interesting game. He finished with 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 9 (!) assists, but it was clear he completely ran out of gas in the 2nd half. All 17 of his points were scored in the first half, and given the minutes he's been playing and the Wolves schedule, it's not surprising that he had little left at the end. The Warriors have three big, athletic defenders to use against him--Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala, and he just got worn down. That said, he continued to compete, and made some key passes in the late stages last night. Two straight games where his non-scoring stats have been more robust than we are used to seeing. Of course that includes six turnovers last night, but his willingness to effort on the boards and find people is nice to see heading into the summer.
Of course, much of this is about variance: the Wolves made 11 threes, the same number as the Warriors, something that isn't going to happen very often, but does show the power of the three point shot. It really kept them in the game, and while it was mostly LaVine, they also got threes from Budinger, Wiggins, Kevin Martin, and Justin Hamilton, all of which helped them keep pace with the best shooting team in the league.
Sometimes, we just need to take what the basketball gods give us. I'm not sure there is any Great Message about the future in last night's game; the most accurate way to describe it is probably that sometimes teams and/or players get hot. The season is over in four days. The Wolves have had another poor, mostly dispiriting season. But occasionally you get a little, probably soon to be forgotten, gem in a late night game from the West Coast when you least expect it. When you do, enjoy it.
The Knicks won last night in Orlando, meaning that they are now tied with the Wolves for worst record in the league. If they are tied at the end of the season, they will evenly split the ping pong balls given to the two worst teams, and have a blind draw to determine who picks 4th in the event that neither winds up with a top 3 pick in the lottery.