Home Game # 6: Cleveland 97, Minnesota 86
Season record: 1-8
1. Shoddy Shaddy
After the Wolves had been LeBronned by 11 Wednesday night at the Target Center, Coach Randy Wittman said in edgier, more frustrated tones what Antoine Walker had calmly laid out after Minnesota’s previous loss Saturday night. There’s no fight in this team, Wittman stated; if the opponent goes on a six or eight point run, the Wolves hang their heads and don’t respond. "When we get punched in the mouth we get down," he added, saying that the five guys who were playing most of the 4th quarter–Al Jefferson, Walker, Greg Buckner, Corey Brewer, and, surprise, Gerald Green–at least "threw some haymakers" in response.
Leaving aside the tortured fighting imagery–if you want to watch jerks literally try to injure each other and thump their chests with gap-toothed bravado, NHL hockey is being played across the river–I thought the coach’s words might be foreshadowing why Rashad McCants only got 3:49 on the court during the second half. What do you need to see from McCants that you didn’t tonight? I asked. "He’s got to continue to *play*," Witt immediately shot back. "Very seldom does everything go right for you in a game."
On to the locker room, where McCants was holding up his right arm as a Wolves’ cleanup guy affixed a bag of crushed ice to the inside of his elbow with circular motions of clear tape. When did you do that? I asked. "Practice," McCants said. Wow, did it affect your stroke any tonight? I said. "Well, I went 5 for 16 tonight; what do you think?" Shaddy said testily. His mood was sour enough, and my belligerence meter low enough, that I didn’t supply the natural rejoinder: Well, how smart was it to jack up 16 shots in less than 24 minutes with a bum elbow?
As if the misfired gunning wasn’t bad enough, McCants did not visit the free throw line. "When [Cleveland big men] Ilgauskas and Gooden switched out on our 1 or 2, we’ve got to be able to go to the basket," Wittman lamented.
2. The Gerald Green Bandwagon Is Taking Passengers
Exploiting Shaddy doldrums was Gerald Green, who more than doubled the 16 minutes he’d been allowed to play in Minnesota’s previous 8 games, and canned more shots in half as many attempts as McCants while registering 13 points (6-8 FG in 20:15). Opinions on what Green has to offer, both now and in the future, vary more widely than perhaps any other player on the team. As one comfortably ensconced in the "hater" camp, I’m nevertheless happy to report that GG had a fine showing that is destined to get people clamoring for more court time for last year’s slam dunk champion and super-athlete.
One of those people is Jefferson, who watched McCants jack up jumpers even when undersized Wolves castoff Dwayne Jones was defending him down low. Asked if he agreed with Wittman’s comments about not rallying back, Jeff said, "Yeah, I totally agree. We get in the habit of putting our heads down, myself included." Then Jefferson unilaterally brought up his teammate with the Celtics and Wolves. "Green came in and gave us huge energy. We’ve got to be in a fighting mood and Gerald gave it to us. He gave us the lift we needed." When I voiced the conventional wisdom that one reason for Green’s lack of minutes was him not knowing the plays, Jefferson frowned and disagreed. "No, I think it is just his shot, his shot selection sometimes and then him getting down on himself. But he put that away tonight."
Yes, he did. Entering the game in second quarter, Green still had to be told where to go on defense by Buckner during the first play, and he still has a tendency to wander at both ends of the court. But he also closed out for a nice, partial block on a long-range jumper and then continued downcourt to receive a pass for a slam that ignited the crowd. And most of his jumpers were in the context of the offense. He added three boards and two assists, without a turnover, although his minus -2 for the game put his season-long plus total in jeopardy. (He still remains plus +1 for the season, the only Timberwolf on that side of the ledger.)
The doubts I’ve expressed about McCants–the need to get his own shot, overconfidence creating tunnel vision–are magnified with Green, and that’s before noting that Shaddy is miles ahead of Green on defense, as a passer, and in his general knowledge of the game. I believe Green closely resembles Troy Hudson–a player who can single-handedly win you a game, and do some dazzling things out on the court, a player who can become electric; but also a player who will lose you twice as many games as he’ll win because, for whatever reason, he either can’t or won’t figure out how to best enable a team concept out on the court.
And I’d love to be wrong about this, because Gerald Green has pogo sticks for hamstrings, and a sweet looking jump shot.
3. Quick Hits
Corey Brewer didn’t play the entire first half. "A little team discipline today. Corey missed the shootaround this morning," Wittman explained after the game. Actually the beat writers said he was there when they were allowed in late in the practice, so he must have been tardy. But the media wasn’t aware of the penalty until after the game.
Antoine Walker had lousy game, twice throwing the ball into the stands in unforced errots (one was an out-of-bounds play), and too quick to jack up treys as the Wolves were trying to come back and he had a hot Gerald Green mentally pleading for the rock elsewhere on the perimeter. Also, whether by accident or design, there were about a half-dozen possessions when the 6-9 ‘Toine was being guarded by 6-3 Eric Snow in the half court and I recall only one basket resulting from that matchup.
Those who continue to claim that Kobe Bryant is the NBA’s best player owe LeBron an apology. His drives to the hoop were effortless down both the right and (his preference) left lane, and he nailed six of 10 from beyond the arc in addition to 9-16 elsewhere. Throw in 8 free throws, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks (there were 4 turnovers too) to go with those 45 points–and the team lead in minutes for a defense that once again ceded less than 90 points to an opponent–and you’ve got the stats of the real best player in the NBA.
Mark Madsen is back from injury. And Michael Doleac made it off the bench and into the starting lineup, Neither one attempted a shot in a combined 32:19 of play. Shrewd move by Madsen, but for a team struggling on offense and becoming increasingly reliant on the Jefferson-McCants combo, Doleac’s 13-footer is a viable option that should be utilized.