The Three Pointer: Back To Earth

Copyright 2008 NBAE (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

Game #70, Road Game #34: Minnesota 86, Houston 97

Season Record: 18-52

1. Stubborn Smallball

Let the record show that Al Jefferson and Ryan Gomes tied for the "best" plus/margin (-4) among the 9 Wolves who played in tonight’s 11-point loss to Houston, that Luis Scola had the Rockets’ only minus at -1 and that Dikembe Mutombo was second-worst among the Houston’s starters at plus +3. Despite all these numbers, you can’t convince me that the Wolves were better off playing smallball versus this Houston team. They were soundly beaten on the boards, 58-38, lost the points in the paint battle by double-digits (sorry, can’t find the numbers for it) and also yielded more second-chance points due mostly to the plethora of Rockets putbacks by the bigs.

The Rockets’ front line of Mutombo/Scola/Shane Battier finished with 14 offensive rebounds; the Wolves front trio of Jefferson/Gomes/Kirk Snyder had 19 defensive rebounds–a weak plus +5 rebound margin cleaning their defensive glass. And don’t look to the backcourt for bailouts, because these Rockets battle and box out. Randy Foye and Marko Jaric totaled 3 rebounds *combined" while Tracy McGrady had 11 on his own.

It would have been nice to see Chris Richard or Michael Doleac matched up with Mutombo instead of Jefferson, who shot 9-21 FG and was appropriately pissed that he wasn’t getting enough touches at times in the second half. As much as I love Ryan Gomes, I’d much rather see Jefferson scrapping for rebounds against Scola, the hands-down Rookie of the Year (it’s not close) and one leather-tough hombre in the paint, who snagged a career-high 18 boards going against Gomes. Put Gomes out on his stylistic mentor, Battier, who had a rotten game on paper–3-12 FG, 1-7 3pt, 5 turnovers–and yet played such superb help defense against Jefferson and in deterring penetration and in rotating over that you understand how a team coached by Rick Adelman–a great offensive coach–is doing such a good job limiting points.

A legit center beside Jefferson and Gomes would kick Kirk Snyder back to the backcourt to split minutes with Marko Jaric guarding McGrady who played like he was in significant pain for most of the night (he was, he has a sprained shoulder and wasn’t even expected to play) but rose to the occasion at crunchtime. More on that in a minute. The point is, Snyder and Jaric and McCants in the backcourt along with Randy Foye. And if you really are trying to win the game, forget about the confidence-depleted, late-season thin man Corey Brewer trying to stop T-Mac, who almost literally shrugged him off a couple of times going up for jumpers. Jaric, who did such a beautiful job hounding McGrady during the nail-biter the teams played at Target Center, was a little less effective tonight, but probably a titch better than Snyder.

Bottom line, if Mutombo insists on guarding Jefferson, force Battier to run around with Gomes on the perimeter, spot up Doleac for little step-out pops against Scola, or have Chris Richard sealing Scola off the boards.

It probably wouldn’t matter. In Chuck Hayes and Carl Landry, the Rockets have a couple more sweat-equity ‘tweeners coming off the bench who are better than Richard and Chris Smith (who combined for 2-5 FG and just 2 rebounds in more than 25 minutes of collective action). The string of patsies are temporarily over. You can see how this ballclub could afford to let Snyder languish on the pine without so much as a second or third look.

Speaking of which…

2. The Uneven Adventures of Kirk Snyder

The guy with the Mr. Potato Head nose had a sparkling, maybe even thrilling, first quarter. It was the hackneyed story of the neglected dude traded away and now come to wreak vengeance and expose the traitor traders for their blind stupidity. Even with Battier on him (although Battier wasn’t necessarily making him the top priority), Snyder began by getting to the rim–his shots were layups, dunks, putbacks, and thus some free throws to boot. But better yet, he freelanced from penetration and maintained that drive and kick game he had flashed against the hapless Knicks last time out, doling dimes to Gomes, Jefferson, Foye and Gomes again to finish the tightly contested (23-24) first quarter with a triple double flirtation: 7 points, 4 rebounds (half the team’s total), and 4 assists (out of the team’s 7).

Alas, the thing Snyder had the most of after that whirlwind first period was turnovers–5 of them, to total six miscues for the game. He also added a mere 5 points, two rebounds and two assists in the final three quarters (in which he played 18:13 to Brewer’s 17:47 after going all 12 minutes of the first) to finish with a respectable line, if not exactly the triumphant payback he’d hoped. But the numbers aren’t usually the story anyway with Snyder. He seems to play with a little bit of mean streak, and I vacillate between liking and frowning at that side of his makeup. On the one hand he makes the hustle plays that we all want to pin gold stars on Brewer for accomplishing. In the first half tonight, he had enough juice and foresight to hightail after Marko Jaric after Jaric had made a steal and subsequently blown the contested layup (big surprise, eh?), slamming home Jaric’s too-strong finish. Conversely, there was a play during Snyder’s second half turnover spree where, after the faulty pass, he flew down the floor trailing a Rockets’ 3-on-1 drill, and it took two nifty bits of execution–a feed back from T-Mac under the hoop to a driving Scola, who double pumped under Snyder’s flying block attempt to lay it in–to prevent him from making a glorious recovery.

Coach Wittman clearly likes Snyder’s game, but also knows the downsides. The other day he likened Snyder to McCants, in that both can do stupid things due to overweening aggression, but since the vice and virtue of it are so close together, you have to accept the whole package. And after the Wolves had failed to score for about two and a half minutes early in the third period, we saw the vice and virtue collide as one–Snyder took the ball right up the gut and challenged Mutombo with an audacious slam-dunk attempt. The shot was missed–Snyder left his feet just inside the foul line–but he drew the foul on Mutombo even as he was driving his forearm into Mutombo’s jaw.

Maybe everything that happened after that looked more soap operatic than it was–it’s hard to know watching on television. But the 41-year old African, who had been honored at halftime for his amazing humanitarian work building hospitals in his native Congo and other countries, didn’t take kindly to the shot in the kisser and began jawing at Snyder from his spot in the lane as Snyder shot the free throws. And right there, Snyder went back to being the contemptible scrub, called out by the distinguished vet, in the eyes of his former teammates. He missed the second free throw and began to get picked on–McGrady and Battier both went at him when he was playing D, and at the other end, his passes were getting picked off more frequently. But whether or not there was a little extra emotion out there, it’s unimpeachable that Snyder already has delivered more dividends–and the promise of more still–than the man for whom he was traded, the immature Gerald Green. But it is also true that, unlike the Wolves, Houston has a lot of guard-dog athletes that made Snyder reasonably redundant.

3. A Few More Quick Things

Randy Foye played his worst game in quite awhile and simply seemed mentally out of sorts the entire contest. He chucked his first ill-advised jumper 14 seconds into the game, and, aside from a really pretty reverse back to either Gomes or Jaric in which he dribbled left and then spun and tossed it back to right elbow, h
e had the sort of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey shot selection reminiscent of Troy Hudson, both in shooting quickly on the shot clock, turning down some good looks, and taking a heat check after one basket (and that one was a lucky bounce that went way up and fell through the hole). He finished 2-8 FG, with 4 assists and 5 turnovers and but one rebound, far below his recent averages. No, this is not a call for Foye to be labelled a bust at the point–he had a bad game. Just as I needed two or three good games to bump me off the notion that Foye is overmatched running an offense, I’ll need this lack of court instincts reprised a couple or three more games before the serious doubts creep back in.

Rashad McCants likewise had a mostly off-kilter evening, until he finally rediscovered his stroke early in the 4th quarter, exploding for 7 points in the first 2:27 of the period to cut a 60-69 deficit to 70-72 with 9:33 to play. The comeback was doomed when Shaddy chose to try and make incidental contact into a whistle, awkwardly chucking a long airball, which Houston converted into a McGrady jumper on the next possession. Once again we have a situation where McCants rallies the ballclub partway back. He has a knack for turning potential blowouts into more engaging defeats–and no, that’s not a compliment. It is always fun to watch him stroke the long jumper or negotiate the thicket on a drive to the hoop–he leads the team is visually pleasing points by a huge margin–but this 1-7 FG through 3 followed by 5-8 FG in the fourth is something we’ve seen before. What we haven’t seen, aside from a very early win over Sacramento, are that glittering stroke and those creative treks to the rim spelling the clearcut difference between a victory and a defeat.

Only caught a little of the Phoenix-Celts game, but what a different enviroment for Kevin Garnett. Like everyone else, he abused Amare Stoudamire’s matador D and banged in 30 points, but can anyone imagine him playing more than 30 minutes without a single defensive rebound while here in Minnesota? Or that his team would win by 20 over one of the supposedly elite NBA teams?

The San Antonio tilt is not televised except for League Pass and I’ll be out of town on another assignment during the Sunday home game against Utah. I’ll throw up an open thread for Sunday evening for those who want to chime in.