Ever expected something to happen, and then that exact thing happened, and you were still a little bit shocked and somewhat paralyzed by it? May I introduce to you Tuesday night’s game between the Miami Heat and the Minnesota Timberwolves? The following is a brief recap of how the Wolves played well to start the game, but then faded with the lack of energy of a team playing on the second night of a back-to-back, and the sad reality that their players were simply not as good as the other team.
After a game-opening LeBron James baseline cut for an easy dunk and two LeBron/Chris Bosh induced steals on the Wolves first two possessions, it was obvious that the Heat had come to play. The Wolves were stubborn in continuing to get into their scripted sets in the early going, which ultimately paid off, but led to a number of turnovers in the opening minutes. Luke Ridnour had multiple miscues, throwing a pass away, stepping on the sideline, and refusing to take a couple of corner three point shots, which are generally his bread-and-butter.
Alexey Shved was very aggressive early on, and though he missed every shot but one in the first half, he kept the pressure on the Heat and got the ball up on the glass for Love and Pekovic to clean up. He also was able to thread a couple of beautiful passes through the lackadaisical Miami defense for easy points. At some point in the middle of the first half, however, Dwayne Wade decided to assert himself and began blowing right by the wispy Russian on his way to the hoop, forcing his way through contact to draw fouls and make some easy baskets.
The opening quarter ended with the visitors in front by a score of 27-21, due to their very good defensive and impressive work on the boards. In the first quarter, the Wolves’ out-rebounded the Heat by an embarrassing 18-3 margin. They also played exactly the kind of defense that would have led to a big win last night in Orlando, causing Miami to take mostly contested jump shots.
The Wolves’ defense was again solid to start the second quarter, but the second unit’s offense sputtered considerably. Norris Cole played exceptional defense on J.J. Barea, frustrating him into three first half turnovers. The extremely speedy Barea was bodied-up by Cole, disrupting the Wolves’ offense and showing the pressure defense that Mario Chalmers was unable to provide in the first quarter.
The most disappointing part of the second quarter slip-up for the Wolves is that the Heat’s bench is not any better than the Wolves. Dante Cunningham played very well, but that was the lone bright spot for the Wolves bench in the second quarter. The Wolves still had a real chance to take a lead into halftime, but turned the ball over with a few seconds remaining and saw Chalmers drain an open three in transition to give the Heat a 52-49 lead at the break.
In the third quarter, we were all reminded that Dwayne Wade can still get a foul call whenever he chooses. Even if he isn’t fouled. Oh, and the 6’ 1”, 175 lb Ridnour can (apparently) completely level the 6’ 4”, 220 lb Wade. The Wolves continued to be aggressive on both ends of the floor, but simply could not get the officials to blow the whistles in their favor. Love was called for three fouls within the first four minutes of the second half, with only one of them being anywhere near a legitimate foul. The Heat also remembered how to flop, which helped a great deal.
To the Heat’s credit, they did play very good basketball on the offensive end. They still were not playing particularly good defense, and the Wolves offense looked just fine. Unfortunately, the Wolves missed a number of open shots again, and could not buy a foul. The Heat turned a two point Wolves lead with about eight minutes to go in the third quarter into an eight point Miami lead going into the fourth quarter.
Things deteriorated quickly in the fourth quarter, with the Heat opening up a lead of 19 points midway through the frame. They continued to hit open three point shots, and the Wolves continued to miss open shots and maintain consistent defensive pressure. With just under six minutes remaining, Rick Adelman waved the white flag and brought Louis Amundson and Greg Stiemsma into the game. A lineup of Barea/Shved/Williams/Amundson/Stiemsma managed to cut the deficit to just 8 points with about two minutes remaining, but a Shved turnover and Cole three-point play ended any hopes of a comeback.
In short, the duo of Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic down low was much, much better than the Miami frontcourt of Udonis Haslem/Joel Anthony/others. However, James, Wade, Chalmers, and Cole were significantly better than their counterparts. Barea and Rindour were not good by any stretch of imagination, and one couldn’t but think how much help a healthy Ricky Rubio would have been in this particular tilt.
– As a general rule, having a team that does not foul on defense and gets to the line frequently on offense is a very, very good thing. We have found out in the past two games, however, that when the officials allow all-out muggings to occur underneath the basket and the Wolves don’t shoot very many free throws, they won’t win. This is simply the nature of the Wolves right now. Without Ricky Rubio on the court, the Wolves play at a very, very slow pace and live in their halfcourt offense, relying on getting the ball to Love and Pekovic. When the officials are not blowing the whistle, the points don’t get put on the board. Neither Pekovic or Love have been adept at passing out of the post this season (or in the past, for that matter), and the Wolves can’t make three pointers, anyways.
– The fact that the Wolves were able to out-rebound the Heat by a margin of 52-24 (28 more rebounds!!) and yet still lost by 11 points is confusing. Turns out, surrounding LeBron James and Dwayne Wade with sharpshooters was a decent strategy for Miami. The Heat shot a ridiculous 13-25 from three point range. Also, turnovers. The Heat committed just 8 turnovers, to the Wolves 19.
– Pekovic should really dunk the ball. Having Darko Milicic around him for two seasons certainly was not the best thing for his development. Those little flip shots and layups at the rim get blocked and bounce out too often. I understand that Pek is a nice guy, but nice guys dunk. Ever heard of Kevin Durant?
– The Wolves host face the Western Conference Champion Oklahoma City Thunder in Minnesota on Thursday night. The game will be the first time that the Wolves are televised on TNT since 2006, and will start at 6:00 p.m. to accommodate the national television audience.