So….this is what basketball looks like? Real, live professional hoops? And the team that I’m rooting for is the team that is executing? It’s been awhile since the good folks of the Upper Midwest have enjoyed such a phenomenon, and it was a sight to behold.
The game started in all too familiar fashion for the Wolves and their fans, with San Antonio pulling out to a 21-9 lead in the first 7 minutes. The Wolves’ offense lacked any semblance of crispness, with cuts and passes being lollygagged, and only Ricky Rubio seemed to have the bounce in his step that is so fleeting this time of year from non-playoff teams.
The final 5 minutes of the quarter went surprisingly well, as the Rubio-led Wolves went on a 15-7 run, trailing just 28-24 at the end of the frame. The second unit, sparked by J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved, and Chris Johnson exploded in the second quarter, and played more than solid defense. The Spurs had Manu Ginobili on the court for much of the period, but it did not matter. Minnesota made things tough on the visiting offense, as the quarter wore on, the Wolves’ lead only expanded.
Suddenly, Shved had a shot of confidence, shooting 4 of 4 prior to halftime for 10 points, to go along with 2 assists. Rubio’s strong play continued, notching 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists (against just 1 turnover) before the break. Johnson played some very good minutes, piling up 5 blocks in the second frame and doing a very good job of sprinting from rim to rim. He also threw down a highlight reel alley-oop from Barea, reaching over the defense on the baseline and redirecting the pass through the basket.
After outscoring the Spurs by a 29-10 score in the second quarter (the Spurs’ lowest total in a quarter this season and the Wolves’ best defensive quarter), the Wolves carried a 53-38 lead into the break, expanded by a Rubio runner near the top of the key to beat the buzzer at the end of the first half. The third quarter was sluggish, with both teams struggling to score. Finally, Rubio sparked the Wolves again, ripping boards away from the San Antonio front-court and even hitting a jump shot in transition. The Wolves were quite fortunate that the Spurs could not hit the broadside of a Pekovic on the offensive end, bricking relatively open jumpers left and right.
The Wolves began the fourth quarter ahead by the score of 77-60. As the quarter wore on, the only intrigue was if Ricky Rubio would corral 2 more rebounds and reach his first NBA triple-double. He did, and remained in the game for a few minutes longer, providing the fans with an array of alley-oop passes and Maravich-like dribbling, including a dribble-behind-the-back-wrap-around-twice-in-a-row en route to a layup in traffic.
The Wolves coasted down the stretch, winning by the final score of 107-83. Obviously, the Spurs did not have Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, or Tony Parker. But hey, the Wolves did not have Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, Andrei Kirilenko, or Chase Budinger. Let’s call it like it is: the gap between those two groups of players is not large, if it exists at all. Spurs fans: we’re going to enjoy this one. After all, we have less than 24-hours before tip-off in Indianapolis….
A few thoughts….
– Rubio accumulated 21 points (9 of 17 from the field, 2 of 3 from the line), 13 rebounds, 12 assists, and 1 block. Shockingly, he had no steals in the game, and he did turn the ball over 4 times in his 35 minutes. Two of those turnovers were basically throwaways late in the game when the outcome was decided.
– Alexey! Finally, Mr. Shved provided us with a solid game after putting up clunkers for the better part of the calendar year. If the Wolves can get 16 points (6 of 8 shooting, 3 of 4 from long range), 7 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block, and 3 turnovers in 30 minutes.
– Chris Johnson remains intriguing, but let’s be honest about what this is: he is not a true, NBA-caliber center. He’s a nice fifth big man that can give your team energy, blocks, and oops off the bench, but he gets pushed around on both ends of the floor and on the glass far too much to be someone who consistently sees minutes. He also panics from time-to-time when he gets the ball on offense. He can hit an open 10-15 foot jump shot, it appears, but that is the extent of his offensive game, outside of the lobs.
– Barea went off in the second half, scoring 17 points and shooting 5 of 7 from deep. He also had 5 assists, 5 rebounds, and surprisingly, no turnovers in 26 minutes.
– The Wolves will be back in Indianapolis on Wednesday night to face the Pacers. Game time is 6:00 CST.