Game report from the ESPN Wolves forum's Lipoli:
Finally!! The Wolves have played really well in three of the their four games so far this season. We finally saw their efforts translate into a victory. It felt great at Target Center in the 4th quarter tonight. You could feel the energy in the arena down the stretch as the Wolves held off the Mavs' last run and then pulled away.
The key was Ricky's return to the floor in the 4th. He scored the Wolves next five points -- a three point shot on the Wolves first possession upon his return and then a driving layup on the next possession. Love was the stat star tonight and played a tremendous game all around. But Rubio's presence on the court creates something special. You can see the chemistry building on the this team as you watch the way the guys play together and the way they relate to one another both on the court and on the bench.
The key tonight? We hit our three-point shots -- 45.5% of them. And we played defense, holding the Mavs to 82 points and 37.7% shooting. And we outrebounded the Mavs 54 to 35. Those are the three key statistical ingrediants for Wolves victories this season -- 3-point shooting, defense and rebounding.
Tonight's stars: Love and Rubio. Their numbers speak for themselves. The intangibles were apparent on the court and the bench. These are two guys to build around. Ricky continues to show that he can shoot. And he can drive. He is such an incredibly gifted ball-handler. He's also deceptively quick.
Tonight's additional key contributors: AT, Luke, Beasley and Williams. Tolliver is a great guy to have on your team. Not particularly big, athletic or gifted, but the guy knows how to play the game, plays hard and has developed a nice three-point shot that can really spark the team when he's on. Yet, even when his shot's not dropping, he can be a difference maker with his smarts and his hustle. He's a more talented version of Brian Cardinal. Luke played within himself tonight. He's a very good shooter off the dribble and he made the most of his shooting skill tonight going 5-9 from the field and hitting shots at key moments. He's also very good at using screens and getting himself open shots. Beasley continues to struggle with his shot, but amazingly his defense remains solid. And he had some key rebounds for the Wolves in the 4th quarter. He seems to be learning how to keep his head in the game and help the team in other ways when his shot's not falling. I have a very strong feeling that he's going to find his shot and his offensive game this season and really be a positive difference-maker for the Wolves. Derrick Williams struggled again with his shot. But the guy was tremendous on the boards tonight with 7 rebounds in only 16 minutes. He had some really key rebounds in the first half. He's a much better rebound than I thought he'd be based on his college stats. He's very aggressive attaching the boards. I know he hasn't shown a lot yet, but I'm still very high on him.
I paid extra attention to player interaction and conduct on the bench tonight to get a better measure of team chemistry and intangibles. Here are a few tidbits:
1. Darko and Pekovic don't look like they belong on this team. During every time out tonight, every player on the bench would focus intently on what Rick Adelman was saying -- whether playing or not -- with two exceptions: Darko and Pekovic. I'm not exaggerating when I say that during every timeout, Darko and Pekovic were either joking with each other, waving into the stands at Darko's wife and Serbian friends or staring up at the entertainment on the scoreboard. They were the only ones. Even Martell Webster in street cloths would pay attention to Adelman in the huddle and would greet guys coming off the court with a pat, high five or words of encouragement. Our two Serbians are in their own little world and it's not the same competitive, close-knit world of the rest of their teammates. It shouldn't be a surprise that Darko gets little playing time and that Pekovic gets none. Rick Adelman and the coaching staff see the commitment of these two guys (or lack thereof) every day in practice as well as in games.
2. Wes Johnson isn't as bad as Darko and Pekovic, but he's my runner up for bad attitude. He shows very little enthusiasm on the bench and doesn't really seem to be tight with his teammates in the same way as Love, Rubio, Tolliver, JJ, Beasley, Williams, Luke and even Wayne. AR is a bit of a loner, but he still seems part of the group. No doubt that AR is very intense and is really giving it his all. Watching AR makes you pull for him. The main problem wiht Wes, however, isn't his attitude. It's his poor ball-handling and complete inability to drive or shoot off the dribble.
3. Beasley is really down on himself and looks depressed. Yet, I'm really impressed that he keeps competing hard and improving his play in the defensive end. You can tell his teammates really like him. All of them are constantly coming up to him, patting him and encouraging him. He's struggling, but unlike Darko and Pekovic (and to a lesser degree Wes), he hasn't check out. In fact, I think he may be trying a bit too hard.
4. The guys really, really like Ricky and you can tell they realize they're on the court with someone special.
5. Ricky's dad was at tonight's game, courside near half court where Jimmy Jam used to sit. Not surprisingly, he was really into the game. He was standing most of the 4th quarter. He has a really loud whistle that you could hear clearly on the other side of the court and up half way where I was sitting. It was fun to watch the proud poppa cheer on his son.
Still too many gimmicks over the PA, but I'm hoping that will change as the team improves. A better product on the court should result in the PA directing more attention to the game and less to silly gimmicks. But we'll see. The Ok City and Miami crowds were louder than tonight's, but tonight's crowd was still very good.
Here's some more detail on the demeanor of the players that I've noticed so far this season.
JJ Berea is the most active player on the bench. He's constantly walking up and down the bench during timeouts and exhorting his teammates. He acts a lot like an assistant coach -- a very intense assistant coach. When he's on the bench, he's into every play the way KG used to be. I'm not a big KG fan because of the jerk he's become, but I"ve always liked his intensity and the way he stays in the game supporting his teammates when he's not playing. JJ is the same way.
Martell Webster looks almost giddy on the bench. The guy is constantly up and talking to players. You'll see him go on the court a lot to greet and back-slap or high five guys coming out of the game either in timeouts or when they're being replaced. Martell's girl friend sits near me. She has some very nice bling and a nice fur coat. I didn't know she was Martell's girlfriend until I saw him give he a kiss when she walked by the bench before the Miami game. Given how Wes is performing (or not performing), I'm looking foward to Martell's return.
Adelman commands complete and total respect. And I agree with your observation on how natural it looks. He's a real NBA coach and a really good one at that. He never yells at the players, and he looks them in the eye when he talks to them. He really gets miffed at turnovers. That's about the only time you seem him express any disgust on the bench. Ricky came over to him several times tonight during short breaks in play to ask him questions. Ricky is truly an extension of the coach on the floor. It's also a pleasure to see Adelman confer with his assistants during time outs -- something that Rambis NEVER did.
Every now and then there's a magical moment in a game. Tonight it was Rubio coming in and scoring the next five points in the 4th just when the Mavs were knocking on the door. Yes, Love was fantastic. But the key to the game was Rubio's return and those five points. He just put the team on his back for that brief period and restored the team's self-confidence. The magic of the moment wasn't really watching his two buckets. The magic was watching the impact it had on his teammates when the Mavs called time out and the Wolves players walked to the bench as the crowd stood and screamed their approval. To a man, the other four players came up to Rubio and patting on the head or wrapped an arm around him as if to say, thanks for lift and for restoring our belief in ourselves.
Target Center is a very, very fun place to be these days. Hopefully you and others who don't get to many games can get to some games this season. Will we be a playoff team this season? Probably not, although I wouldn't count them out entirely. But this team plays basketball the way it was meant to be played -- with teamwork, energy and joy along with some occasional flash. Watching a young team emerge the way the Wolves are this season, is the sort of thing you don't get to see often in sports.
And yes, chemistry matters.