Did the title of my headline excite you and gain your attention? Well, I wanted the title of my headline to match the excitement of this game. This was a sloppy game of basketball tonight. Here’s the box score.
First, there was a pretty decent crowd in the house. The lower level looked somewhat filled. I only had a one-seat gap on either side today! Even the upper level boasted some people. I think it might have had something to do with a certain superstar on the Sonics team that’s causing a lot of buzz around the NBA. No, I’m not talking about rookie sensation Jeff Green, I’m talking about 2002 Western Conference Coaches’ Decision All-Star Reserve Wally Sczczczszczzerbiak! As the Rock used to say before seemingly separating himself from the dying "sport" of professional wrestlig, "Finally, Wally Szczerbiak has come back to Minneapolis." Deciding to simulate his All-Star role throughout the season, Wally can be seen as a 2007-2008 Seattle Supersonics Head Coach’s Decision Reserve.
But seriously, I was excited to get my first look at Kevin Durant. I did not catch a lot of Texas basketball last year as I usually save my NCAA basketball watching for conference tournament time (some amazing Durant performances during the Big 12), but the Longhorns got bounced rather early, so I’ve only seen him play thrice. On top of that, I was interested to see how Brewer would handle guarding Durant (more on this after the jump).
On to the actual game. As I stated above, this was a lousy game. Both teams shot like garbage. The Sonics hit 43%, the Wolves 39%. The Sonics turned it over often early and the Wolves hopped out to a 26-11 lead. The Wolves capitalized on turnovers and missed shots, getting open looks and easy buckets near the rim. Then, something happened.
I’m not really sure where things went wrong, and I don’t want to say it was the effort level (at least during the 2nd and 3rd quarters), but it seemed like a two-part problem. First, the Wolves went away from getting the ball inside and starting missing outside shots. Even when they rotated the ball around the horn, they never got an open look. Secondly, they turned it over. A lot. It seemed like they tried to pass the ball through the defender’s arms. I think this quote from the coach sums it up:
"I thought we came out and really dictated play in the man," said Minnesota coach Randy Wittman. "They went zone and we just, for whatever reason, became so tentative against them. We didn’t continue to attack. We passed the ball around the perimeter. We didn’t look inside anymore." (Source: ESPN Game Recap – crediting the AP)
I don’t want to heap blame on McCants, but when he came in during the second quarter, he started gunning like he was the basketball version of Jeff George. It just seemed like all of his shots clanked hard, at least up until the fourth quarter when the outcome was no longer in doubt. And then something else happened that I haven’t seen as much until this game: frustrated play resulting in players trying to do too much. Al Jefferson in particular seemed like he was taking it upon himself to single handedly bring the team out of the jam in the fourth, but the shots weren’t falling and he was collapsed immediately everytime he touched the ball.
Four things from my memory that I will enumerate:
1) 8:19. That’s how much time was left in the 2nd quarter when the Wolves committed their fifth team foul and put the Sonics in the bonus.
2) 6:58. That’s how much time was left in the 4th quarter when the Wolves committed their fifth team foul and put the Sonics in the bonus.
(The two stats above didn’t correlate to free throw disparity. In fact, the Wolves took more free throws. Imagine what a good team would have done to the Wolves with that kind of bonus?)
3) 21. Wolves turnovers this game. Ties season high. (The Sonics had 19. Again, poorly executed game.) Now, that’s obviously from the box score. What I do remember is this: I sit in section 124. In the third quarter, the Seattle offense was playing at the far basket from my perspective. All I remember of that quarter is what seemed like constant Seattle steals and fast breaks. Over and over. I thought I was watching the final game in Above the Rim where they show Leon’s finger roll from 10 different angles and try to pass each one off as a separate basket.
4) 4:41. This was the time left in the fourth quarter when the fans started mass exiting the arena during a time out. I think over half of the lower level left at this time. It was like a factory where the main shift was punching out.
I know this was touted as "the worst two teams in the league", but I don’t think that’s the case. After a poor start, the Sonics are now 4-3 in the month of December and appear to be going in some sort of designed direction. The Wolves still look lost. When the Wolves had the 15 point lead, it was almost like that Hawks game earlier this season where the team blew a big lead. The Wolves played in a manner that communicates to other teams and the fans, "Hey, we’ve got the lead. Now what do we do? S**t we don’t know what to do! Time to wait until 1 or 2 seconds are left on the shot clock and hoist a prayer that looks like we’re trying to sit in the Loon’s Nest!" Basketball can be a game of runs, but even mediocre teams try to stick with what created a 15-point lead. Good teams take that 15-point lead and play the rest of the game sucking the hope of a comeback out of you. The Sonics are making the jump to a borderline mediocre team. Again, a good team would have been driving the lane those two quarters the Wolves put them in the bonus.
The Wolves don’t meet the criteria for mediocre, much less good right now.
I’ve got a couple extra things after the jump, including some thoughts on Durant and Brewer. Please click Read More.
Ok, here’s some extras:
He wasn’t able to go on a scoring explosion, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a jump shot rip through the net like Durant’s do. It’s hard to describe unless you hear it. When his stoke is on, I think he gives Chitwood a run for his money on purity. If and when I decide I’m not going to get full season tickets, I will buy single game tickets to watch this guy. That being said…
Corey Brewer D
If you read my Corey Brewer to the NBDL post, I still stand by the theory: Brewer needed minutes. Now he’s getting them and I don’t think he needs to go the NBDL anymore (unless they pull him from his minutes). Today, he did what we drafted him to do: Brewer D’d up a guy that could potentially destroy you single-handedly, and he did it in an almost textbook manner. His performace verifies that he knows how to guard different positions. Here’s particularly what I’m talking about:
In the NCAA National Championship Game, the Gators did their homework. Oden played a great game, but I think the Gators accounted for a possible Oden party and realized which OSU player could potentially kill them: Mike Conley, Jr. From almost right out the gates, Brewer, who has the speed to keep up with Conley and the size and length to devour a small guard, shut Conley down. Gators win. Obviously, Conley is not Durant.
Durant is taller than Brewer and has an inside/out game with a lethal jumper, excellent ball-handling, and good speed. This isn’t a guy you’re going to shut down 1-on-1, especially with Brewer’s frame. What I saw Brewer do tonight was excellent individual defense and good team defense. Indivudually, he tried to deny Durant positioning where he was comfortable. When Durant got the ball somewhere he liked, Brewer made sure he had to go in the direction of other defenders. Very good defensive job by Corey. When he gets the ball-handling and jump shooting going, he’ll be fine.
Granted, this is the first Sonics game I’ve seen this year, but either Jeff Green looked lost, or the Sonics just don’t really know what to do with him and how to use him. I’m almost willing to concede the conspiracy theory that the Sonics owners avoided drafting Yi so they could move. Just from a profit end, Yi was the right move.