The Timberwolves lost to the Celtics 92-90 on Wednesday night, an entertaining game spoiled only by the outcome. Let us, however, ignore that for a moment. Let’s put aside some of the silly turnovers and mistakes in the fourth quarter, as well as the usual blatantly poor end-of-game refereeing that’s the harbinger of any close NBA game. And let’s forget that Minnesota scored two points in the game’s final 4:38.
Let’s leave all that behind, because of this: David Kahn wanted his franchise to be both fun to watch, and hard to beat. The Wolves, young as they are, are already the former and are making serious progress towards the latter.
After a night like his, we must start with Oleksiy Pecherov, who scored a career-high 24 points and shot 9-14 from the floor, including an astonishing 7-11 on long-range jumpers (if the shot chart is to be believed). Maybe more importantly, Pecherov displayed reasonable footwork on the block, good effort on the glass (eight boards, seven of them defensive), and acceptable defense on Boston’s bigs. The knock on the big Ukranian was supposed to be a general unwillingness to play inside, but he’s putting his shift in down low on defense. And on offense, he successfully made Kevin Garnett play away from the rim, and made the Celtics pay when Garnett sagged. Nobody’s saying Pecherov will do this on a nightly basis, and it’s confusing to see where he fits when Kevin Love returns, but he earned his starting spot and his 34 minutes tonight.
It’s also nice to see players from everywhere pitching in, even as Al Jefferson had an off night (18 points, but he didn’t score in the fourth quarter; instead, he threw up two long-range bricks and turned the ball over twice.) Ryan Hollins is exactly as advertised – an incredible athlete who provides, if nothing else, a change of pace on both ends of the floor. He blocked two shots, grabbed a couple of offensive rebounds, turned the ball over twice, and general caused barely-controlled mayhem on the floor. Again, fun to watch, and if he can get regular minutes and start improving, a legitimate weapon for the Wolves.
All told, Minnesota shot 56% as a team, if you don’t count Corey Brewer, who went 6-16 from the floor but 1-9 outside the paint, including yet another airballed jumper. Brewer brings a lot to the table, in general, but the young man just can’t shoot. I’d be a lot happier if he accepted that limitation. (Wayne Ellington played just four minutes; it’d be nice to see if he could take a few of those shots.)
Here’s the thing that makes me the happiest, as a fan: maybe not all of the pieces are in place, and maybe they don’t quite fit together properly yet. But pretty much every player the Wolves run out is making a positive contribution. Jonny Flynn and Ramon Sessions make a nice combo at point guard, even if the former still makes bad decisions and wild drives from time to time. The trio of Jefferson, Hollins, and Pecherov complement each other well – they’re all good at different things. Ryan Gomes is his usual steady self (11 points, 5-7 from the floor). Brewer is good on the defensive end and can run the floor. We haven’t seen enough of Ellington yet, but he’s another potential weapon. Even Brian Cardinal and Sasha Pavlovic are useful at times, though you don’t want either taking a lot of shots.
All that potential on the floor is, for me, fun to watch. The most entertaining part is this: I can see how all of those weapons might fit together, and the Wolves seem to be already making progress towards figuring that out. Forget the loss. Things are actually looking up.