The Three-Pointer: Back to Back Vics At Last

1. Return of the 6-11 superstar. Remember Kevin Garnett and the plus/minus woes of February? Well, he destroyed Golden State's Troy Murphy yesterday afternoon and is now a plus-24 in two March games. In just 35:38 of action (he was saddled with some foul trouble), KG scored 23 points, pulled down 21 boards and added five assists. Murphy's respective numbers were 7-3-1, in 32:29.

Garnett went to the bench after picking up his 4th foul with 4:13 to go in the third period and the Wolves up 67-60. The Warriors promptly went on an 11-0 run and then closed out the quarter up two, 73-75. But Warriors coach Mike Montgomery (toupee or bad dye job?) did his counterpart Dwane Casey a favor and went small, enabling Casey to sub KG in for Mark Blount and ride his three tweeners--Hassell, McCants, and Davis--along with Marcus Banks for the last 7:50, during which the Wolves outscored Golden State 25-9 and won going away.

This was just the latest in a slew of occasions when the small-ball lineup has worked for Minnesota, and this edition was especially tiny, with the 6-7 Davis the second-tallest Timberwolf on the floor. Garnett has traditionally not liked playing the de facto center slot, which is the original reason why he still is announced (and listed on all programs) as 6-11 instead of his real height, 7-1, when the starting lineups are called. I asked him how it was going, given his past antipathy and the fact that small-ball was being used more, and more effectively, than in previous years. He good-naturedly replied that "just because I've necessarily adjusted to it doesn't mean I like it...being the one to block the shots and having to get *all* the rebounds." And he said he didn't like it three or four times in two or three different ways. But he also said he prided himself on his adaptability. As well he should. As flaming assholes like Chicago sportswriter Sam Smith continue to goad Garnett for not wanting to be traded, he remains the most coachable superstar in team sports.

2. Davis gets the minutes. That "three into two" speculation about dividing minutes among Davis, McCants and Hassell is actually a "two into one" involving Hassell and the rook, because Dwane Casey is going to give Ricky Davis all the minutes he possibly can. "It's hard for us to have either him or Kevin off the floor for an extended length of time," the coach said after the game. No, coach, actually your defense improves whenever you deign to sit Davis down. The Wolves were plus-9 in the 45:43 Davis played, boosing his plus/minus mark to minus-83, worst among the four players who came over from the Celts (some of that is a function of minutes, but c'mon, Justin Reed is plus-10, or more than 90 points better in about 450 fewer minutes).

The Wolves were also plus-4 in the scant 2:17 Davis sat, not permitting a single point during that time. Davis's primary defensive assignment was Jason Richardson, who went for 36 points, and, to be fair to Davis, probably would have gotten close to 30 even if Hassell had dogged him all day. But there was also a stretch in the second period where Mike Dunleavy found himself being guarded by Davis and prompted jacked up three uncontested jumpers for eight points in less than a minute.

I know I harsh on Davis quite a bit. I also know why Casey (and McHale) really like him. He wants the ball, can score and dish with equal facility, and also rebounds and runs the floor well. He was cold against Golden State but still kept shooting (7-21 FG), but did drop a team-high 7 assists versus only two turnovers.

My whole beef is with his defense. Davis is a big reason (Blount and Banks are littler reasons) why the Wolves are permitting more than six points per game more since the Boston trade than before it. There has been one occasion where Ricky's vaunted defensive intensity--referred to by McHale at the time of the swap--came to the fore, and that was in crunchtime of the Memphis game. All that did was demonstrate that Davis is capable of being an above-average defender *when he commits himself to the task.* But he doesn't commit himself, giving the lie to Casey's contention that he wants to develop a defensive identity and will apportion minutes among Davis, Hassell, and McCants based on defense. Casey says that, despite the workload, Davis "doesn't get tired." Maybe he ought to start asking why that's so.

3. An Eddie Griffin sighting. Once again Casey went into his newfound postgame mantra about how the Wolves are in extended training camp and how the overriding goal is to develop the young players. After the New Jersey game, he cited the improvement of McCants and Banks and Reed and then, to his credit, realized he need to include another ultra-promising young player in his update. "Eddie Griffin is the only guy who hasn't found his way into the rotation right now," Casey said.

So in the Sunday tilt with Golden State, Eddie gets 10 second quarter minutes and does his usual thing--makes a couple of marvelous, literally crowd-pleasing blocks, including a gorgeous, lunge-block from behind on Murphy heading in for a layup, changes three or four other shots with his presence in the paint, and clanks a couple of ill-advised shots off the side of the iron. His line for the game was 4 points (2-6 FG), 4 rebounds, two turnovers and two blocks in 9:43, versus Mark Blount's 10 points (4-10 FG), 5 rebounds, one turnover and zero blocks in 26:51. Casey unilaterally praised Eddie's play in his opening post-game remarks and added that the only thing that prevented EG from getting a second-half rotation was Golden State going small.

There was some discussion in the comments to the last three-pointer about Griffin not being a center and being "out practiced" by the likes of Reed and Blount. My feelings on the relative merits of Griffin versus Blount (Reed is not really the competition here, since he comes in when the Wolves want to go small without either center in the game) are well-known to regular readers. But I can't help but add that if you are a 23 year old kid who is in his first half-season of constant low-post action, and the team trades for a player who is more experienced and thus more polished and will make three times as much money as you for at least two years longer than you are signed for on this team; and that player starts getting constant minutes while your butt stays on the pine, to the tune of not even playing seven of the past ten games, and you've had a history of depression, have also admitted you are an alcoholic, and are shy by nature, how much energy and initiative are you likely to have at practice?

Which is all to say that it certainly is nice to see the coach show the shot-blocker a little love, in both words and a stint of nine minutes and 43 seconds.

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