The Three-Pointer: This Team Can't Close

1. Ineffective timeouts After last night's heartbreaking 102-101 overtime loss to Denver, the Strib's Steve Aschburner asked Coach Dwane Casey if he was satisfied by the team's play coming out of the Wolves's timeouts, and mentioned that it seemed as if they couldn't get good shots. Casey was genuinely surprised, said he'd have to go look at the tape but that he was satisfied that his squad was "getting good looks" out of his timeout situations.

The game log backs Aschburner, especially in the second half. It began in the 3rd quarter, when the Wolves turned the ball over the only two times in the period when they had possession coming out of a timeout. But their crunchtime performance was simply horrible. I'll just give you the log.

At 1:02 left in the game and Denver down a point, Casey calls timeout. At 49 seconds, Ricky Davis misses a jumper. At 45 seconds and the score tied at 88, Casey calls a timeout. At 39 seconds, Ricky Davis turns the ball over. At 18 seconds and the score still tied, Casey calls a 20-second timeout. Kevin Garnett airballs a jumper from the top of the key.

On to overtime. With 57 seconds left and Denver up by 4, Casey calls a timeout. At 47 seconds, Marcus Banks turns the ball over. And finally with 3 seconds left and the Nugs up by 1, Casey calls a timeout for the do-or-die play. KG's desperation jumper hits the side of the backboard. Game over.

That's seven second-half timeouts, resulting in four turnovers, two jumpers that didn't hit the rim, and, best result, a missed jumper that actually hit iron.

February is KG's cruelest month I know its sacrilegious, and no one should ever accuse me of being anything other than a diehard Kevin Garnett fan, but he's put up two lousy (by his standards at least) games in a row. That he was able to get off for only 15 points against Antawn Jamison (a guy who usually eats for lunch) and the Wizards Tuesday, registering a whopping minus-18 along the way, might be chalked up to All Star game fatigue. But against Denver, and Francisco Elson, the doofus who made that "gay" crack about KG during the playoffs two years ago, KG was likewise inert. Nevertheless he was able to get Elson into early foul trouble, which only brought on an old nemesis, Kenyon Martin, who twice got past KG for crucial tip-ins or slams during crunch time last night.

Garnett's shooting percentage is slowly slipping, but of even more concern, he's been prone to defensive lapses in the past few games, and when that happens, this team is screwed. Bottom line, in the past 9 games, the Wolves are minus-79 when KG is on the court and plus-16 when he sits. As unbelievable as that sounds--Minnesota being a markedly better team for an extended period of time without KG than with him--it is exactly what happened last February. Although it was lost among the hubbub of the coaching change from Flip to McHale, Garnett was minus-72 in 13 February games in 2005, when the team's overall figure was minus-62, or plus-10 when he sat.

Maybe this is just the time he hits the wall. In any case, McHale made it a priority to limit his minutes below 40 unless the game absolutely was on the line. Casey would be wise to follow suit, if for no other reason than he plays a boatload of guys in his ever-changing rotations and it might be nice to keep them all play-ready shape for a change.

3. Ex-Celtics update Here's a quick and dirty take on the four ex-Celts recently, in alphabetical order.

Marcus Banks--Still has dazzling skill set, still has a hell of a lot to learn. When I'm assigned a courtside seat, I'm often next to scouts, and occasionally I can chat them up. Last night, a scout who shall remain anonymous stated flatly that Banks was "not a point guard." And when Banks drove the lane and kicked it back--right into the arms of an opponent--he added, "see what I mean? How many times has he made a bad pass like that tonight--three? You can't do that. You'll kill your team."

Banks also was cited by KG, if I understood him right, as missing the assignment on the game's final play, which resulted in Garnett jacking up an off-balance jumper that had no chance of going in, despite the Wolves in-bounding with 3.4 seconds on the clock. Still, he shot 8-13 from the floor, and has the jets to blow by people and to stay with Earl Boykins. He seemed particularly effective last night playing alongside Marko Jaric, who was miraculously back from the dead. (As a quick aside, Coach Casey said last night that Jaric had his intensity--his "mojo," Casey called it--back, which is why he was back in the rotation. That the trading deadline came and went and that apparently untradeable Jaric still has five years left on the contract after this apparently had nothing to do with his returning to the playing rotation...just like the knee injury that disabled Jaric despite his claim that he could have played the past seven games. As members of the media, we're supposed to dutifully accept these specious claims to mojo and not look at the things Casey, McHale and Taylor are really discussing behind closed doors. Give me a break.)

Mark Blount--The second half of last night's game was the best minutes Blount has provided since he arrived. Counting the overtime, he launched eight shots in 24:51, hitting three but also going to the line four times en route to 9 second half points--with zero turnovers! Contrast that to just one shot in 15:16 first half minutes, which, counting the Washington game, gave him three shots in over 40 minutes covering six periods of play.

Blount needs to be regarded like Wally Szczerbiak back when Wally didn't play defense and couldn't put the ball on the floor. Okay, Blount can't shoot nearly as well as Wally either, but the point is, he needs to get spacing away from KG and then launch some catch-and-shoot jumpers to see if he's on. If he is, more space for Garnett to operate. If he isn't, hopefully he goes to the bench. But if he has open looks and doesn't go into turnover mode (meaning trying to do anything but catch the ball and get rid of it), he can be a serviceable big man. No Eddie Griffin, but serviceable.

Ricky Davis--Denver's Demarr Johnson going off for a season-high 17 points last night is only the latest evidence that Davis seems, shall we say, indifferent to the concept of persistent defense whether or not his man has the ball. And as Bill Simmons pointed out in his very comical inept GM summit linked here in the group of comments to the last three-pointer, Davis has launched more shots than KG in all but two of the games the duo have played together now. Can anybody imagine Davis playing for Detroit, San Antonio, or any other defensive ballclub? Is Dwane Casey really trying to establish a defensive mentality here? Then why don't the answers to those two questions mesh?

Justin Reed--It is looking more and more like the two "throw-ins" of the deal, Banks and Reed, are the most valuable commodities. McHale and Chapman have big-upped Banks plenty, of course, but Reed is likewise a potential sapphire in the rough (he doesn't have the skills to be a diamond). His past two games have been glorious to behold, goosed with grit and blue-collar savvy that finds him delivering the hard foul, taking it to the hole, setting picks, and rotating hard on defense. He's especially good at covering for McCants and Banks on defense (preferably the zone, where you can scramble more surreptitiously). He possesses elements of Fred Hoiberg and Mark Madsen, both pro and con, but isn't it funny how all three somehow manage to post pretty good plus/minus figures when they're on the court. Brains and a nonstop motor are funny that way.

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