When the Boston Celtics and our old friend Kevin Garnett rolled into town on Wednesday, I'm pretty sure most of us expected to see the buzzsaw that had just carved up the Sixers 105-74 the night before, that was holding its opponents to 38% shooting on the year, and that had mangled the Wolves at Target Center a year ago. What we got instead was a tired and somewhat uninspired Celtics team, unable to hit many open shots, unable to play their customary throttling defense. Even KG's reliably feverish exuberance was a little muted. For their part, the Wolves looked spry in playing their best basketball of the year and very nearly shocking the hell out of everybody.
As we all know, the Wolves are a very young team, prone to youthful indiscretions, prone to lapses in poise and judgment. Such lapses had a large part in costing them this game; they blew defensive assignments, failing to cover for one another, failing to rotate to open men under the basket (the Celtics' Rajon Rondo was a particular beneficiary of such lapses); they missed open teammates; they came a little unglued late in the game. If Al Jefferson is shooting from 20 feet and Corey Brewer is attempting to split a Ray Allen/Kevin Garnett double-team with the game on the line, you can be pretty sure that the offense is not running the way its supposed to.
So the Wolves can seem a little out of control at times, but this goofy energy also catalyzes their best moments, when they run with abandon and play the kind of reckless, spirited defense that kept them in this game. Riding sporadic waves of emotion is not necessarily the best path to consistent play over a grueling 82-game season. But it certainly helps make a team more endearing and fun to watch, especially if they are dreadfully overmatched in terms of talent and experience, as the Wolves were against Boston and will be nearly every night this year.
Ukraine on My Mind
Apart from the youthful exuberance on display from Brewer, Jonny Flynn and Ryan Hollins, the most rewarding moment of this game for Wolves fans had to be watching the seven foot, heavy-lidded Ukrainian Oleksiy Pecherov shoot the lights out. Except for his height and strangely overdeveloped calves, Pecherov, who resembles an overgrown, unshaven version of a certain foul-mouthed, British accented baby, looks almost nothing like an NBA player. He has the stooped shoulders, slouchy posture and sad eyes of an overtall teenage girl desperate not to be noticed. He has one of those track suited post-Soviet dude/soccer hooligan haircuts. When he shoots his flat, knuckling set shot, he assumes the tentative posture of a kid just handling the basketball for the first time. As Wolves' coach Kurt Rambis gently put it, Pecherov is "still learning how to compete," still searching for "a certain amount of nastiness" that would allow him to do important things like rebound and play defense. Somehow, though, 24 of Pecherov's 41 ungainly shots have gone in this year; and against Boston he was the Wolves' high scorer and rebounder. He stuck jumpers, he hit an awkward up-and-under, he fought for loose balls, he attempted a wild drive to the hoop from half court (see, as Corey Brewer has taught us, sometimes its fun to try things that are vastly beyond your abilities!) Boston has Kevin Garnett; here in Minnesota we have Oleksiy Pecherov. And that's fun too.