After their 42-point win over Oklahoma City, in which they were able to do pretty much whatever they wanted with very little resistance from their opponent, the Wolves seemed a little shocked to be playing a team that actually tries to prevent you from scoring. The Milwaukee Bucks are coached by Scott Skiles, whose teams always play gritty, aggressive defense (until they, inevitably, realize that he is an acerbic, rule-bound drill sergeant and stop wanting to try--totally understandably from where I sit). Their ball denial and aggressive interior double teams stifled the Wolves early, who shot 28% in the first quarter. By contrast, the Bucks had a hard time missing even the most closely contested first half shots; Richard Jefferson and Michael Redd, who sport two of the silkier jumpers in the league, were particularly hot (12-18 combined in the first half). This did not look like a game the Wolves were going to win.
Talk Mo Bucks
But it turns out that winning basketball games, even against the weakest competition, is good for a team's psychology; the Wolves showed remarkable resiliency for a squadron that was once so emotionally frayed. Sebastian Telfair responded to the Bucks tough defense by attacking the paint and drawing defenders. This opened up passing lanes all over the floor; Bassie was able to find Randy Foye, Rodney Carney and Ryan Gomes for open threes throughout the second half.
The Wolves were even able to play good enough defense to preserve the win, particularly in the last two possessions of the game. First Kevin Love, replacing the fouled-out Al Jefferson, muscled Andrew Bogut out of the paint, forcing him to give up the ball, something Jefferson had been unable to do. The Bucks had to resort to a rushed floater by Luke Ridnour (probably their fourth option) at the shot clock. Then, up by two with time running out, Rodney Carney manned up Redd, forcing him into a contested turnaround jumper. The shot bounced off; Luc Mbah a Moute's desperate fling wasn't close; the Wolves won their fifth in a row (!?), 106-104; everybody freaked out (in a good way).
Dreaming of Hot Rod
I must admit that I love me some Rodney Carney. It probably seems a little too easy to praise the guy after his best game of the year, a 22 point, 4-6 three-point shooting banger. But the game did reveal much of what I find charming about the guy. First, though, lets get out in the open that I recognize all of his many flaws. Despite his outrageous athleticism and energy, he seems only intermittently interested in defense. This, I think, is less a product of any moral failing on his part and more just simple confusion, especially when faced with the prospect of screens or rotations. Sometimes he just looks a little lost out there. Check out the :54 mark of the second video here. That's him (number 10) kind of looking around aimlessly in the vicinity of the guy who scored.
We saw this play out against the Bucks on Saturday. Richard Jefferson had been on fire in the first half, hitting seven of eight shots, most of them with Ryan Gomes in his face. Gomes finally forced RJ to miss two jumpers in the third quarter before being moved over to guard Michael Redd. Carney came in to guard Jefferson and proceeded to lose him in the shuffle of screens and traffic on three straight plays. Suddenly the Wolves were down by 11.
He also tends to display an almost Gerald Green-esque lack of self knowledge. It seems difficult for him to resist attempting things that he just doesn't have the skills to pull off; there are plenty of airballed five-foot finger rolls, heavily contested long-range bricks and attempted crossovers in traffic to attest to this. And his absurd athleticism just adds to the ridiculousness of his bloopers; its a lot more hilarious and striking to see a guy blow a layup when he's moving at incredibly high speeds and leaping three feet in the air.
But sometimes, like Saturday night or in the first half in New York, when his attitude and physical gifts magically align with the rhythm of the game, Carney really gets it going. He sticks the other team's star (check the end of that same video); he blocks somebody's jumper; he he runs the floor; he throws down really hard:
And sometimes, seemingly in violation of the laws of outer space, he even gets that herky-jerky jumper going, the one that usually has me saying something like "don't do it Rodney!" as it leaves his hand. When, as against Milwaukee, you see Hot Rod splashing threes, you know it's the witching hour. And the best part is the blase, ultra-professional expression on his face which wants to say, in sharp contrast to his teenager's looks and that gangly, spastic body language, "relax dude, it was nothing to me." Its debatable whether Rodney Carney is any good; he's definitely amazing.