I attended the Wolves-Clippers game Monday night, and one solitary thing stood out: The Wolves third straight narrow win against L.A. was because of one immeasurable force—composure. The Wolves had it and the Clippers didn’t, plain and simple. For a young team trying to find its way, the Wolves are growing up before our eyes at a more rapid pace than expected. Monday night’s home sellout (which on a Monday night in this town is almost unheard of) felt like Playoff atmosphere. The crowd was rocking, willing the Wolves to victory, and at the same time frustrating the opponent to the tune of two technical fouls in the final minutes that directly resulted in the extra two points for the win. It’s safe to say that the Wolves have owned the Clippers this year. A first round playoff matchup with them wouldn’t sound like such a bad idea.
The biggest plays of the game were the result of the Clippers losing their composure, and the Wolves capitalizing on it. Kenyon Martin (a notorious player for technical fouls in his heyday) was given a technical for arguing with the referees after a questionable call. The result was one point for the Wolves. Sometimes, players need to understand the human element in officiating. It’s a raucous Minnesota home crowd; you’re not going to get the same calls on the road as you will at home, and logic dictates that. I could see Martin continue to talk trash after the technical was called, even going over to coach Vinny Del Negro to plead his case (he’s lucky he didn’t thrown out with his temperamental reputation).
Perhaps the most pivotal play of the night was Blake Griffin going for the fast break dunk, and Luke Ridnour fouling him from behind. However, as Blake was going down he horse-collared Luke and brought him down as well. From that point on, a loud chorus of “boos” rained down on Griffin every time he touched the ball, which may have led to him missing key free throws down the stretch. The Wolves converted another technical foul free throw attempt that proved to be the difference in a one-point game. What I’m most impressed by in this sequence is that the Wolves’ bench and players didn’t try to initiate a brawl or fight. The Ridnour takedown was undoubtedly a cheap shot, but, again, the Wolves didn’t unravel. Tempers flare in almost every NBA game. A takedown like that could have made a lesser team turn it up a notch. Instead, the Wolves went about their business and pulled out the win.
There are still a lot of things to iron out for this team before I can anoint them a playoff contender. Most concerning is Love creeping out to the 3-point line and taking way too many deep shots, which I warned about in my last article. He made half of his 3-point attempts, but that’s not going to happen nightly. The Clippers outscored the Wolves by ten points in the paint (38 to 28). He really needs to assert himself in the post more. Wesley Johnson continues to give Minnesota nothing. It’s time to anoint him a bust and put Martel Webster into the starting spot. There were a ton of bad shots for the Wolves in this game but having the guile and guts to win on an off night shows Minnesota is growing as a team. The season is already half over, but at least the Wolves have mastered one important asset that all teams must in order to be championship caliber: The ability to maintain one’s composure.