Latrell Sprewell leads the Timberwolves to a convincing win.
For the first eleven games of the 2004-2005 Timberwolves season, it seemed that all the hype leading up to this year was exactly that - hype. What was supposed to be a euphoric eighty-two game trip to the Finals, was to that point, a total nightmare. It seemed as if a season with the theme "Our Team, Our Time" was destined to be defined by the phrase "Why would I want to help them win a title?". Over the past month, Timberwolves fans had seen quality basketball be replaced by contract disputes, trade rumors, and playing time discontent. And to top it all off, on a night when fans in Minnesota should have been giving thanks for their best team ever, they instead had to watch their Timberwolves get smacked around by a decimated Pacers team and discover that their starting center had been arrested. Even the most biased of Wolves fans had to admit that the the title run appeared to have stopped way short.
Now I know that there is such a thing as a slow start. At 6-5, the Wolves weren't nearly as bad off record-wise as last season's 9-8 team. It was perfectly logical to assume that the team would turn things around. Many hopeful fans were telling their colleagues to just wait it out until the team gelled, even though the team added all of two bench players to the roster this year. They made excuses that a few players just needed to learn the offense, find their shooting touch again, or get their legs back under them after a long off-season. But the way I saw it, this team didn't have a problem with their head, hands, or legs - This team needed a heart transplant.
You would think that a team led by Kevin Garnett would never be in need of some extra intensity, but it was clear that the "off the court" issues were beginning to take a toll early on in this young season. Despite putting up better numbers than last year's MVP season, KG didn't seem nearly as happy and his team wasn't performing nearly as well. A team whose greatest strength a year ago was a quality defense that set up easy baskets for the offense, was now watching their opponents run the break as they jogged down the court and handing out uncontested lay-ups and open shots like candy on Halloween. And it wasn't until the second half of the fourth quarter that the team would begin to try hard enough and erase the ten-plus point deficit they had created for themselves. These problems were things that time wouldn't work out. These were problems that the Minnesota Timberwolves needed to work out. And one night after the most embarrassing loss in franchise history, somebody decided that it was time to begin doing just that.
Latrell Sprewell thundered out of the gate last night scoring ten points and dishing out four assists in the first quarter. He made plays on both ends of the floor that got the team rolling like it had a season before. The defense was solid and the offense, explosive. And suddenly a team that wouldn't know a first quarter lead if it smacked them across the face, not only had one, but built on it as the game progressed. For the first time this season, it seemed as if those championship dreams were actually more than just dreams.
I know better than to put too much stock in one game. The Wolves could very easily revert to their old form against Sacramento on Sunday night. I don't expect the team to start blowing their opponents out every game. I'm well aware that the Grizzlies were playing their first game under a new coach and dealing with injuries. We should have beaten that team by 25 points. But that's exactly my point. For one of the very few times this season, the Timberwolves did what they were supposed to do. They didn't buy into the excuse that it was a second night of a back to back and lay off the gas. They didn't mess around and keep the Grizzlies in the game by not hustling. They didn't decide to try to create the biggest comeback in franchise history by not playing seriously until the final five minutes. They simply played the game the way its supposed to be played. And if a team with the amount of talent that the Timberwolves have plays that way, things are going to turn out just fine.
So maybe it's true that this season is destined to be defined by a Latrell Sprewell comment: "When you're down, coming off two tough games, someone has to jump-start the team."