After a horrific Game 1, the Wolves take it to the Lakers.
That's what everyone was giving the Timberwolves after the shellacking they received from the Lakers in Game 1 of the series. They seemed to forget the fact that Kobe was playing at a beyond human level and that the rest of the team was scorching from three-point land. What were the chances of that happening even one more time in the series? Nevertheless, it was doom and gloom all around. Writers were already talking about the L.A./San Antonio series even though both were far from being wrapped up. The majority of the T-Wolves fans were looking at draft prospects and possible off-season trades. Talks of sweeps and four-peats abounded. And even though I tried my hardest to keep focused, there was still this voice nagging me saying that there was just no way we'd be able to take four of six from these guys. I know the Lakers were playing at a super high level in game one and were bound to come down. But they had 18 points to come down. Even though we played well in the first game, I still wasn't sure that we'd be able overcome Kobe and Meathead. We had the fourth best record in the NBA. We had home-court advantage. And yet, we were the biggest underdogs out of all the playoff teams.
Everyone loves an underdog. There's just something about watching the guy that's been down on his luck turn it all around in one moment of glory. It's the stuff movies are made of. And when I look back on some of the classic sports flicks I've watched, none give me butterflies like Rocky IV. Rocky IV is the classic case of the underdog. You've got this guy from the streets of Philadelphia. He manages to overcome the odds and becomes a champion. Now he's pitted against the Soviet monster Drago. Drago is the strongest, most intimidating boxer in the world. He's not only taken away Rocky's dignity, but killed his friend Apollo. No one's giving Rocky a chance when he decides that he needs to stand up for his friends, family, and country and take on the behemoth. But Rocky doesn't listen to the nay-sayers. He ignores the doubters. Even his own wife tells him "You can't win!" But he decides to step into the ring anyway and take on Drago in a battle for the ages.
Let me tell you another story. You've got this guy from South Carolina. He manages to overcome the odds, get drafted right out of high school, and turn a pathetic franchise into one of the league's top teams. Now him and his teammates are pitted up against the three-time defending world champions. This team boasts one of the leagues greatest scorers, and even more intimidating, the largest, most powerful man to ever play the game. But this playoff match up isn't just about winning a basketball game. It's about reclaiming a little piece of everything that's been taken away from them over the past seven years - draft picks, teammates, dignity, and respect. It's even about finally putting to rest a friend who was tragically killed. No one's giving this team a chance when they decide that, this year, they aren't going to back down, that they aren't going to crumble in the midst of adversity. But this team doesn't listen as the media downplays their accomplishments. They ignore the arrogance and taunting done by their adversaries. Even their #1 fan thinks to himself "Maybe they really can't win!" But the team decides to go out anyway and play the champions in a series for the ages.
Rocky got pounded at the start of the fight. Anyone watching the bout couldn't have given him a chance to make it more than a few rounds. But then in a split second everything changed. Instead of getting hammered by Drago's barrage of punches, Rocky starts to throw a few of his own. And then in a moment which will be forever etched into movie history, Rocky connects with a shot to Drago's cheek and draws his first blood. The crowd's eyes widen in disbelief. The Soviet monster stands dazed as he feels an unfamiliar warmth trickle down his cheek. "The Russian is cut!" screams the announcer. "The Russian is cut!"
Back to the kid from South Carolina and his crew...
We're all well aware of how the Wolves got trounced in Game 1. It was a gut-wrenching 48 minutes of agony that resulted in an 18 point blow-out. Anyone who watched the Lakers pummel the Timberwolves couldn't have given Minnesota a chance to make it further than five games. But in the beginning moments of the second game everything changed. Instead of getting torched by Kobe and thrown around by Shaq, the Wolves step up and start to become the agressors. The open threes for Fisher and Fox are now met with a hand in the face. The paint that was once Shaq's turf is now being occupied by Slovenian blocking machine. And a half-way injured Joe Smith is replaced by a new-found defensive specialist in Anthony Peeler. And in the closing moments of the first half he steals the ball from Kobe Bryant and gets an easy bucket to put the T-Wolves up 11. And then I realized the beauty of what's happening before my eyes - a Laker miss, a quick sprint up the court, a screen by Marc Jackson, a pass by Kevin Garnett, and a fall away three-pointer by Troy Hudson. The crowd rises to it's feet. Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson begin to choke as they're forced to eat their words. Shaquille O'Neal stands dazed as he realizes that the fourteen point advantage his team held at halftime of Game 1 has been turned into a fourteen point deficit in Game 2.
"The Russian is cut!" "The Russian is cut!"
This time around, there was no 18 point loss for Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves, only a more dominating 28 point victory. And I honestly don't believe this was all a fluke. This team simply played sound, aggressive basketball within the confines of their own ability. After years of playing "playoff-type" games against playoff caliber teams, the Wolves finally learned what it takes to play "championship-type" games against the title holders. And now that they've gotten a taste of real victory, this pack of Wolves is hungrier than ever to have it again.
Kevin Garnett summed up his team's attitude towards the defending champions best: "They have to stab us, cut our heart out, put us in the morgue. We're not going to lay down. We are a team full of pride and we have a lot of character on this team. They're going to have to cut our throats, rip our tongues out." He sounds like he's completely focused. He sounds like he's ready to tear down the Lakers three more times.
He sounds...like Rocky.