Oh, how different the Staples Center is without Ricky Rubio on the court. Fresh off a win in Sacramento, the Minnesota Timberwolves marched into Los Angeles on Wednesday night to face the Clippers in the fourth and last game of their current road trip. Minnesota, who learned yesterday that star PG Ricky Rubio had been cleared to begin unrestricted practice with the team, was simply unable to contain Clippers perrenial All-Star Chris Paul and ultimately fell by a score of 101-95. CP3, who thrived in his matchups against Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea, did a masterful job of closing out the game for the Clippers and exploited Wolves guards for fourth-quarter mental mistakes that we were not used to seeing with Rubio on the floor late in games last season. Paul finished the night with 23 points on 7-13 shooting, 11 dimes, 3 steals, 2 rebounds, and only 1 turnover in 36 minutes of action.
Let’s get one thing straight: the Timberwolves guards played well as a whole throughout the entire contest. To sum up the performances of a few players based on a few late-game critical mistakes would be unfair and simply irrational, given their solid play throughout most of the game. Beginning with Ridnour, he forced the issue on a few passes in the final 4 minutes in a game that was ultimately seperated by a few points. Obviously, many people will rush to the judgement that Ridnour “played like crap” and should be either traded or dumped in some way, but what people are missing is that he is a valuable and integral part of this team and was outplayed in crunch time by possibly the best closer in the NBA, Chris Paul. There are no excuses for a couple of Ridnour’s 4 turnovers, but it must be understood that Ridnour is currently the first option at PG because of the absence of Ricky Rubio. Rubio, not Ridnour, will soon be the PG on the floor in the fourth quarters for the Wolves, and Ridnour will continue to serve as a very serviceable and above average backup PG once Ricky returns in a few weeks. Ridnour finished the night with 13 points (5-9 FG), 7 assists, 1 steal, 1 rebound, and 4 turnovers in 32 minutes of play.
While the top storyline of Clippers-Wolves matchups is almost always the matchup of superstar PFs Kevin Love and Blake Griffin, it was neither of the two players who decided the outcome of this game. Love had a relatively poor night shooting as he converted on only 3 of his 12 FG attempts, while Griffin was restricted by foul trouble for a good portion of the second half. K-Love had a good night at the free throw line scoring 12 of his 19 points from the charity stripe to pair with 12 rebounds and 3 assists in 35 minutes. Griffin ended with a line of 18 points (9-17 FG), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals in 33 minutes on the floor.
Turnovers and defense were keys to the Clippers victory, as they committed only 10 turnovers to the Timberwolves 18, despite being heavily outrebounded by Minnesota 52-35. Clips center DeAndre Jordan had another wonderful game to add to his fantastic 2012-13 campaign, scoring 15 points while missing only 1 FG attempt and playing tremendous interior defense. Nikola Pekovic had his work cut out for him paired against the hyper-athletic 7-foot Jordan, and was only able to convert 5 of his 13 FG attempts on his way to 11 points and 10 rebounds.
In my personal opinion, Alexey Shved had the best performance out of all Timberwolves players as he was extremely effective in the fourth quarter when it mattered most. Shved, who continues to backup Malcolm Lee at the off-guard position, scored 17 points on 5-12 shooting but knocked down 3 of his 6 three-point attempts, all of which seemed to come at crucial momentum-swinging points in the game. Shved has clearly gained the coaches trust to finish games, and he has taken full advantage of the opportunities given to him. Lee, who started at SG, played only 25 minutes while Shved logged 36, and I wonder if we will see another Russian added to the starting lineup in the coming weeks.
Andrei Kirilenko sat out Wednesday night’s game due to back spasms, and in his place Josh Howard received his first start of his young Wolves career. In 26 minutes, Howard finished with 7 points (3-9 FG), 3 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 assist.
Overall, last night was a good indicator of what Minnesota is missing from their point guards, and it will be tough to compete with teams that possess a closer like CP3 without Tricky Ricky. But do not worry Wolves fans, the time is almost near for our floppy-haired savior to return to game action. Here are the three stars of the game:
- Chris Paul
- DeAndre Jordan
- Alexey Shved