By: Drew Mahowald
Oh, yeah. I went there.
I went there in the title.
Wikipedia (yeah, I used Wikipedia. Got a problem?) defines a moral victory as, "when a person, team or other group loses a confrontation, and yet achieves some other moral gain."
Every part of what happened for the Minnesota Timberwolves last night against the defending champion Golden State Warriors screams "moral victory".
The Warriors had just been embarrassed by the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night, giving Golden State its seventh loss of the season. One would think the Warriors would come out firing on all cylinders after a performance like that in order to prevent two straight losses for the first time all season.
Instead, Minnesota, now at 22-48 for the season, played one of its best games of the season, keeping reigning MVP Stephen Curry in check while getting impressive performances from its own young core of talent. In the end, Golden State was able to pull away in the final minute to win by a score of 109-104 and move to 63-7 for the season.
Andrew Wiggins led Minnesota's scoring effort with 25 points on 8-for-21 from field and 8-for-11 from the free throw stripe. Not far behind was 20-year-old phenom Karl-Anthony Towns, who registered 24 points on 11-for-19 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds for his 41st double-double of the season. Zach LaVine chipped in 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting, including two breakaway slam dunks that rocked Target Center.
But, as seems to be the theme when I write on here, Ricky Rubio was Minnesota's X-Factor last night. On the defensive end, he made life difficult for Curry, who finished with just 19 points on 6-for-17 shooting and 2-for-9 from beyond the arc. Additionally, Rubio's four steals in the box score don't do justice to how disruptive he was to Golden State's offense. Curry turned the ball over five times while Draymond Green turned it over four times, and Rubio's pesky defense definitely played a role in forcing them.
On the offensive end, Rubio was a scoring threat. Yeah, that's right. A scoring threat. Golden State dared Rubio to hit from beyond the three-point line early, and it's exactly what Rubio did, finishing 3-for-7 from deep. Overall, Rubio put up 20 points on 5-for-9 from the field and 7-for-7 from the free throw stripe while dishing out 11 assists.
So, basically, Rubio scored more points than Curry on half as many shots from the field. Oh, and Rubio made more threes than the Chef.
Credit needs to be given to interim head coach Sam Mitchell for the game plan he put together for the Wolves, especially on the defensive end. The "Splash Brothers" (Curry and Klay Thompson) finished the game a combined 11-for-31 from the field, finding little room to maneuver while Minnesota switched every screen either of them used to try to get open. The Warriors did take advantage of the switches at times, which led to 24 points from Green. But if the Warriors are forced to beat you with Draymond Green instead of Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson, you're doing something right.
After the game, Mitchell told the media that "There are no moral victories in professional sports." Really? I don't buy it. You're coaching a team full of dudes that can't drink yet, that sits at a 22-48 record and is playing against the reigning NBA champs who are chasing the best regular season record of all-time. You're not satisfied with last night? I mean, I know media and players alike have to say certain things to the media, but last night is exactly what a moral victory is. I can guarantee that Mitchell and his players, at some level, feel good about the way they played last night, despite not being able to get the win.
Or, in other words, while the Timberwolves didn't get the win on the scoreboard, they all "achieved some other moral gain."
Observations from Target Center
-- The Timberwolves PR team is full of geniuses for this "Whiteout" promotion. "Since 95% of the apparel we sell is not white, let's do a Whiteout night so people have to buy our white apparel." Absolutely genius. I personally didn't go for the $15 "Deal of the Game" white T-shirt, but I assume a lot of suckers did.
-- The Whiteout promotion was completed with white hand towels given to every fan at the game. The towel-waving and the sellout crowd made for what I presume is what a playoff atmosphere feels like. I say that cautiously because it's been 12 years since the Wolves have been a playoff team, so I can't really say that for sure.
-- Another PR idea I love is the fourth quarter Cherry Berry promotion. If an opposing player misses two consecutive free throws in the fourth quarter, every fan receives free frozen yogurt if he/she brings a ticket stub to a Cherry Berry store the next day. It's interesting, because without the promotion fans usually make some noise but aren't actively trying to distract the free throw shooter. But when there's free frozen yogurt on the line? GET UP. GET LOUD. I GOTTA HAVE MY FREE FROZEN YOGURT. MISS THESE FREE THROWS YOU BUM.
-- Watching Steph Curry do his pregame shooting routine is as mesmerizing as it sounds. He's out there goofing around, tossing floaters 30 feet in the air before they drop through the basket and shooting 45-footers (three of which he made). He knows he draws a crowd, and he puts on a show. It was truly a treat to watch.
-- There had to have been 3,000 fans surrounding the Warrior player entrance as Curry entered and left the court for his routine, and most of them were under the age of 16. It's incredible the way Curry has captured the younger NBA fans. Kids used to love players who could drive to the basket and make acrobatic layups and powerful dunks. Nowadays, these kids who can't even get the ball to the hoop from behind the three-point line are idolizing a guy who makes a living shooting threes.
Minnesota hosts the soap opera that is the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night at Target Center. Be sure to follow On The Prowl on Twitter @ontheprowl_MN and visit ontheprowlmn.com daily for more content as the season winds down.