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Wednesday was one of those all-too-rare feel-good days in Minnesota sports, with Kevin Garnett not just coming back and playing with the Wolves but also helping them win by 20 in front of a raucous Target Center crowd.
Thursday, then, had the feeling of a classic letdown. We’re not used to having nice things around here, so with the Wild at Nashville … the Gophers men’s basketball team at Michigan State … and the Gophers men’s hockey team at home against Michigan State … well, one win out of three would have been the expectation.
Instead, improbably, it was a clean Minnesota sweep — with all three teams providing impressive responses to adversity in their own ways.
The Wild was center-of-the-sun hot coming out of the All-Star break, but a bad home loss to Edmonton threatened to undo some of that good work and potentially start a cold stretch the team can ill afford. Playing at NHL-leading Nashville did not figure to be the antidote to stop the bleeding, but in a strange way maybe it was the perfect opponent. Whereas another soft opponent at home wouldn’t have forced the Wild to focus like it did Thursday, Nashville gets everyone’s attention. The Wild gave a classic road performance in dispatching the Predators and reaffirming that it is a legitimate threat to not just make the playoffs but do damage once there.
The Gophers men’s basketball team is at the point of its season where you learn about character. Minnesota was 5-10 in the Big Ten going into East Lansing, where the Gophers hadn’t won since 1997. This season, through a combination of some poor luck, some close losses, some bad chemistry and some underachieving, hasn’t met anyone’s expectations. It would have been very easy for the Gophers to sleepwalk through a 15-point loss. That, frankly, is what we expected. Instead, of course, they pulled out an overtime victory that while probably too little, too late when it comes to the NCAA tournament, at least shows the team has not quit on second-year coach Richard Pitino.
The Gophers men’s hockey team, meanwhile, fell behind 3-0 at home to Michigan State in a game it could ill-afford to lose … only to come storming back for a 5-3 victory to keep pace in the Big Ten (and more importantly avoid a damaging loss in the PairWise Rankings).
It’s hard to know, really, what to make of all these positive developments heaped atop the KG game on Wednesday. The pessimistic Minnesota sports fan would fear a massive comeuppance over the weekend.
Maybe we should just make like a cliche and take this one game at a time?
Well, we have another NBA homecoming. Michael Beasley, who has been dominating China like a modern day Genghis Khan — and who was acquired by the Wolves under the reign of David Kahn — is going back to Miami.
Beasley has reportedly signed a 10-day contract with the Heat, making this his third stint with the team. He was drafted No. 2 overall by Miami in 2008, then came to Minnesota in 2010, signed with Phoenix in 2012, was waived in 2013 and signed with the Heat … and has spent this season playing in China, where he averaged 28.6 points and 10.4 rebounds (while scoring 59 points in the All-Star Game).
That output, combined with Chris Bosh’s serious medical condition, convinced the Heat to bust open another box of Skittles and try Beasley again.
He had some great moments with the Wolves and a lot of not-so-great-moments. We’ll never forget the time he rubbed Anthony Tolliver’s knee instead of his own knee.
We’ll also never forget the time we had commenter Dan write this guest post from his estate sale.
Guess what we’re trying to say here is it’s good to have Beas back in the NBA.
“How are you doing?” I asked.
“Oh,” he said. “Just trying to balance being a theater owner, a dad and an idiot.”
Wednesday was like a lot of other days for Sweeney, right up until the point that he ripped off his shirt at Kevin Garnett’s welcome home game at Target Center to reveal a special message for KG. But even that was something Sweeney — an improv comedian and co-owner of the Brave New Workshop Comedy Theatre in Minneapolis – has done before.
Sweeney first pulled the shirtless act back in the Wolves’ heyday in 2003-04, riling up the crowd at a few games, including one in the playoffs against Denver. A Star Tribune writer dubbed him “Jiggly Boy,” and it stuck. Does he mind that name?
“I’m fine with that name,” Sweeney said. “I’m the youngest of 8 from a Irish Catholic farm family, so I’ve been called a lot worse.”
He was in cahoots 11 years ago with the Wolves’ game ops folks, and he said they texted him again a few days ago with a simple question: “KG is coming back. What about Jiggly?”
The difference now is that Sweeney has two impressionable sons, ages 11 (William) and 9 (Michael), and both were at the game with him. But he couldn’t resist.
“We had a good philosophical discussion on the car ride home about when it’s appropriate to take your shirt off,” Sweeney said.
In this case, the timing was perfect. An overflow crowd was already amped up for the return of Garnett, and the sight of the 49-year-old Sweeney dancing shirtless turned the dial up a notch. Even KG couldn’t help but look and smile.
“It might say more about the Minnesota culture than you think. We’re OK getting a little bit more than appropriately excited as long as someone does it first,” Sweeney said. “When KG gave me the smile and the wave, it got a little crazy in there.”
Alas, we should not get too used to seeing Sweeney’s routine. It’s reserved for special occasions, and Wednesday was about as good as it’s been around Target Center in a long time.
“I think it was a (one-time) special appearance,” he said. “Maybe it’s me being a comedic snob, but you don’t want too much of a good thing. I think it’s really fun to see a 49-year-old fat guy dance a couple times, but there’s a tipping point where it goes from funny to ‘sit down.’”
From a practical standpoint, it just didn’t fit into my week. With a small baby at home, sleep is a treasured friend and a rare commodity, and I pretty much knew if I went that I would go out afterwards and that the rest of my week could very well be shot. Lame? Yes. I’m lame.
From a professional standpoint, I’ve found that sometimes when I’m at a live event, I forget to focus on the actual game. As much as it would have added to the understanding of the night and KG’s return, from an atmosphere standpoint, to be there … I really wanted to focus on the basketball and try to take the emotion out of it. So I watched on TV, as free of distractions as possible. I didn’t even tweet during the game!
And from a weird standpoint, there was probably a part of me that feared it would be a train wreck and didn’t want to see 20,000 Minnesotans let down. We deserve nice things. It, of course, started like a train wreck … but the total sum of the evening was far from that. It was glorious. Maybe I’ll kick myself 20 years from now for not being there. But in a weird way, I’m more interested in being at KG’s next game than I was in being there last night.
2) It was just one game. A skidding Washington team was the perfect opponent. The Wolves were already improving thanks to their return to health. But if you’ve watched enough bad Minnesota basketball in the past decade — and you know I have — then you know this and need to believe this: the Wolves haven’t played defense like that since KG left.
That’s hyperbole, I’m sure, since you could pick out some game in the last eight years where the numbers say their defense was better. But in the broader sense, they have not played D like that since Garnett left: closing out on shooters, communicating on screens, contesting every shot … these are fundamental things, but they have so often been missing.
When KG blocked a corner 3 to end the first half, keeping the game tied 42-42 … it sounds ridiculous and hard to measure, but it was just a reminder of what good basketball looks like. A 38-year-old KG is a better, more valuable basketball player than a 26-year-old Thad Young — particularly on a team that has been missing these fundamentals for so long. I’m very serious about this.
3) I would like to see KG play forever. That is not practical. Short of that, I’d like to see him for the rest of this year and then one more year — as long as his body is willing and able. Part of it is that I love the symmetry of No. 21 playing 21 seasons. Again, I’m weird.
More of it is that a handful of weeks of this will be a building block, but it won’t be enough. Next year, with the team the Wolves are building, could really start to emerge — not in the sense of contention, mind you, but in the sense of seeing the blueprint start to take shape. It would almost be like KG’s rookie year (26 wins) and his second year (40 wins).
Garnett should be here to shepherd that and to contribute to that. He should get a proper going away around the NBA for an amazing career. And then he should retire in peace, learning from Brett Favre’s 2010 season and Jim Thome’s 2011 season that one year of magic — assuming next year is what I think it could be — does not qualify you for a second year of magic.
For now, though, let’s live in the moment. Last night was a game nobody thought would ever happen — not even KG himself. It was more than nostalgia. It was an honest homecoming, the rekindling of a love affair. And it was beautiful.
Bill Simmons’ NBA Trade Value column remains a must-read, and this year he has some very kind things to say about Andrew Wiggins and the Wolves’ acquisition of the now-20-year-old:
Whenever I finally write The Book of Basketball 2.0: A Shameless Excuse to Regurgitate Material That You’ve Already Read for More Money, you know that I’m blowing out the “What If?” chapter and adding “What if new Cleveland GM LeBron James had just been patient and waited a few months to make sure Wiggins wasn’t his short-term Scottie Pippen and long-term Perimeter Stud In Waiting before flipping such a monster asset for Kevin Love when that deal would have still been sitting there in January?” Only the ranking remains in question. I love Wiggins. He’s a sure thing.
Simmons knows a lot about basketball — maybe not as much as he thinks he knows, but a lot. It’s nice to know he feels the same way about the Wiggins/Love trade as a lot of us in Minnesota do.
|Golden State||6:30 PM|
|New York||6:30 PM|
|LA Clippers||7:00 PM|
|San Antonio||9:00 PM|
|Oklahoma City||9:30 PM|
|Los Angeles||9:00 PM|
|Saint Peters||6:00 PM|
|Louisiana Tech||1:00 PM|
|Seton Hall||6:00 PM|
|St Johns||6:00 PM|
|St Josephs Brooklyn||6:00 PM|
|Western Carolina||6:00 PM|
|Southern Ill||7:00 PM|
|Indiana State||7:00 PM|
|Illinois State||7:05 PM|
|Northern Iowa||7:05 PM|
|(10) Arizona State|
Poll: With Adrian Peterson's suspension overturned, what should the Vikings do?