OAKLAND, CALIF. – The Timberwolves saw – and heard – the difference one little year can make for a downtrodden franchise at the end of Tuesday’s 105-89 loss at Golden State.
The home team’s victory combined with Utah’s loss to Oklahoma City earlier in the evening earned the Warriors their second trip to the playoffs in the last 19 years, and for the first time since 2007.
And another Oracle Arena sellout crowd wasn’t about to leave early or quietly. They stuck around for the final minutes of a game the Warriors won with a decisive 31-16 third quarter and chanted the “P” word over and over until the visitors trudged through the tunnel to their locker room while their team danced off in celebration for what they achieved, not to mention the right to finally shave off beards they had let grow until this special occasion.
“I cannot wait,” Warriors guard Steph Curry said. “It means everything. Just listen to this crowd.”
Curry and backcourt mate Klay Thompson outscored Wolves starting guards Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour 54-13 on a night that started with Wolves coach Rick Adelman speaking enviously about the evening’s opponents. He did so not because the Warriors in a season have gone from 23-44 record to now 45-33. He did so because the Warriors possess the kind of shooters that the Wolves do not, a fact that was never more than clear than Tuesday night.
The Warriors entered the night No. 1 in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage while the Wolves were dead last, a position in which they have languished almost all season. Thompson then went out and simply made his first eight shots – including his first five three-pointers – and scored 25 points by halftime.
“They have a great shooting team,” Adelman said, referring to Thompson, Curry and Jarrett Jack. “You’ve got three guys out there shooting 40 percent (from three-point range). On our team that would be unbelievable. I’m really impressed with that. They can blow open a game or come back on you anytime. When you have three guys who can make plays and shoot the ball, that is a big advantage.”
The Warriors proved Adelman’s point when they twice rallied from double-digit deficits to win at Target Center earlier this season.
On Tuesday, Golden State turned a six-point, second-quarter deficit into an 18-point fourth quarter lead because of the kind of shooting for which Adelman can only wish this season.
Thompson went 1-for-8 for five points in the second half after he made nine of 11 – including 5 for 6 on three-pointers – in the first half.
“He had one of those nights he couldn’t miss,” Wolves guard Chase Budinger said. “Every time he touched the ball, it was going in. He had a lot of confidence shooting the ball.”
Thompson finished 10-for-19 from the field for 30 points and Curry went 9-for-21 for 24 points while Ridnour and Rubio combined to shoot 4-for-16.
“We didn’t play well at all,” said Rubio, who went 0-for-10 but refused to blame a shoulder he banged Saturday against Detroit for his performance. “It’s as simple as that.”
The Warriors now are headed to the playoffs and a first-round matchup with either Denver or Oklahoma City.
The Wolves have five games left now before they head out on summer vacation, in April, once again.
Utah had lost to the Thunder by the time the Warriors reached halftime Tuesday and Golden State coach Mark Jackson told his players so during intermission.
“I let them know they were 24 minutes away from accomplishing what they had chased – some for an entire career – and they deserved it,” Jackson said. “We are not going to hide it…There are people in this area that have been waiting for this for a long time. I see security guards high-fiving and smiling, I see concession people high-fiving and smiling. It has been a long time.”
The Warriors’ celebration also possibly reminded the Wolves what can be accomplished in one season.
“Yeah,” Wolves center Nikola Pekovic said. “If you’re healthy probably, you can do it. If you’ve got all healthy players all year, I guess you can do something more about it.”
Could that be next year?
“I hope,” he said. “I hope.”
Now that the Wolves have earned Adelman his 1000th NBA coaching victory by winning three of four games and six of their last 10 before Tuesday night, what’s left to play for here in the season’s final six games and nine days?
They still have the chance to alter the NBA’s postseason, whether it’s serving as spoiler with two games left against a Utah team that’s fighting to keep the Los Angeles Lakers out of the playoffs or attempting, unsuccessfully, to delay the Warriors’ celebration one more night.
“No, I don’t care about other teams, to be honest,” Wolves forward Andrei Kirilenko said. “I don’t think about trying to screw somebody up. The goal is to yourself and to represent yourself in the best possible way. We’re thinking about our game, we’re not thinking about the other team. We’re professionals. We get paid money for this.”
At least the Wolves entered the season’s final eight days knowing for sure that two-time All Star Kevin Love will not play again this season because of arthroscopic surgery that likely will be done Wednesday while he gets his healing broken hand examined at New York City’s Hospital for Special Surgery.
“I knew his knee bothered him some, but it was a decision that was out of my hands until they said he could play,” Adelman said. “Like I’ve said all along, we have to deal with the guys we have here. Hopefully, he’ll get everything done and be that much further ahead.”
Pekovic on Monday did something even Kevin Love hasn’t done yet in his NBA career: He became the first Timberwolf since Al Jefferson in January 2009 to be named the Western Conference’s Player of the Week.
Love has never won the honor, not after that 30-point, 30-rebound game in November in 2010, not after he averaged nearly 30 points and 14 rebounds one month. In those weeks, the Wolves didn’t win big. Last week, they went 3-1 while Pekovic averaged 25 points and 8.5 rebounds.
“This organization has lost so much,” Adelman said. “If you have a good week, your team has to have a good week. I’m really glad for Pek. I’m glad he got the recognition.”