In another time and place, Rick Adelman coached teams with players whom he trusted nightly to finish games.
That was long ago, when he had Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter and Buck Williams on a Portland team that reached the NBA Finals twice in three years or Chris Webber, Vlade Divac and Mike Bibby on a Sacramento team that won 61 games and came within a call or two of reaching the Finals.
That was then.
Now 51 games into a season during which his Timberwolves have fallen three games below .500, Adelman continues to search for the right answers in fourth quarters when his team too often can’t make a shot or hold a lead.
He has benched starting point guard Ricky Rubio on several occasions and sought other options as well on nights when veteran Kevin Martin’s shot wasn’t falling or he looked tired.
Adelman has stuck with star Kevin Love and starting center Nikola Pekovic — when both are healthy, of course — to game’s end, but otherwise mixes and matches with a willingness that has provoked repeated questions from media members in interviews and from fans on various social-media platforms.
“I’m just trying to get a win,” Adelman said last week when asked about such decisions. “You keep asking me those questions. Obviously, I don’t have any intentions but to try to win the game. … The matchups and how the team is playing, that’s it basically. It’s just a feel.
“You don’t think I’d do something if I didn’t think it would help us win a game, do you?”
Adelman had starters in both Portland and Sacramento — as well as Houston when both Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming were healthy, which was seldom — he relied upon in fourth quarters. But he said he also would improvise there, too, at times as well.
“You always want one or two guys you can leave in the game if you really need to, based on matchups,” Adelman said. “I just think back to when I had Bobby Jackson in Sacramento. I had a starting five there that was really solid, but Bobby was a guy who if he wasn’t a starter, he was 5A or 5B. Over a long season, you try to find guys like that.”
Adelman has asked J.J. Barea to be that guy in Rubio’s place at times this season and has turned to reserves Dante Cunningham and Alexey Shved down the stretch in games, too.
Adelman said he’d prefer to find a consistent group he relies upon when games are in doubt in fourth quarters.
“I’ve always liked that, and I think it helps with the consistency of your team to go back with the guys who started the game for you,” Adelman said. “That’s something you have to look at. This has been a very different year for us because so many people have been so up and down. The big picture sometimes gets lost in just trying to win a game and keep something going.”
Love, Rubio and Pekovic are the core in which the franchise has the most invested. The big picture is allowing them to play together through fourth quarters win or lose until they figure it out together, a luxury Adelman doesn’t believe he has.
“Oh sure, definitely,” Love said when asked if he’d prefer a consistent group at the end of games. “But I think that’s really up to him. The guys he implements into the lineup in those situations have either been playing well for us throughout the game or have played well for us as of late. It is nice to have familiarity in the fourth quarter, but we need to find something that works.”
Both Rubio and Martin so far have supported Adelman’s fourth-quarter decisions, even if it has meant they have sat and watched.
“I always want to play,” Rubio said. “I mean, I’m going to be ready no matter what. If the coach decides to bench me in the fourth quarter that means I’ve done something bad. … I understand. Players who are playing good that night are the players he goes with, and I accept it and I’m going to try to play good every night. Who’s having a better game, who plays at the end, it’s Rick’s decision. There’s nothing we have to talk about.”