In a perfect world we would all be, well, perfect. No mistakes. No second-guessing. No lingering thoughts about what if we had done this instead of that.
In our imperfect world, though, about all we can ask for is this: Try to do the right thing the first time — and failing that, at least learn from a negative experience and change the behavior (and hopefully the outcome) the next time it happens.
That's a key lesson I try to convey as a parent — and one I talked about on Monday's Daily Delivery podcast in terms of a key sequence in Sunday's 116-112 Timberwolves victory over Toronto.
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A little less than a month ago, the Wolves came unglued down the stretch of a bad loss to Orlando. They led 91-78 midway through the fourth quarter of that one, but lapses on offense, defense and coaching led to a crushing final sequence:
After Orlando missed a wide-open three-pointer that would have given the Magic a one-point lead, Jarred Vanderbilt grabbed the rebound for the Wolves. But instead of passing it to a teammate or having someone on the Wolves call timeout, Vanderbilt — a 51% free throw shooter this season — took two dribbles and was fouled.
He missed both free throws, Orlando grabbed the rebound, dribbled up the court quickly and Magic rookie Cole Anthony made a three at the buzzer for a 97-96 gut punch loss.
Since I documented the copious mistakes made in that game, it's only fair to recognize how the Wolves on Sunday seemed to learn from that loss.
The Wolves were similarly fading against the Raptors. A double-digit fourth quarter lead had been whittled down quickly, and two key turnovers — a Kyle Lowry strip of Karl-Anthony Towns and Malik Beasley stepping out of bounds — had turned the closing sequence into a tense affair.
Toronto trailed by just two and had the ball with 11.6 seconds left. Pascal Siakam took the inbound pass and drove to the basket while being guarded by rookie Jaden McDaniels. He got a good look, but McDaniels bothered Siakam's shot at the rim just enough that it spun out. Vanderbilt grabbed the rebound — up two points, with just a few seconds left, almost the exact same scenario as the Orlando game.
But this time: Vanderbilt passed the ball to Rubio immediately, getting it in the hands of a player who is 84.1% from the line for his career and the season. Rubio, sensing a little danger, dribbled a couple seconds and then called timeout. Jordan McLaughlin, a respectable 75% free throw shooter with the Iowa Wolves last season, subbed in for Vanderbilt. Rubio passed to McLaughlin, who was fouled and made both free throws to ice the game.
It's maybe a subtle thing, and not everything about that end-of-game execution was perfect, obviously. Rubio waiting to get fouled might have even been the ideal outcome since he's a better shooter than McLaughlin.
But McLaughlin was obviously preferable to Vanderbilt. The Wolves had built enough of a cushion that executing in one critical situation was enough to hang on — whereas just a few weeks ago, one more critical mistake sealed their fate.
If Vanderbilt doesn't learn and allows himself to be fouled, the odds would suggest he would have missed one of two. Toronto would have been able to advance the ball to midcourt with enough time to get a good look at a game-tying three. If you're a Wolves fan, you can imagine what very possibly would have happened next.
For a team that's now 7-20, this almost certainly won't mean the difference between the playoffs and the lottery. But it was an apples-to-apples sign of progress that directly correlated to a win instead of the potential for another loss.