Welcome to the Thursday edition of The Cooler, where the margins are impossibly thin. Let’s get to it:
*At a season level, and usually even a game level, sports outcomes are seldom as simple as one play. There is a tendency to zero in on one game or one play, shine a light on it and say, “This! This was the reason we lost!” (or less frequently, why we won).
Gary Anderson and Blair Walsh will attest to this. Twins fans will never forgive Phil Cuzzi. And Richard Pitino? We’ll get to him in a minute.
The broader context of games and seasons tends to be more complex. The Vikings in both playoff losses referenced above had ample chances to win regardless of whether the kick was missed. Cuzzi botched Joe Mauer’s double, but Joe still hit a single and the Twins still loaded the bases with no outs … and couldn’t score.
The Gophers last night at Nebraska? They played well enough to win, but sure they could have done more before the final minute, when a flurry of three questionable calls — the last one being the most damaging and the most questionable — added up to a 62-61 loss.
The Gophers could have been more consistent up to that point in the season, banking 2-3 more victories in winnable games to ease the implications of every game going forward.
But here’s the thing: Sometimes one play is just that simple. For as many caveats and moments led up to Amir Coffey getting called for a foul while being jumped into by Nebraska’s James Palmer Jr., and Palmer sinking both free throws with 1.1 seconds left … and for whatever benefit of the doubt you can muster for an official trying to make that call in real time … and for whatever opportunity still exists for the Gophers with six regular-season games left and the Big Ten Tournament to make its NCAA case … that one play might not just change the game.
It might change lives.
You don’t have to squint too hard to see a Selection Sunday future where that game means the difference between the Gophers (16-9, 6-8 in the conference) getting into the NCAA tournament and missing it. And you don’t need a hot take to wonder if missing the tournament for the fifth time in six years would mean the end of Pitino’s tenure as head coach.
It is what it is, as players and Pitino said postgame. But whatever you think of Pitino’s tenure to this point, what “it is” in this case … is just not right.
*Owing to the NHL’s brilliant victory accounting system — which deposits overtime and shootout wins in the “win” bucket while stuffing overtime and shootout losses into some offshore account separate from losses — and the relative strength of the Western Conference in the NHL vs. NBA this season, you might have pretty different views of how the Wild and Wolves are doing.
In truth, their seasons are pretty much identical at this point. Both teams have played 57 games. And both teams have 27 wins.
*Speaking of the Wolves, Luol Deng started again Wednesday in place of the ill Andrew Wiggins — an arrangement that has produced victories over the Clippers on Monday and now the Rockets on Wednesday.
By my count, Deng has played 249 meaningful minutes (not counting blowout mop-up duty) this season spanning 13 games — all of them since Ryan Saunders took over as interim head coach. In those minutes, the Wolves have outscored opponents by 51 points.
It seems that Luol — who at age 33 is almost exactly as old as Chris Paul, a guy we don’t necessarily think of as old — has some good basketball left in him. It’s nice that someone found it.