D’antoni: “We Did Not Compete In The First Half”


Feb 4, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio (9) tries to steal the ball from Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash (10) in the fourth quarter at Target Center. Minnesota wins 109-99. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Another city with snow, another failed comeback attempt, another loss on the road, another double digit disaster, another submissive performance against a team out of the playoff picture, another dreadful rebounding performance (-15), another dreadful shooting performance (42%), another first quarter annihilation (38-26), another game of fouling too much (38 free throws for the Timberwolves), another lineup change ( Jodie Meeks as small forward), another injury (Jodie Meeks ankle), another freakish thing out of a science fiction movie (Steve Blake’s ruptured eardrum), another dominant performance by the other team’s star (Kevin Love, 31 points, 17 rebounds), another dominant performance by the other team’s second star (Kevin Martin, 32 points), another opportunity for D’antoni to say something we did not already know. He went with “they did not compete in the first half.”

Really? They gave up 68 points. Obviously they did not compete. It brings up a particularly obvious calculation about D’antoni or rather about his job as the coach of this team. Isn’t it part of the job description to get his team ready to play? Or, perhaps, after that first six game losing streak in early January the team stopped listening to him and are now depending on themselves to get inspired.

Of course, when all else fails for D’antoni there is Steve Nash to create a glow. D’antoni was effusive about Nash, his eyes lit up. What this must be like for D’antoni to see the lanes narrow for both himself and his star pupil, their careers dangling from a high wire. Steve Nash shaved his beard and was Steve Nash of memory just an older version like someone who had just woken up from a long coma and was trying his old life out again. His passes were crisp, he led the break, he made some shots, he got into the lane. He mentioned nerve pain but undercut his first game back by saying he played “okay.” He seemed wistful as he talked about feeling like a kid again. It is easy forget how his career was taken from him by time; the ability to get any part of it back is what he is fighting for while his adoring coach proudly looks on.

The other Steve, the one who is not 40, the one who plays with an attitude, reminded everyone just how tough a competitor he is, and that being a NBA player does not always mean you have grit. (See: Wesley Johnson) After Steve busted his eardrum on a rebound scrum- it was a little ironic since the rest of the team are the ones deaf, intentionally ignoring D’antoni on general principle- he kept at it, kept on playing and got into the lane and fought while he was out there which was a welcome sight after two months of casual basketball. Competing means something to Steve Blake, he takes each game personally. If only the rest of the team did. Oh, well.

If you have hung in this long with the Lakers you knew the script by heart, a fight, a comeback but not enough offensive firepower or defensive intelligence. They were not going to win, they are not good enough; several players seem beaten down, they don’t think they can win. They can no longer block out all of the noise, it is in their heads what is happening right now and what may happen in the future. Except Manny Harris did not seem to care this was his last game in a Lakers uniform, he played hard and because there were no consequences he played free and was the best player out there while he was out there. Afterwards he was wistful tool. He said, “it didn’t end like I wanted.” Sadly, most things in life never do.

There is no longer any sort of ribbon to wrap around what has happened this season, even the lottery feels cold and uninviting. The gritty guys trying to win without stars are the defeated guys trying to find solace. Something happens when you keep losing, you begin to think you deserve it, you are what everyone thinks you are.  And if that is not enough of a burden or a mountain to climb the next injury is just around the corner, you know it is. So beware. I’m betting someone will get bitten by a snake.