Barea Continues To Shine, Highlighted By Big 4th Against Denver
When the Dallas Mavericks came to Target Center on Dec. 15, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle was asked about his former player, Wolves guard JJ Barea, and what he can bring to a team. He didn’t hesitate. Dialing back to memories of their three-year run together culminating with Barea helping the Mavericks beat Miami in the 2011 NBA Finals, Carlisle said Barea is on his short list of the best lane penetrators in the league—guys who can get to the paint and finish or find the right kick out to an open teammate.
On Thursday night in Denver, you’d be hard pressed to argue with that assessment. When the Wolves needed it most, having already lost Kevin Love to a hand injury and trailing for much of the second half, Barea put together a 12-point, five-assist effort in the final 12 minutes that helped ice a pivotal 101-97 victory over the Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. He finished with 17 points on the night.
Denver was 10-1 at home leading into Thursday’s game. But Minnesota found resolve in its guard play down the stretch, led by the energy from the 6-foot-0 reserve point guard.
“He has a lot of courage,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “He likes to take those situations and put them on his shoulders.”
He did it on Thursday.
Barea has always had confidence in his game and what he can bring to his team—regardless of the age level. He has always felt comfortable with that dribble penetration dating back to his early days playing ball in Puerto Rico, and that followed him through high school ball, playing collegiately at Northeastern and finding a solidified role in Dallas with the Mavericks.
It was evident from the moment he joined the Wolves last season that Barea had a knack for that fast-paced game, coming off pick and rolls and winding his way toward the hoop. But through his first year in Minnesota, Barea battled injuries that limited him physically and took away from him getting reps in coach Rick Adelman’s system.
This year, it’s starting to come together.
Over his last 15 games, Barea has scored in double digits 14 times. That includes two fourth-quarter performances that led to Minnesota’s two biggest wins of the past month: the 12-point effort in Denver on Thursday and the 14-point effort in the final frame against Oklahoma City that led to a 99-93 win—snapping the Thunder’s 12-game winning streak.
In that Oklahoma City game, Barea was 3-of-4 from 3-point range in the fourth quarter.
“A year makes a lot of difference,” Barea said. “It was a change for me. A new coach, a new system for the first time in my career. I was hurt a lot. But this year, yeah, I know what the coach wants. I know the type of players we got. I know what they need from me, and I’ve been healthier this year. So it’s good.”
Wolves rookie Alexey Shved said last week that Barea is always capable of a quick offensive scoring burst. He was alluding to the big fourth quarter against the Thunder, but he said on any given night Barea can go off for six, eight consecutive points and take over a quarter. That was true on Thursday, as Barea scored nine of the Wolves' 12 points over a four-minute span late in the fourth.
"Everybody knows him; he's a very aggressive player and every time he comes," Shved said. "He's really a great player, that's for sure."
Against the Nuggets, Minnesota was in desperate need of a jumpstart late in the contest. The Wolves had trailed by as many as 10, and with Love leaving the game with a finger sprain on his right hand Minnesota was looking for that spark. It came in the form of the Wolves’ back court. In the fourth quarter alone, Barea and Luke Ridnour combined for 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Each looked confident within their roles—Ridnour knocking down those mid-range jumpers with that smooth stroke and Barea getting to the hoop while also hitting 2-of-3 from distance.
But it was that combination of scoring inside and out as well as dishing off five fourth-quarter assists that kept the Nuggets guessing on what Barea was going to do next.
Former Wolves guard Corey Brewer said Barea has the right combination of being quick enough to get to the rim and knows how to score when he gets there.
“[Barea] finished the game off for them,” Nuggets guard Andre Miller said. “He made tough plays; he knows how to get into your body. He can make plays around the basket and he did that. He was clutch for them.”
Adelman said it was a complete back court effort in those final minutes.
“It was amazing,” Adelman said. “JJ was unbelievable. He kept us going around their big guys and getting to the basket, and Luke made a couple and I thought Alexey [Shved] played well the whole game to keep us in it. It’s just one of those games you don’t expect with everything that’s gone on and going on a trip to Utah and Denver and they are rested and we came in and won.”
The Wolves are benefiting from Barea’s aggressive play over the past month—particularly while facing some of their toughest challenges. Don’t expect him to change his crafty philosophy.
“It’s something I like to do,” Barea said. “Get to the paint and create for myself or create for others. And I think that’s something that has helped me during my career.”