Wolves Finish with a Win

Does an absolutely fantastic overtime period for Randy Foye mean we have to change his nickname?

The player who earned some credence as a rookie by playing big in fourth quarters scored 10 of his career-high 32 points in OT to push the Wolves to a 110-101 victory over Milwaukee in Wednesday’s season finale at Target Center.

The Wolves had trailed by as many as 16 points in the second half of, but the Wolves mustered an impressive fourth quarter comeback to force overtime, where Foye daggered the bucks with two huge threes. Accordingly, Minnesota finished a tough 2007-08 campaign by winning three of its last four games to finish at 22-60.

"It was nice to end the season with a win," said Ryan Gomes. "They say you're only as good as your last game. It took overtime, but Randy Foye stepped up, put us on his back and took us home."

"This is a fitting way for us to end our season heading into the off-season," added head coach Randy Wittman. "Progress at the end and winning games and learning how to win. It means a lot to all these guys. Hopefully we can use that as a springboard going into next year."

It wasn't Al Jefferson, Foye or Gomes that led the Wolves back into the contest in the fourth, but rather two bench players, who made up for that fact that Minnesota's pine was a combined 1-for-17 in the first three quarters. Rashad McCants and Corey Brewer combined for 12 points in the fourth quarter, including two McCants triples and four huge free throws from Brewer, including the two that tied the game at 94 with about 26 seconds remaining. Foye took over from there, but the victory was a total-team effort as 10 players scored and nine grabbed at least one rebound and assist.

"I wanted to get everybody some playing time tonight being the last game," said Wittman, who played everyone in uniform. "Everybody is in this together as a group and I wanted everybody to play. The group that finished the game out made some key plays down the stretch."

In season-finale form, we took a look at the eight Wolves who saw significant action first in terms of their individual years at large, and second specifically in Wednesday’s loss to Milwaukee.

Guard Randy Foye
After missing the season’s first 49 games due to a stress reaction in his knee, Foye came back slowly. He didn’t play more than 27 minutes in his first seven games back, averaging 7.1 points in 21.8 minutes per. But as his minutes began to grow over the next 10 games, so did his production, including three games with 18 points, one where he scored 20 and four contests with at least five assists. He tied a career high with 26 points in a nice road win over the L.A. Clippers on March 8 (including Minnesota’s final six points of the game). Towards the end of March, Foye began to focus more on running Minnesota’s offense through Al Jefferson, not taking more than 12 shots in eight consecutive games, and failing to score 10 points five times. He did manage 5.25 assists over that period, and grabbed 10 rebounds twice.

But in April, it seems that Foye has come closer to putting everything together. The nine games leading into the season finale saw him average 16.9 points on 42.2 shooting (60-of-142), a pretty good number considering he’s shooting primarily perimeter jumpers, and not getting into the lane as much as he’s expected to in the future. His assist numbers have also been good (5.3 average in April), and his turnovers way down. That’s way down. Foye’s had more than two TOs just once in April (four, at Utah), and he’s averaging 1.4 per game in 36 minutes per game. To simplify, here are Foye’s April numbers:
Games: 9; Minutes: 36; Points: 16.9; FG%: 42.2; FT%: 100; Pt%: 38.3; Assists: 5.3; TOs: 1.4; Rebounds: 2.9; Steals: 1.1

Against the Bucks
Foye was terrific offensively to open the game, hitting 5-of-6 shots for 12 points, adding an assist and two boards in the first quarter. Then in the third, Foye keyed Minnesota’s 17-7 run, scoring four points and dishing two assists, before just missing a driving layup that would have made it 74-69 heading into the fourth quarter. Foye got another rest for most of the fourth before checking in at the three-minute mark and promptly nailing a jumper, his eighth make in 12 shots for point No. 20. In the overtime, Foye keyed a stretch midway through with a beautiful driving layup, followed by an assist to Corey Brewer, and punctuated with a three-point bomb to put the Wolves up 103-97 with 2:37 to play. That three gave him 27 points, a new career high, in only 34 minutes. He'd add another bomb, plus a jumper for his career high, to go with four rebounds, four assists, a steal and just a single turnover.

Forward Ryan Gomes
There isn’t a player, coach or personnel guy in the NBA that doesn't like Ryan Gomes, a extra-polished glue guy who could get minutes on any of the league’s 30 teams. This season, he’s appeared in all 82 games (starting 74), and contributed a steady 12.5 points on an efficient 45.5 percent shooting, along with 5.7 rebounds in 29.7 minutes. Look a little closer however, and realize that Gomes only averaged 8.2 points a game in Minnesota’s first 21 games, before a light bulb went off in his head signaling him to be more aggressive. And since mid-December, he’s been remarkably consistent (like Shawn Kemp was at producing kids in the 1990s). He averaged nearly 16 points a game in March, for example, despite never being the focus of the Wolves offense. Now, even those numbers don’t leap off the page, but not counted in the numbers is his willingness to do the proverbial “dirty work,” such as setting screens, attacking the offensive glass, rotating defensively or simply being a smart player. But those things don’t go unnoticed by the basketball people, which is why Gomes will have a solid place in the NBA for years to come … Hopefully in a Timberwolves jersey.

Against the Bucks
Gomes was outstanding to open the contest, continuing a season in which he’s generally been Minnesota’s most frequently solid first quarter player, often due in part to the fact that much of the early defensive attention goes to Al Jefferson. Against the Bucks, Gomes made 4-of-7 shots in the first, including a put back that helped Minnesota take a 32-24 lead into the second quarter. He also grabbed two boards and tossed two assists in the first, though he didn’t play in the second as Randy Wittman dished some minutes to Greg Buckner and Mark Madsen. In the third quarter, Gomes made 3-of-4 shots for seven points, grabbed five boards and notched two assists, and finished the game with a 17-10 double-double, along with three assists and a single turnover.

Center/Forward Al Jefferson
What a monster year for Big Al. Yes, he was excellent last year as well in Boston while defenses focused primarily on Paul Pierce, but in 2007-08 he broke out like a 7th grade boy’s acne. While his 21.1 points, 11.1 boards, 50.2 percent shooting and 1.46 blocks are salivating whether you’re hungry or not, Jefferson’s contribution to the Timberwolves goes far beyond the stats. Not only did he produce consistently despite often being the sole focus of opposing defense, but he’s done it for all 82 games, all starts. The losing hasn’t affected his work ethic in games or practices, and Wolves fans can be nothing but excited that the big fella signed a contract extension for another six years. His yearly accomplishments were well outlined by our PR staff in his Most Improved Player campaign, but Big Al’s game truly spoke for itself this season.

Against the Bucks
Jefferson picked his spots in the first quarter, taking only three shots en route to six points, two boards and an assists. He punctuated a quiet second quarter, in which he played only four minutes, with a huge one-handed dunk near the one-minute mark. At half, he had 10 points and five boards. Jefferson picked up his game in the third quarter, helping chip 10 points off a 17-point Buck lead, in part by grabbing five boards and rotating into the lane to erase easy opportunities for Milwaukee. He finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds in just 30 minutes of action, as he did not play down the stretch or in overtime, with Wittman giving Richard the chance to play in clutch situations.

Forward Kirk Snyder
Snyder-Man has been somewhat of a revelation since coming to Minnesota for Gerald Green in February. It’s not so much his 8.5 points, 4.3 boards and 2.1 assists, but his constant, explosive energy that’s provided the Wolves an unquestioned boost. He’s started 18 of the 26 games he’s played in Minnesota, and seemingly never failed to give his best at both ends of the floor. Recently, Snyder grabbed a career-high 11 boards at Memphis, and is scoring 9.7 points on 57 percent shooting in his last 16 games. While his stroke isn’t akin to that of Ray Allen or Peja Stojakovic, he’s still hitting at a 51.6 percent clip, in part due to his aggressive slashes to and finishes at the basket. If nothing else, Snyder-Man has shown that he belongs in the NBA, whether the Wolves manage to re-sign him or not.

Against the Bucks
True to form, Snyder-Man was everywhere as Minnesota jumped out to a 15-6 lead (on a 15-2 run), forcing Milwaukee to call a timeout at the 6:55 mark. Snyder had four points, including a massive baseline dunk, to go with two rebounds and two assists. Like Gomes, he didn’t see action in the second quarter, and Milwaukee jumped to a 53-45 halftime lead by outscoring Minnesota 29-13. Snyder was back in to start the third, but after six more minutes of energy, but he sprained his ankle while driving to the hoop and missed the remainder of the game.

Guard Marko Jaric
The Serbian guard has been productive - if quietly - throughout the season, producing 8.2 points, 4.1 assists, nearly three rebounds and a team-leading 1.28 steals (24h in the NBA) per game in just 29.1 minutes. Even though the debate about the future of Minnesota’s backcourt has involved only the Foye, Telfair, McCants, Brewer and an unnamed potential draft pick (and not Marko) we haven’t heard Jaric complain this season. But with his rangy, physical defense, movement off the basketball and more-than-capable passing, Jaric has given Randy Wittman almost no choice but to give him meaningful minutes – and perhaps rightfully so.

Against the Bucks
Jaric embraced some of the first quarter ball handling as Foye was getting his shot whenever he wanted, and finished with three dimes plus a bucket and a board. A nice stretch of Jaric occurred halfway through the second quarter, as he grabbed consecutive rebounds, nailed a triple and swiped the ball away from Bucks point guard Ramon Sessions in the lane to force a Milwaukee timeout. He finished the half with five points, three assists and six rebounds. His layup at the 7:35 mark of the fourth quarter brought Minnesota within four points, and his dime on the next possession (to Brewer) cut it to 83-81. Jaric scored seven points in the fourth quarter, and finished with 15 to go with five dimes, the six boards and two steals.

Guard Rashad McCants
McCants can flat-out score the basketball. Maybe he was born with it (like Jaric’s girlfriend was born hot), maybe he developed it (like Stephanie from “Full House”). Either way, it’s there, and he’s become the second-most prolific bench scorer in the NBA - behind the Spurs indomitable Manu Ginobili, the likely NBA Sixth Man of the Year – by scoring 14.9 points per game on 45.6 percent shooting, including 41.1 from three. In fact, he broke JR Rider’s franchise record for three-pointers made against Detroit on Tuesday (140). Because his role has been to provide instant offense off the pine, his rebounding (2.8) and passing (2.2) haven’t been terrific, but McCants is talented enough to do most everything he wants on the basketball floor. Towards that end, when his emotions are positive and he’s feeling good, he’s extremely effective … It’s just when something is off, for one reason or another, that his play can start to dip. But the bottom line is, when he’s good (like 13-of-22 for 33 points, 4-of-7 from three vs. Sacramento early this season, or 9-of-13 for 23 points Saturday in Memphis), he may be too good to give up.

Against the Bucks
McCants got several good looks in the first half, but uncharacteristically rimmed out 5-of-6 times, giving him just two points. He checked in near the 3:30 mark of the third, and was charged with defending Michael Redd, on whom he clamped down for two possessions before trying to draw a weak-side charge from Jake Voskuhl and hurting his chest. However, after checking back in near the start of the fourth, McCants promptly nailed his 141st three of the season, sparking a 6-0 Wolves run that brought Minnesota within a point at 76-75. His next three made it 90-88 Bucks, but an ill-advised pull-up just inside the three-point line rimmed out and allowed Milwaukee to increase their lead by two on the next possession. Though he missed a potential game winner at the close of the fourth quarter, he dropped the first bucket of OT, and finished with 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting.

Forward Corey Brewer
We’ve said it all year: even when Brewer’s offensive game is off – which admittedly has been more often than not this season – he still finds ways to make himself valuable to a basketball team. The things you can’t teach, such as: lock-down defense; a lengthy 6-9 frame; an urge to attack the glass and get out in transition; and an overall, good work ethic; constant hustle, are there. And what’s good about his shooting (37.5 percent this year) is that great shooting minds like Fred Hoiberg (former NBA leader in three-point percentage) and Randy Wittman (known as a sharpshooter in his NBA career) show no concern that Brewer will continue to improve. It’s not like he’s a running back trying to learn how to play quarterback – he knows how to shoot. He just needs to do it more often, and shoot the same way every time. Some work on his handle wouldn’t hurt, either, and expect him to spend much of the summer shoring up his weaknesses.

Against the Bucks
Brew’s first half went much as his season had: he struggled from the field (0-of-3), made both free throws (79 percent on the season), grabbed two boards, tossed an assist and ran all over the place on defense, including a swat. Brewer got out aggressively in the fourth quarter during Minnesota’s bench comeback, connecting on a layup from Jaric before ignominiously coming up short on a dunk attempt that would have tied it up. However, he more than redeemed himself by making four clutch free throws, including two to tie the game at 94 with 26 seconds to play. More impressively, Brewer picked up a huge steal with about six seconds to play when Milwaukee was holding for the last shot, slipped a pass to McCants in the lane, but Shaddy missed a tough layup as time expired. OT ensued. Brewer stayed on the floor, continued to fly all over the place and finished the game with 12 points, four boards, two assists, two steals and no turnovers.

Center Chris Richard
Minnesota’s 2007 second-round pick out of Florida simply hasn’t seen very many minutes this season. He’s averaged just 10.4 minutes of burn in the 51 games in which he’s appeared, though he did put up nearly a double-double per game while down in the D-League with the Sioux Falls Skyforce. And, he’s been pretty productive when given some minutes, particularly defensively and on the glass. Richard played 24 minutes (one below his season high) on April 12 at Memphis, and grabbed eight boards to go with two assists and four points. Five of his boards were offensive, and he played a nice compliment to Al Jefferson on the defensive side of the court. A big body (6-9, 270) with a good motor and a terrific attitude, Richard has the ability to play in the NBA and will hopefully earn the opportunity to contribute regularly in the next few years.

Against the Bucks
Richard had a great block against Jake Voskuhl early in second, but he wasn’t able to convert after catching the ball on three separate occasions near the rim. He grabbed three boards off the bench, but couldn’t connect on any of his six shot attempts on the evening … That is until it matter most, when Richard finished an and-1 to tie the game at 83, after the Bucks had led by as many as 16. He finished with those two points, five rebounds, a block, a steal and an assist.

If you made it through all of that action ... You can come back to Timberwolves.com tomorrow for even more coverage surrounding Minnesota's final game, and season at large. Kevin McHale will be holding a season-ending press conference at 11:00 a.m.