A wise man once said one man’s confidence is another man’s arrogance. In a game as competitive and high stakes as basketball, it’s essential to be confident in your game, so long as it’s not to a fault. There are plenty of instances of a player being too confident in their shot, whether it’s Denzel Valentine being a little too feverish on the final shot or Dion Waiters deciding being inefficient is too efficient for him.
Anthony Edwards and Patrick Beverley have enough confidence for an entire team on their own. Combine them with an already confident group, and there’s considerable potential for disaster.
In this case, disaster would be talking smack and then repeatedly losing.
However, that isn’t the case for this year’s Wolves team. Patrick Beverley expected to make the playoffs, and he did.
The problem begins when the confidence costs them in significant moments. When you become more focused on winning the mental war than the actual basketball game, undisciplined teams often become too confident when they’re up big in a game. It’s not as noticeable in the regular season. Teams will usually pull their starters early anyway since it’s just one game out of 82. But there are no punches to be pulled in the playoffs.
We saw this with the Wolves in Game 3. Minnesota blew two 25-point leads and the opportunity to go up 2-1.
Towns’ now-infamous “we in Minnesota” line was instantly turned into a meme as the Wolves lost their grasp on the game.
Towns isn’t necessarily wrong to say this in a team huddle. Confidence is an integral part of the game. But saying “we in Minnesota now” can just as easily be said after they won. Huddles during times like this should be reminding the team to lock-in. Kobe Bryant famously said, “job’s not finished.”
But the Timberwolves were overconfident, let their guard down, and were outplayed in Game 3.
D’Angelo Russell understood this.
“The emotion in the building should be the only emotion from our team,” he said after the game. “I think we get too high, and it comes back and it haunts us. … I think we should be even-keeled and stay locked into that moment.”
Russell was walking up and down the bench telling everyone to lock in during timeouts. It was perfect leadership from DLo. Although it didn’t result in the win, it’s the right mentality. Russell’s confidence in his teammates wasn’t waning, but he also wasn’t overlooking his opponent’s abilities.
If any player is familiar with smack talk, it’s Patrick Beverley. The ten-year veteran is possibly the biggest irritant on the court in the league right now. During Game 5, Beverley hit a hook shot over Morant, giving the Wolves a 101-98 lead in the fourth. After it, he kindly informed Morant that he was “too small.”
It was a nice shot, in a big moment, against a big player.
I would have no problem with Beverley going after Ja like this, but he has to keep that same energy. He can’t celebrate like this then foul out two minutes later.
After Ja Morant received Pat Bev’s message, he decided he was done with the whole losing concept. After responding promptly with a “too small” of his own, Morant scored the last 13 points for the Grizzlies, including his acrobatic game-winner.
It’s easy to trash talk when you’re ahead. “That’s the sign of a good man,” Michael Jordan once said, “if you can talk shit when it’s even score, or talk shit when you’re behind in score.”
The words of Michael Jordan’s postgame speech ranks true twice in this series. Once when Beverley hit Ja with his “too small” celebration in Game 3. Then it struck again when Towns shushed the crowd up 13. Both times these players celebrated up big, lost their lead, went quiet, and lost.
I’m not trying to say that the Wolves can’t celebrate. It has been an amazing season, and it’s still not over yet. But Minnesota has continually lost its focus when they’re up big, and it made their premature celebrations look silly.
It’s tough to watch Morant be praised for going wild after his game-winner while the Wolves players get clowned when they celebrate. It happened at the play-in, the first “too small” celebration. Then it was “we in Minnesota now” and then finally the second “too small celebration.” These moments turned into viral photos, receiving hate on large social media platforms. The thing is, none of these photos would be jokes if the Wolves won the game.
Ja Morant deserves to be praised for his celebrations because guess what, he won!
If the Wolves had won Game 5, both the “too small” and KAT shushing the crowd would both be awesome moments. Now, they look like fools because they let their confidence get the best of them.
Minnesota is a young team. They’ll grow out of these moments soon enough. But for right now, they need to learn how to walk the tightrope that is confidence. Fall to your right, the team is overconfident, celebrating too early and flailing late in games. Fall to your left, you’re not confident enough. That is an issue a roster with Anthony Edwards will never experience, but it’s still essential to avoid.
Confidence is critical to the Wolves, especially given how young they are. Some younger players come into the league afraid to take shots. One of the main reasons this offense has been so special is that everyone thinks their and their teammates’ shots will fall every time.
If the Wolves continue to think like this, they’ll get leads. Then they need to be able to reign themselves back in to get the W. After that, who cares how they celebrate.
Fortunately, the Wolves have one last chance to rectify their losses. Win at Target Center, then in Memphis, and all the jokes, memes, and disrespect disappear. After all, it’s always been Wolves in