Sunday, March 31, 2019

Philadelphia 76ers 118 at Minnesota Timberwolves 109 - March 30, 2019

After adding North Dakota to my list of states in which to see a game, I drove back to Minnesota, hoping to hit a doubleheader on Saturday. The Golden Gophers had a baseball game that would have allowed me to see a new venue, but that was postponed due to cold weather. Yep, it was around freezing in Minneapolis as March was decidedly not going out like a lamb. I had not prepared for the sudden drop in temperature, so even though the Twins were also hosting the Indians in an afternoon tilt, I had no desire to freeze for the afternoon. I watched from the comfort of my hotel room and the slow pace of the game (3 runs and 6 hits in exactly 3 hours) convinced me that I made the right decision.

Fortunately, I did have an evening game to console myself, namely an NBA battle between playoff-bound Philadelphia and the Timberwolves. I visited the Target Center all the way back in 2010 when the blog was in its infancy, but things have changed there quite a bit in the meantime, so I'll include a few pictures of the features that are either new or that I missed on my previous visit.

Just inside the entrance at the corner of 1st Avenue and 6th Street is a statue of George Mikan, who played for the Minneapolis Lakers between 1947-56 and whose influence on the game of basketball cannot be overstated. The statue was installed in 2005 after Mikan passed away at age 80 and I completely missed it on my first go-around.

The Target Center is uniquely designed among Big 4 venues and has several small staircases and escalators that take you from the entrance level to the main concourse. There you will find a display case with a few trophies, including Andrew Wiggins' Rookie of the Year from 2015 and Karl Anthony-Towns' win at the Skills Challenge in 2016. The Wolves have yet to win anything important, but their WNBA counterparts, the Lynx, took home four titles in seven seasons.

In an interior stairway, I found a picture that predicts the future of NBA uniforms. Right now, the NBA allows a small sponsor patch near the shoulder strap, while the WNBA has gone the way of European soccer, with the team logo on the small patch and the sponsors taking up the prime real estate above and below the numbers. It won't be long till the bean counters in the NBA head office decide to do the same.

Both Wiggins and Towns are on another display that lets kids see just how small they are in comparison.

The banners have increased for both good reasons and bad. The late Flip Saunders is honoured as well as those Lakers teams that were so good back in the 1950s, along the Lynx. When I was here before, the only banners were for Malik Sealy and a Midwest Division Championship, which would look silly next to the four titles held by the Lynx.

The concourse is spacious, though ceilings are very low in places. I had no trouble making my way around before the game or at intermission.

The lower bowl is fairly typical for basketball arenas, with a gradual incline as you make your way up. At the far end is a bar area which seems to be open to the public and allows for good views while standing if you get there early enough. Generally these areas are for socializing and attract fans who couldn't care less about the game; usually they are farther away from the court however.

There is only one level of suites, so the upper deck is relatively close to the floor, at least in the lower rows. Note how much steeper it is than the lower bowl.

The shot below is from my seat in Row J of Section 238, just above the railing. This is a mildly annoying place to sit as your view is blocked when idiot fans come up or down while the game is on. It's not like basketball doesn't have hundreds of timeouts per game during which you could go get your tenth beer.

Fortunately, the lower level has small standing tables above the seating bowl along both sidelines, so I moved down at halftime to get a better view. I had to walk around a bit to find an open spot that was not patrolled by an usher, but once I did, I stayed for the rest of the game without hassle. More venues should have standing areas for fans that actually want to watch the game, not these new social spots for fans who only want to take a selfie.

Overall, the Target Center is a surprisingly nice arena for being nearly 30 years old. When I first visited, I didn't really appreciate what this place has to offer, and I'm glad I got a chance to come back. Sports venues evolve with the teams they house and a revisit every few years or so is the best way to see the changes. That's one reason that sports road tripping never gets old.

The Game

This interconference affair was billed as the return of Jimmy Butler, who was traded from Minnesota early in the season amid a lot of bitterness. Fans here were quite upset despite the fact that Butler only played one full season here and he was booed every time he touched the ball. The Wolves were wearing their garish Statement uniforms (the statement being that we can sell anything to gullible fans) to mark the occasion.

The only team making a statement on the court was the 76ers, who ended the first quarter on a 12-0 run to take a 38-20 lead despite resting Joel Embiid. To be fair, Minnesota had defeated Golden State in overtime the night before, so it wasn't surprising that they were not fully prepared for this one.

Still, the Timberwolves chipped away at the advantage and eventually got to within 3 midway through the final frame. But they couldn't get that key stop that would allow them to tie the game, as Philadelphia managed to sink key buckets whenever Minnesota got close. The Wolves were forced to foul down the stretch and Philly had no problem making their free throws as they won 118-109 in a gift from the NBA schedule maker.

I was particularly impressed by 76er Jonah Bolden, son of Bruce, who was born in Australia and played college ball at UCLA. He subbed for the resting Embiid and scored 19 points, including 5 treys, and finished +22. I think the 76ers are the best bet for the finals in the East, given what we know about the NBA (big markets matter). Milwaukee might be a better team, but they rely too much on Giannis, who seems to be suffering from knee problems late in the season. Of course, Toronto is also a top team, but regular readers know that there is no chance the NBA will allow them to make the finals. So expect Philly to be taking on the Warriors come June.  Update: Toronto managed to sneak by Philly, so Milwaukee will be in the finals after all as Giannis looks solid. Update: Not solid enough as the Raptors won the series in 6 and ended up taking the title. Wow. Never thought that would happen.


The halftime show was the Amazing Sladek, who is known for balancing on a stack of chairs. He is no spring chicken, billing himself as the oldest daredevil acrobat hand balancer, begging the question: how many daredevil acrobat hand balancers are there? Regardless, it is a fascinating show as the element of danger is always present. Several fans around me could not watch, but Sladek pulled it off. Later, the Timberwolves mascot, Crunch, attempted to replicate the act with two plastic patio chairs. I usually don't care much for the "entertainment" outside the game, but this was very amusing.

Next Up

Baseball is back and although I am no longer a fan of the game the way it is played these days, I still want to see the Blue Jays on the road in every stadium. I'll be heading to Oakland in a couple of weeks for that series, so check back then to see if they could muster a win, or even a run.



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