Patrick Beverley stole the show with some WWE-level theatrics on Tuesday as the Minnesota Timberwolves punched their ticket to the playoffs with a 109-104 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference's 7-8 play-in game. The Timberwolves will go in as the No. 7 seed, matching up with the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in the first round.
After the win, Beverley celebrated like the Wolves had just won a title.
You can understand Beverley's emotions. Playoff berths don't come around often for the Wolves. This is only the third time they've made it since 2004, and it's not a coincidence that it coincides with the arrival of Beverley, whose teams have made the playoffs in every season of his career in which he's been healthy. He has arguably been the most instrumental player, and overall presence, in shifting the identity of this Wolves team into a unit that now expects to win and is willing to do the tough, selfless things required to do so.
Indeed, this would've been a big deal for Beverley and the Wolves no matter who they defeated on Tuesday. But that it just happened to be the Clippers on the other side? The team that traded him last August to the Grizzlies, who then rerouted him to Minnesota. That makes it decidedly sweeter.
Here's what Beverley had to say earlier this season about his time with the Clippers, who essentially moved him to save luxury-tax money (about $30 million), a decision that Beverley, who can turn the smallest of slights into a mountain of motivation, pretty clearly took as a sign of disrespect.
"It's kind of overlooked, especially when you have people like Kawhi [Leonard] and P.G. [Paul George] who take a lot of credit for everything," Patrick Beverley said earlier this season when the Wolves were in L.A. to play the Clippers. "It's always when I go to another team, you know, that's when you see my work. ... What I do is very unappreciated. But the Timberwolves appreciate it, and that's all that matters."
So, yeah, Beverley most certainly wanted to stick it to the Clippers, and he did just that. He scored seven points and pulled down 11 rebounds. He shot 2 of 8 from the field, including 1 of 5 from 3. He tallied one steal, officially. He was a minus-five for the game. But as usual, his impact had little to do with numbers, traditional or otherwise. He was a pest. The mouthiest of menaces. I mean, this is mere seconds into the game:
Beverley was ready to scrap from the jump, and it wasn't the last time he and Marcus Morris would come into contact. Less than a minute into the second half Beverley nearly baited Morris into his second technical foul, which would've gotten him ejected. Upon review, it was rightly determined that Beverley ... go figure ... was the instigator.
Don't even try to argue that Morris started this establishing contact with Beverley. Players do this all the time to keep a feel on their man, to know his whereabouts, as they watch the jump ball. Beverley is chopping down on Morris' arm like it's a cement block in a Kung fu video. Beverley knew he was baiting Morris into his second tech, and when he initially thought he'd succeeded, he started skipping down the court waving goodbye like the villainous showman he's always been. Seriously, if the guy wasn't so good at this basketball thing, he'd have a job as a wrestling heel in a second. Vince McMahon would back up a Brinks truck.
The thing that gets lost in all these antics, however, is that Beverley is a really good player. Defense is a skill, and for all the emphasis on long, versatile, off-ball defenders who roam around making passing-lane plays, an old-fashioned, get-inside-your-jersey defender remains the opposition no scorer or ball-handler wants to see. Beverley is low and laterally quick. He has fast, aggressive hands. And he anticipates the way a great passer sees plays developing ahead of schedule.
Watch the entirety of this crucial fourth-quarter possession below. Beverley starts on Paul George, which tells you how great of a defender he is that Chris Finch would stick him on the opposing superstar who has been cooking in the second half in a two-point game with under five minutes to go. When Morris pops open for a 3, Beverley races out to harass him for a bit. Then Morris gives it up to Reggie Jackson, who goes into a pick-and-roll, which Beverley switches so he's guarding Jackson straight up. Now the shot clock has ticked under five seconds. Beverley knows Jackson has to act quickly, and he also knows that Jackson likes to hang his dribble out to the side before pulling up into a jumper or crossing over. He anticipates it. Sees it. And in that split second, he strikes. Knocks it loose. He basically single-handedly kills the whole possession.
Beverley picked Jackson again with under 30 seconds to play to officially seal the game:
Beverley is a mini Draymond Green in the sense that you hate him if he's not on your team and love him if he is. Don't read that as Beverley being as great as Green, who's a future Hall of Famer and arguably the best defender of the last 20 years, but it's important to recognize that this isn't just some no-talent trash-talking. Beverley is a really good player. He's a player you win with. Anyone who has played with him will tell you that. Beverley is a beloved teammate in Minnesota, and he was with the Clippers as well.
Yeah, Beverley tortured the Clippers on the court and continued trash-talking them on a profanity-laced live Instagram feed from the locker room, but have another look at Beverley's celebration after the final buzzer. After you cackle a bit at his huffing and puffing like he's the big bad wolf (hey, that sort of fits!), pay attention to the first player to embrace Beverley. It's Marcus Morris. The guy he darn near taunted into an ejection. Watch Morris hug Beverley at about the 35-second mark.
Morris and Beverley were teammates with the Clippers, and that's what a beloved teammate looks like. Even after all the antics that Beverley just pulled, Morris respects him. Everyone who has played with Beverley respects him. Because he'll do the things a lot of players won't do, or can't do, to win. He showed it again on Tuesday, and not by coincidence, the Timberwolves are headed to the playoffs.