Kevin Love was big once again tonight in the fourth quarter. I can certainly get used to this, and it’s a testament to this kid’s talent that despite having a truly awful shooting performance through three quarters that even in what was looking to be an off game he still put up a double double, took over the fourth quarter like he did against the Rockets two nights earlier, stepped up and once again earned his big money extension by sinking the game winning free throw with .01 left on the clock. It was the third quarter when I feel that Love started shooting less jumpers and taking it to the hoop more, paving the way for his 12 point fourth quarter. This was perfectly exemplified on that final play where for a split second it looked like Love was going to shoot the low-percentage long 2 and instead took it to the hoop, got the freebies, and being the tough minded excellent FT shooter he is calmly drained both and gave the Wolves a victory of one of the top teams in the East. If Love can deliver more big fourth quarter moments, and the Wolves can improbably make the playoffs, he’s likely to garner some MVP Love. I still think he’s behind LBJ and Chris Paul, but to me he’s got to be top 5.
In what was a close game from midway through the first quarter and on, our beloved Wolves found a way in the end to rally back and get that much needed home victory and nudge their record back to .500 again. The difference between this year and last is so striking it’s not even funny. I would be hard pressed to believe under Rambis that this team would have continually chipped away at a 3-6 point Sixers lead for most of the game, and then step up in the 4th quarter and secure the victory with some clutch free throw shooting and good defense.
It was great to see the Target Center rocking at the end, as in the final 5 minutes or so neither team led by more than a point, with Love and Rubio trading off with the Sixers until the final horn. I truly believe the Wolves brass needs to realize with the Vikings struggling, the Twins floundering, and the Wild treading water, that there is a huge chance to capitalize on the opening in the Minny sports market for a fun, exciting, and more importantly winning team. The ingredients are almost there.
Love, Rubio, Adelman, Pekovic provide an excellent foundation, and today once again the three aforementioned players filled our “Big 3″ role fantastically, combining for 59 points and shooting nearly all of Minnesota’s free throws. Pekovic’s free throw shooting has been Pek-tacular, as he shot 9-10 tonight. The big man has a soft touch, and I love that he really doesn’t shoot the ball outside of 10 feet. He knows his game and excels at it. February has been kind to him.
I loved seeing Rubio alternate between scorer and facilitator tonight. He recognized early that the team wasn’t shooting well, that his shot was falling, and scored 14 points in the first quarter alone. He took three treys from pretty much the same location on the floor, nailing two and failed to register an assist in the first half. It didn’t matter as the team needed his scoring help and him and Barea provided some points to offset Love’s terrible first half. In the second half he immediately switched back to table setter, assisting the first four buckets for the Wolves. Great point guards know when to score and when to set up, and Rubio did a fantastic job at this tonight against a good Sixers team. They’ll be a tough out for anybody in the playoffs this year. Enough has been said about Rubio and the intangibles he brings to this team, but it was on display again tonight. He made a great save of a ball that in virtually any other scenario would have been a back court violation or out of bounds, but he chased down the ball and right at the midcourt line, did a no look behind the back to save it. He also had a nice ankle breaking crossover that was typically topped off by passing to a wide open Wes Johnson immediately after that resulted in a brick.
This team’s mettle was tested tonight, and the Wolves stepped up and beat a good team. Love didn’t shy away from the pressure, stepping up when it mattered and proving he’s truly worthy of the deal he got and cemented his reputation as a top 10 player in the league now. It’s good to see the team get tested in situations like this, because its these tests, plus an upgraded wing, that’s going to take us from a .500 team to a legit playoff contender. This team is young and good and is doing an excellent job at growing up under Adelman’s tutelage. Great win tonight.
Some final notes:
- Beasley again was on the receiving end of Adelman’s tightened rotation. Only 11 minutes, although of those minutes the first half was the passive, jump shooting Beasley while the second half featured a nice block and a very nifty reverse layup.
- Wes Johnson somehow got 20 minutes and put up an absolutely terrible box score. 0 points, 0-4 shooting, 2 boards and one block. His defense was solid, but he’s just such a liability on the other side of the ball, that its maddening seeing him continue to get the minutes he does.
- The Caged Lion remained locked up tonight, barely getting more minutes then Beasley and doing very little with them. It’s not that Williams is a bad player, cause he’s certainly showed he’s going to be a productive 4 in this league at some point. There is talent there, but to what degree is still TBD. I’m willing to bet he’ll flourish with an offseason and training camp for next season under his belt, although it may not happen with the Wolves, as it’s going to be tough to deny Kevin Love the minutes he has earned, but I do believe it will happen somewhere. He needs to just be aggressive when he’s in the game, and take advantage of his ability to drive to the hoop.
- JJ Barea had another really solid game today, doing all the things that helped Dallas win a title last June. His shot was falling, his layups were dropping, and he and Rubio almost singlehandedly kept the Wolves close in the second and third quarters.
- Webster got a lot of fourth quarter burn late, as he was key on the defensive end on Iguodala. He did miss a wide open three that would have been key and made a bad pass that resulted in a turnover and then inexplicably didn’t chase down the court after it.
- While I haven’t followed the Jeremy Lin story quite to the extent ESPN has, which is borderline restraining order worthy at this point, I’m amazed at the traction his story has gotten to people outside the sports realm. Even my Grandma brought him up today, and I don’t even think she knows who Kevin Garnett plays for anymore. I just wish ESPN could follow him objectively, mixing the earned praise (avg. 20+ ppg, and 7+ apg as a starter) with the earned criticism (imagine if LeBron or any other star averaged as many turnovers as he has).
- This is my first post on Dunking With Wolves, and I like forward to contributing to this site on a hopefully daily basis. I would like to see it become a place that brings in some regulars, fans that share the same passion for the team I do and in turn post often as well, creating good discussion. Bare with me as I work out the kinks and find my voice/style for covering this team, but I cannot be more excited about the opportunity.