Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, children of all ages, it’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for….KEVIN LOVE!!!! Sure there was a basketball game at the Target Center tonight that featured your Minnesota Timberwolves against the Denver Nuggets, but the story of the night was the return of Love. Speaking of returning players, Nikola Pekovic was also back in the lineup tonight and so was JJ Berea. As the cabinet is getting stocked back up the Wolves really had nothing but energy entering tonight’s game against the Denver Nuggets at the Target Center.
The words that were used to describe the Target Center’s atmosphere tonight were buzzing, loud, electric and exciting. It was finally time for Wolves fans to say “Our superstar is better than yours”. Straight from the tip of tonight’s game there was no sign of rust on the “Love Machine”. He was as active as any player on the floor and going against Kenneth Faried that is saying something, the “Manimal” (who is the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week) was clearly overwhelmed trying to guard, out rebound or make any offensive move on K-Love during the entire first period. The best sign of the night was Kevin’s minutes; he had 9 minutes in the first quarter where he went 7/12 for 16 & 6 rebounds helping the Wolves get out to a 26-15 lead after 1.
It was noticeable when the Wolves didn’t have Love in the game tonight. Part of it is rotations, players have gotten used to certain rotations and they knew each other, now tonight the bench looked a little out of sorts. Part of it could be that it had been awhile since JJ has been on the floor with them also. The strength of the Wolves bench tonight was out played in the first half and saw the Nuggets close the gap to 3 (35-32). Rick Adelman had seen enough and inserted Love back in the game, from the time Kevin stepped back on the floor with almost 7 minutes to play in the 2nd quarter the Wolves dominated the game again going on a 23 to 12 run to close out the 1st half leading the game 58-44.
There was no doubt Kevin made the difference in the game to this point. In the first half alone Kevin played 16:27, going 9-16 for 22 points while snagging 8 rebounds going +22 for the first half. How noticeable was it when Love was on the floor for the Wolves, they were +22 while he was on the floor and -8 when Kevin was off the floor. It was clear everything on the offensive end of the floor was different for the Wolves with Kevin back in the lineup, the spacing on the floor allowed open looks and ball movement. It was a tremendous first half for the Wolves and more specifically for Kevin Love who had 22 points in the first half, which was the same amount the Nuggets scored while Love was on the floor.
The 3rd quarter seemingly was opening the same way the 1st half had gone. That is, until former Wolf Kosta Koufos blocked Kevin Love from behind and got tangled up with Love in the process. While the 2 of them were tangled up, Kevin may or may not have shoved Kostas into photographers’ row. The act didn’t go unnoticed by the officiating crew as Kevin got his first technical foul of the season. The technical call seemed to swing momentum Denver’s way sparking an 11-0 run and closing the lead all the way down to 2 points. The game really tightened up midway through the 3rd quarter, once the Nuggets got the game down to a single possession the Wolves managed to cling to the 2 point lead. Both teams exchanged some bad possessions until Denver was able to tie the game up on an incredible spin move into a tomahawk dunk. Denver took the lead on an alley-op dunk by JaVale McGee in the closing moments of the 3rd quarter. The lead was short lived as Alexey Shved made his presence known with a huge 3 point basket and got the Wolves back on top to close out the 3rd quarter with a 73-69 lead.
With 12 minutes left to play and the Wolves holding a 4 point lead they started the 4th quarter with Cunningham, Pek, Howard, JJ and Shved. The largest lead of the game for the Wolves was 14, and with 10 minutes to play in the 4th the Nuggets regained a 2 point lead. A timely substitution of Lou Amundson sparked some energy on the floor and saw the Wolves quickly take the lead 80-78 back with 8:46 to play. Denver marched right back down the floor and tied things up again. The 2 teams remained tied at 80 for the next 2 minutes, until Ty Lawson drew a blocking foul on JJ and sending him to the line and seeing him make both free throws giving the Nuggets a 2 point advantage once again. At 6:24 to play the Wolves called for AK-47 and Kevin Love to enter the game. With 6 minutes to play the Wolves saw Denver hold a 4 point lead. The Wolves answered with back to back baskets of their own and regained the lead by 1 with 4:45 left. The Nuggets got very timely 3 point shooting and managed to take a 5 point lead. As the Wolves continuously chipped away down the stretch Denver had an answer, that answer was Andre Miller. The crafty Nugget veteran continued to engineer the offense to baskets when they needed them most. With 46.9 to play and the Nuggets holding a 6 point lead, Faried fouled out of the game. It didn’t seem to matter as the Nuggets hit free throws down the stretch raining on the Kevin Love return and extending the Wolves current losing streak to 3 games.
While it was great to see Kevin Love on the floor and see he really hadn’t lost his touch putting in 34 points and grabbing 14 rebounds, it was the rest of the team tonight that seemed to struggle. JJ was unable to knock the rust off tonight as he finished the game going 4-12 for 12 points and a -11.
If you were wondering what would become of Derrick Williams once Love came back, well it was a DNP coaches decision. What exactly does this mean? It may still be too early to tell. But, it is definitely something to keep an eye on.
The bench tonight didn’t show up, every bench player finished the night with a negative in the +/- column.
For the second game this season it was the Wolves inability to hit their free throws. They were 16-25 for 64%. The shooting woes didn’t stop at the free throw line for the Wolves; they were 34-89 (38.2%) from the field and 10-28 (35.7%) from beyond the arc.
The Wolves will get tomorrow off before the will take on the Portland Trail Blazers in the Rose Garden at 9 pm.