After two consecutive off days on the West Coast, the Timberwolves were in need of a win against a weak Sacramento Kings team. The Wolves started very slowly and the game was an extremely sloppy affair, but the better team eventually pulled away late in fourth quarter, in large part due to their strong fourth quarter defense.
The Kings jumped out to a 12-4 lead to start the game, as Kevin Love barely touched the ball and only attempted one shot in the opening six minutes of the game. This was likely a concerted effort by Rick Adelman to ensure that the ball would stay moving on offense, rather than becoming stagnant as it often did in Love’s first three games back from injury. Rather than giving the ball to Love and standing and watching, the Wolves used back cuts and solid ball movement to pull ahead of the Kings by the score of 27-26 at the end of the first quarter.
Love and Nikola Pekovic each played the entire first quarter and stayed on the floor with J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved, and Dante Cunningham to start the second quarter. Ultimately, an intriguing unit consisting of Barea, Shved, Howard, Cunningham, and Love played very well, stretching the Wolves’ lead to nine points. When Love left the court, however, the Wolves struggled mightily. A late second quarter push got the Kings back within a score of 48-45 at halftime, despite the Wolves leading almost every statistical category (except turnovers) at halftime.
The Wolves played a strong third quarter, reversing their fortunes from the previous three games in which the Wolves were leading at halftime and saw the lead evaporate quickly in the second half. Ball movement continued to be much improved in comparison to what had become the status quo over the five game losing streak. Malcom Lee finally hit a pair of open corner three pointers, which has been his biggest downfall since joining the starting lineup a few games ago. Love showed significantly more effort on the defensive end than he did during Saturday night’s embarrassment in Golden State to go along with his typical tenacity on the glass, and the Wolves’ frontcourt simply outworked their counterparts from Sacramento.
The Timberwolves were able to take a 77-67 lead into the fourth quarter, even extending it to a fourteen point lead early in the frame. The Wolves’ offense sputtered towards the end of the game, but the defense managed to string together multiple stops to keep Minnesota in front. Sacramento cut the lead to two points on a pair of DeMarcus Cousins free throws with 1:20 remaining. That was as close as the Kings would get, as Kirilenko found Pekovic with a wraparound pass in the lane for a layup before blocking Cousins’ shot on the other end. After a Wolves’ timeout, Love iced the game with a one-handed, turn-around, fall-away jumper off of a loose ball.
– Kirilenko continues to distribute the ball beautifully on the offensive end, showcasing an array of no-look shovel passes to Pekovic underneath the basket in addition to finding open shooters on the perimeter. Kirilenko also finished with three blocks on the night, including the swat against Cousins with under a minute to play in the game.
– Shved struggled in the first half with turnovers and shot selection, but hit two threes when the Kings went into a zone defense in the fourth quarter, leaving him open on the wing. The first answered a Tyreke Evans shot over Love that had cut the Wolves’ lead to three points.
– The Timberwolves’ pick-and-roll defense was noticeably better than the poor effort they gave at Golden State over the weekend. Granted, Tyreke Evans is not as good of an outside shooter as Damian Lillard, but the idea of a big, strong point guard like Evans going up against a banged up and fatigued Luke Ridnour was scary (and rightfully so) to many Wolves fans. Ridnour more than held his own on the offensive end (18 points on 8-13 shooting with 5 assists), and did a solid job defensively. While Evans had a relatively efficient evening, the Timberwolves did a very, very good job hedging on screen-and-rolls and generally disrupting any action at the top of the key that the Kings tried to run. The difference in Love’s effort on hedging high screens from the loss to the Warriors and tonight’s victory in Sacramento was night and day.
– The Wolves will play a tough back-to-back tomorrow night in Los Angeles against a strong Clippers team. The game appears to be nationally televised on NBATV at 9:30 p.m. CST.