This was one of the few games this season that, despite the lead fluctuating throughout and the Wolves still not playing particularly sharply, it felt as though the Wolves should (and would) win fairly easily. There were certainly a couple of moments during the game (especially midway through the second quarter and early in the third quarter) where it certainly felt as though the Wolves should pull away from Milwaukee and put the game away, but the sloppiness of their offense kept bringing them down to the Bucks’ level.
The Wolves started the game by allowing rookie John Henson to accumulate 8 points and 6 rebounds in the opening minutes, including offensive put-backs over and around Love and Pekovic on three consecutive trips down the court. For the most part, Pekovic was much more active than the first quarters in the games against the Kings and Clippers earlier this week, but Love’s inability to box anyone out allowed the Bucks to cash in on a number of easy buckets early on.
The Bucks carried a 30-29 lead into the second quarter, but the Timberwolves second unit was impressive, considering their depleted state. Alexey Shved played very well, showing his trademark fourth quarter confidence in the first half for a change, and other than consecutive possessions in which Doron Lamb shot an easy jumper over him and beat him on a cut to the basket, played very good defense, even blocking a Monta Ellis jumper in isolation.
The second unit played the first eight minutes of the second quarter, giving way to Love and Co. after staking the Wolves to a 43-38 lead and leaving with a net of +6 points. Given the way they had been playing on the recent West Coast swing, Rick Adelman had to be more than pleased with their first half minutes. After kicking away multiple opportunities to push the lead into double digits, Barea was able to knock down an impossible, double-clutch three pointer at the buzzer to extend the Wolves’ lead to ten points at the break.
Early in the third quarter, the Timberwolves again had plenty of chances to extend the lead, but the Bucks were able to stay close. At one point early in the third, the Bucks had a 14-2 advantage in second chance points, which is typically the same form of torture that the Wolves inflict on their opponents. With Love clearly suffering from his undisclosed illness, along with some clear fatigue after starting to play in games just over a week ago and playing three games in the past four days, the Bucks rebounded surprisingly well for the majority of the game.
Luke Ridnour played one of his better games of the season, shooting 6-13 from the field and making most of his open looks. His back is still clearly bothering him (it is especially evident on his free throw attempts, which are historically automatic for Luke), but tonight he was a key for the Wolves in maintaining what became a slim lead in the third quarter. The Wolves missed eight consecutive shots, and thankfully for them, the Bucks still only managed to go on a 7-0 run and cut the Wolves lead to two points with just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter started with the Wolves in the lead by the score of 68-63. Love’s play continued to regress as the game went on and he became noticeably fatigued, but Ridnour, Barea, and Shved’s solid play, combined with Pekovic’s bruising low-post presence and surprising rebounding prowess against the Bucks thin front line was enough to eventually put the game away and escape with a 95-85 victory.
– Andrei Kirilenko missed a second consecutive game with back spasms. Josh Howard started in his place. With Ellis and Brandon Jennings’ ability to penetrate, this would have been a great game to have Kirilenko’s weakside defense and shot blocking ability available, but Howard was serviceable tonight in his absence.
– Derrick Williams had this three possession sequence in the second half:
Derrick Williams, ladies and gentlemen. He always seems to need a big defensive play or fast-break dunk in order to get his confidence up and help him get going. He was more bad than good tonight, but continued to hedge hard on screens on the offensive end and rebound acceptably. He still is indecisive on offense and continues to “float” in the words of his coach.
– I couldn’t get over how many times the Bucks’ announcers called Luke Ridnour an “outstanding” defender. Um, guys? I’m sure he was a better defender in his two Bucks seasons from 2008-10, but he was never that good of a defender. I promise.
– Alexey Shved scored 16 points on 5 of 9 shooting, including 4 of 6 on three pointers. Shved also added 5 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals in his 32 minutes.
– Larry Sanders scored the final points in the game on a meaningless put-back to reach his first career triple double, with a final line of 10 points, 10 blocks, and 12 rebounds off the bench.
– While Pekovic managed to have his shot blocked at least 3,000 times by Sanders, his final line of 14 points, 16 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 steals was very impressive. The lack of actual size and the inability to bang with larger players in the low post eventually wore away at the Bucks and hurt them quite a bit in the second half. Blocked shots don’t mean as much when the offensive player gets the ball right back and lays it in for a score.
– The Wolves will get a much needed three days off at home in Minnesota before heading to Philadelphia to play against the 76ers on Tuesday night at 6:00 p.m. CST.