If someone told you, you had a 50-50 chance, would you take those odds? That would be 50%, or .500. On Friday night the Timberwolves were attempting to get back to .500 as they took on the Cleveland Cavaliers. After a back to back against Philly and Boston, the Wolves returned home to the Target center as they hosted the 4-15 Cavs who were without Rookie Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving. While the Wolves got Andrei Kirilenko back in uniform. It also featured the NBA leader in rebounding Anderson Varejao against someone who is all too familiar with being in the top spot, Kevin Love.
The Wolves welcomed back Andrei Kirilenko by putting him right into the starting line-up with Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Love, Malcolm Lee and Luke Ridnour. While for the inured Cavs, they countered with Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thompson, Varejao, Daniel “Booby” Gibson and Jeremy Pargo. From the opening tip that was controlled by the Wolves, they set a precedent of getting the ball inside, and it proved to be effective as the Wolves got out to an 8-0 start, and held the Cavs scoreless until 8:45 left in the 1st quarter. More impressive to the Wolves offensive start, was the Wolves defense, which was 5th best in the NBA entering the game allowing an average of 93 points a game. While the Cavs were without Waiters and Irving, it was first time really all season the Wolves back court would get a break from the onslaught of top tier point guards. The lack of a back court presence for the Cavs allowed the Wolves to allocate the guards to really apply defensive pressure, which resulted in 6 team turnovers for the Cavs in the 1st quarter. The defense also held the Cavs to 27% shooting, the Wolves attacked the glass and out rebounded the Cavs 18-10, 7 of the Wolves 18 rebounds were offensive. With all of the stats in the Wolves favor, the most important stat was Minnesota leading 25-16 after 1 quarter of play.
As the 2nd quarter got underway both teams really struggled to get any offense going, as the quarter started with no points scored for the first 90 seconds. The Wolves bench was clearly not the better unit in the 2nd quarter as the group of JJ, Alexey, Howard, Dante and Stiemsma had 4 turnovers in 8 possessions and went scoreless for almost 3 minutes during the 2nd quarter. Over that span, the Wolves were outscored 8-0 and had the lead cut to 1 with 5:55 left in the half. During a time out Adelman got Pek and Kirilenko back in to the game, after the substitution the Wolves went right back to pounding the ball down low allowing the Wolves to settle down and close out the half on a 9-2 run and take a 44-37 half time lead.
While the Wolves lead for the entire game, and entered halftime leading, it was clear the energy they had in the 1st quarter was not the same in the 2nd. Frankly the Wolves started playing down to the the Cavs. The 3 point shooting continued to be an Achilles heel, as the Wolves were 1-9 and a lowly 68.4 from the free throw line. While the Wolves were dominating the boards, with a decisive 33-22 advantage, they committed 7 turnovers in the 2nd quarter while only forcing the Cavs into 2 turnovers. There was a clear drop off when the bench was on the floor during the 2nd quarter for the Wolves, and would put even more pressure on the starters to perform in the 2nd half if the Wolves were going to avoid this being a trap game and emerge victorious.
The same 5 players to start the game for both teams started the 3rd quarter. The Wolves came out in the 3rd quarter much like the 1st quarter, with terrific energy, ball movement and establishing the inside game. The Wolves methodically kept attacking the Cavs, it wasn’t necessarily poetic basketball for the Wolves, it was blue-collar, workman like basketball, or, win ugly basketball. After the collapse in the 2nd quarter by the Wolves bench, Adelman wasn’t going to see the lead disappear in the 3rd quarter as both Love and Ridnour played the entire 3rd, and AK, Pek & Lee played all but 2 minutes of the 3rd. The starting 5 did it again, just like in the 1st half, as they opened up an 11 point lead in the 3rd to enter the final period up 66-57. It can’t be overstated how much Andrei Kirilenko means to the defense of this team, it was on display again against the Cavs, as he had 4 steals and 3 blocked shots through 3 quarters, his return was definitely needed and didn’t go unnoticed.
Kevin Love started the 4th quarter, and joining him was Cunningham, Howard, Shved and Barea. The 4th was proving to be no different for the Wolves bench than their performance in the 1st half. In fact, Adelman kept a starter on the floor at all times in the 4th, he only took Love out of the game for roughly 4 minutes in the 4th. Something seemed to click for the bench in the 4th, with 7:37 to play and after 2 consecutive turnovers; the Wolves went on a 9-0 run to open up the lead to 18 with 3:02 left to play. Not to mitigate what would seemingly be great defensive night for the Wolves, Cleveland was just not playing very good basketball. While this game won’t be making any highlight reels or best of lists for greatest games played, it did show the Wolves can win ugly. The Wolves kept their composure and showed real poise as they opened up the lead through the 4th quarter. This game was a win for the Wolves as they outscored the Cavs 91-73, but the biggest victory of the night was knowing the Wolves didn’t play down to their competition. This team scrapped out an 18 point lead, just like they should of. The Wolves took care of a team they were superior too and got back to .500 on the season at 9-9 in the process.
With Andrei Kirilenko back on the floor this team’s defense is completely different. Andrei in his first back from back spasms had a line of 8 points, 7 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 blocked shots.
Derrick Williams got a DNP Coach’s Decision.
Anderson Varejao’s streak of double-doubles came to an end, as he had a final line of 4 points and 14 rebounds.
Kevin Love posted a season high of 36 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.
Before the game, David Kahn said he hasn’t talked to the Lakers about any trades since June.
The return of Ricky Rubio should be coming very soon; a very good guess will be this next week. Most educated guesses have it on Wednesday against Denver, but should be next week.
The Wolves will get a large break as their next game will be on Wednesday Dec 12th at home against the Denver Nuggets with a 7 pm Tip.