The Timberwolves are officially back to the all-too-familiar place of “Hey! It’s a moral victory!”. Tonight was a moral victory; the Wolves hung close against the Knicks. In fact, they held a 90-87 lead with 3:50 remaining. But if you’re the Wolves, playing against the Knicks, even in Minnesota…well, you’re going to need more than a 3-point cushion down the stretch if you’re going to rely on the officials.
Make no mistake: the Wolves lost this game when they refused to get the ball to Nikola Pekovic in the post after the midway point of the third quarter. As the game wore on, the Wolves entered the ball into Pekovic less and less often. In fact, he did not attempt a field goal from about two minutes remaining in the third quarter and ended the game with just 10 field goal attempts. Not acceptable from the team’s leading scorer.
Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks finally decided to assert themselves late in the fourth quarter. Beginning when Anthony lowered his shoulder on a fast-break and drew a foul by leveling a correctly-positioned Derrick Williams, the Knicks went on a 15-3 run over the next 4+ minutes, eventually taking a 91-90 lead with just over two minutes to play in the game. The Wolves simply did not have the fire-power to combat the Knicks and Anthony down the stretch.
The Wolves drew within 95-94 out of a timeout on a Rubio jumper with just under a minute to play. After getting a much-needed stop, Ridnour appeared to be fouled while going to the hoop, but J. R. Smith converted a fast-break layup and an old-fashioned three-point play on the other end after being fouled by Dante Cunningham to stretch the lead to 98-94 and all but seal the final outcome.
– Ricky Rubio’s final line: 18 points, 11 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 steal, and just 1 turnover in a season-high 39 minutes. It’s safe to say that Rubio has had the reigns taken off. Keep in mind: he still hasn’t played the number of games in his career that is equal to a full rookie season, due to the lockout in 2011-12 and the torn ACL that delayed the start of the 2012-13 season for Rubio. He is playing very well over the course of his last few games, and expect him to continue to improve as the season winds down.
– Having Andrei Kirilenko certainly would have helped on Friday night. He missed his second consecutive game with a strained quad.
– Once again, the Wolves hung close and wilted down the stretch, due to a combined effort of poor defense, unreliable offense, and the lack of the benefit-of-the-doubt from the officials. Hopefully Budinger and Love can return soon and the Wolves can manage some semblance of decency before the season comes to an end. But…I’m not holding my breath.
– The Wolves will be in Memphis to take on the Grizzlies on Sunday at 5 p.m. CST.