Ah, basketball is back.
And yep, Wolves basketball is back. With the large-scale collapses and everything, although the outcome was strangely unfamiliar. The Wolvesy-ness started in the second quarter, when the Wolves saw a 17-point lead dwindle down to just 6 at one point before settling at 60-52 at halftime. At that point, it really felt like the Wolves had regained traction and would eventually build up another double digit lead and ultimately coast to the finish line.
Not exactly. And the opponent was the tanking Orlando Magic on the second night of a back-to-back on the road. But let’s try and take the short view of things this evening. Let’s do our best to enjoy the Wolves’ victory, as ugly as it was. Technically, it was real, live, winning basketball. A win is a win is a win, right?
The first quarter saw the home team score 38 points, the most in a quarter since the last game that Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, and Nikola Pekovic started and completed a game as healthy, functioning players. That was way back in early March of 2012, when the Wolves scored 40 points in Portland.
The coincidence is too perfect to ignore, and a snapshot of exactly how maligned this organization has been. If we can keep seeing this trio, plus new addition Kevin Martin, playing healthy minutes together on a consistent basis, well, then we have something.
Tonight, a night in which Nikola Pekovic only had just 6 points on 3 of 9 shooting in 24 minutes by the time the final minute of regulation hit, and Kevin Martin having shot just 4 for 17(!) from the floor at that point, should be the exception to the rule. Only Kevin Love played a complete game for the Wolves, and, in every way, was the glue that held this team together throughout the night.
With a one point lead and just under a minute remaining, the Wolves kicked the ball away and saw the Magic put in an easy fast break layup, taking a one point lead of their own. Rubio missed an elbow jumper, and after two Orlando free throws, the Wolves found themselves trailing 103-100 with just over 12 seconds remaining.
The Wolves ran a perfect side-out play, with a crushing screen by Pekovic freeing Love for a wide open three from the left wing. Love sunk it, and Corey Brewer shut down Arron Afflalo in isolation on the right baseline for a missed jumper at the buzzer.
After a slow start to overtime, the Wolves used an 8-2 run to create some separation before holding on in the free throw game in the final minute-plus. Losing this game would have been absolutely deflating for everyone, players, coaches, and fans alike. This one was needed. Seems silly to say, in game 1-of-82. But all Wolves fans know exactly what I mean.
Things aren’t getting any easier, with the Oklahoma City Thunder coming to town on Friday night and the Wolves traveling to Madison Square Garden to take on the Knicks on Sunday night.
– The Wolves were out-shot from the field (47% to 42%) and from three-point range (37% to 32%), but more than made up that ground at the free throw line. Minnesota shot 28-34 (82.4%) from the charity stripe, while Orlando managed to shoot just 11-18 (61.1%).
– Kevin Love finished with 31 points (8 of 19 FG, 3 of 8 3pt, 12 of 16 FT), 17 rebounds, 4 assists, and just 1 turnover. Ricky Rubio shot just 5 of 15 from the field, ending up with 13 points, 11 assists, 3 steals, and a big block on a corner three pointer in overtime. He turned the ball over 4 times on the night.
– Arron Afflalo looked like the Afflalo of old, circa his Denver years. He finished with 28 points on 11 of 22 shooting, including 3 of 5 from deep. He also chipped in 9 rebounds and 5 assists.
– Nikola Vucevic is a load, but if you followed the NBA last year, you’d know that already. He scored 22 points on 9 of 15 shooting with 16 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 steals, and 3 assists. He’ll be a force to be reckoned with for quite awhile.
– Number two overall pick Victor Oladipo finished with 14 points on 5 of 14 shooting. He was erratic at times in the open court, but played with unmatched energy and surprising confidence. A fun player to watch that should improve dramatically as he adjusts to the speed of the NBA game.