Man, this was a fun one.
This game had a lot of aspects that mirrored Friday night’s blowout over the Oklahoma City Thunder early on, but for some reason, the first half still seemed more….complete. From Kevin Martin’s shot finally falling to Kevin Love’s ridiculous outlet passes to Nikola Pekovic’s rebounding, Sunday evening’s tilt at Madison Square Garden felt really good, and just about right.
Until the fourth quarter, that is. But no matter. This squad is different and (mostly) healthy, and they held on, despite the ugliness. But the first half…let’s talk about that. That was a ton a fun.
Love started the game with a few missed shots and a traveling turnover, but after the opening minutes, the visitor’s fast break attack took off. Martin and Corey Brewer’s run-outs were rewarded by Love and Rubio pushing the tempo and getting easy buckets. The Knicks couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn on offense, but the Wolves’ defensive rotations were tight and timely, for the most part.
Defense and rebounding indeed keyed the Wolves third consecutive impressive opening quarter. When the dust settled after the first twelve minutes of action, Minnesota had opened up a 40-19 lead.
The Wolves’ second unit struggled a bit and allowed the Knicks to whittle the lead down a bit in the second quarter, but the starters (plus Derrick Williams; Brewer had picked up a couple of quick fouls guarding Carmelo Anthony) pushed the lead back up to 20 points late in the half. A poor two-for-one attempt by Rubio and Love with under a minute remaining led to a mini 5-0 run by the Knicks to make it a fifteen point gap at halftime.
After New York scored the first bucket of the second half to pull within thirteen points, the Wolves went on a swift 7-0 run, opening it back up to 20, and at one point pushed it to 23 points. The rest of the third quarter was a mostly-ugly stalemate, as the Knicks eventually chipped away and played the Wolves to a draw, going into the final frame down 15.
The Wolves struggled mightily on both ends of the court for much of the fourth quarter. The stellar defensive rotations stopped, and Anthony finally got hot. Love and Martin each sat from about the 10:00 mark to the 6:00 mark, and the Wolves struggled to hold serve. Minnesota started the fourth quarter shooting 0 for 8 from the field, and saw their lead slide all the way down to 100-98 with just under five minutes remaining.
The last few minutes were not pretty, but the Wolves got to the line on offense and forced the Knicks into rushed, mostly contested, long jump shots on their end of the floor. Love and Pekovic did great work on the boards down the stretch, and largely limited the Knicks to one-and-dones.
Ultimately, New York only scored one basket in the final five minutes, and the Wolves pulled away in the last 2:00 and eventually won by a 109-100 score.
– The story of the game for Wolves fans is probably the shortened rotation that coach Rick Adleman chose to go with. He was likely hoping that the first team could pull away even further in the third quarter, and the back-ups could run out the clock in the final quarter. That didn’t happen.
Adelman played just nine players, and one (Alexey Shved), only played five minutes. Love, Rubio, and Pekovic all played 41 minutes, and Martin was on the court for 36. It led to a big road win and a 3-0 start to the season, but it will make tomorrow night in Cleveland a grind, and certainly isn’t a habit that the Wolves can fall into if they want to make a playoff run.
– Love ended up accumulating 34 points on 10 of 19 shooting and 12 of 15 from the charity stripe, despite only shooting 2 of 8 from three-point range. He also pulled down 15 rebounds and dished out 5 assists.
– Rubio struggled mightily, especially in the second half. He finished with 8 points, 10 assists, and 3 steals, but shot just 3 of 11 from the field and turned the ball over an uncharacteristic 4 times. His defense down the stretch was outstanding, but his offensive game was mostly tough to watch.
– Kevin. Martin. It’s weird, the Wolves having a shooting guard and everything. He scored 30 points on 9 of 12 (!!) from the floor, including 5 of 5 (!!!) from long range and 7 of 9 from the line. The Wolves will also accept 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and zero turnovers on a nightly basis as well.
– The Wolves will be in Cleveland tomorrow night at 6:00 CST to take on the Cavs. It could be rough, after a hard-earned win tonight.