Ah, the Pellies. At home. And not on a back-to-back. Exactly the kind of game the Wolves needed after a tough one last time out. New Orleans is actually a pretty good team, but it’s also a team that the Wolves should be able to handle easily under the aforementioned circumstances.
After Monday night’s heartbreak against the Dallas Mavericks in which the team sleepwalked through the first 60% of the contest, the Wolves needed to come out with more first quarter energy on Wednesday evening. The first frame was anything but flawless overall, but the Wolves did show significantly more effort on the defensive end of the floor, and emerged with a 33-28 advantage headed to the second quarter.
True to form, the Wolves struggled mightily from the field early on, but more than made up for it by getting in the bonus early on and making a decent amount of their free throws when they got to the line. On defense, the Wolves’ rotations were once again a step slow, especially down low, and especially when Rubio, Brewer, and Martin were gambling in the passing lanes.
Which, of course, was the primary reason that New Orleans racked up a ridiculous 16 turnovers by halftime. Brewer set the tone early on, making life difficult for Eric Gordon at the start of the game, and most notably on Pelicans’ sixth man Tyreke Evans. At the half, Brewer had been credited for two steals, but was far more disruptive than that before picking up his third personal foul towards the end of the second quarter and heading to the bench a bit earlier than normal.
Rubio’s defense was also fantastic, nabbing three steals by the break and hounding Jrue Holiday (three turnovers by halftime) and backup point guard Brian Roberts. In a pleasant and unexpected turn of events, Alexey Shved played his best minutes of the season off the bench, and most notably on defense. Shved had three deflections that I counted (credited with one steal by halftime), and his help defense was key off the bench, especially with the diminutive J.J. Barea sharing the back court.
On the offensive end, Kevin Love couldn’t get going against Anthony Davis’ fantastic defense (two early blocks on Love), and the offensive load was shared fairly evenly across the board. All four starters other than Brewer reaching double figures and Nikola Pekovic’s 16 points leading the way in the first half, helping the Wolves to a 61-47 lead at the break.
The third quarter was one of the best quarters the Wolves have played all season long, up until the final couple of minutes of the frame. Uncharacteristically, it started on defense. Just like in the first half, Rubio and Brewer played the passing lanes with fervor, and Love got back to his outlet-passing ways. The lead ballooned to 30 points for the home team at the midway point of the stanza, but a chippy conclusion to the period saw New Orleans close back to within 24 points heading to the fourth period.
The fourth quarter saw the Wolves tread water, and Adelman wisely waited until there was less than three minutes on the clock to insert the end of the bench, as the Pelicans got all the way back to within 10 points with just over a minute remaining. The outcome was never really in doubt, however, and the Wolves ultimately won by a score of 124-112, although the game really wasn’t that close.
– As mentioned above, the defense was spectacular, and especially for the first three quarters of the game. Rubio, Brewer, and Shved set the tone, and Mbah a Moute played very well off the bench as well. It helped that the Pelicans were so careless with the ball (16 in the first half, and somehow only 17 on the game), but the Wolves managed 10 steals on the game, including 4 by Brewer and 3 by Rubio.
– Rubio played a very good all-around game, matching up well with Holiday and showing exactly why he’s almost certainly a better player (despite Holiday’s All-Star “accolade” from a year ago). His shiny final line of 14 points (4-6 FG, 1-1 3PT, 5-6 FT), 9 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 blocks (!) doesn’t come close to telling the story, but it still looks pretty legit. His shot-selection was probably his best of the season, in addition to playing fantastic defense and passing like he usually does.
– Love’s shot was off all game, shooting just 7 of 19 from the field and 1 of 7 from long range. He still scored 21 points, but only pulled down 6 rebounds. He also had 3 assists, a steal, and a block. Pekovic played exceptionally on offense, scoring 22 points on 7 of 12 shooting and grabbing 7 rebounds.
– Shved played what was easily his best complete game of the season. His biggest contribution was on the defensive end, being active and using his long arms to disrupt the Pelican’s offense. His one-on-one defense is still sub-par, to be sure, but his off-ball help was fantastic. Offensively, he mostly stayed within himself and only took one bad shot (for Shved, this usually means a 27-foot, off-balance jumper coming ar0und a screen). If he can figure some things out, a bench of Barea, Shved, Budinger, Cunningham, and Turiaf probably isn’t half-bad.
– This was a nice win, and it was really about what could have been expected from this contest. The Wolves will finally get two days off in between home games, but things get tougher when the 25-6 Oklahoma City Thunder come to Target Center on Saturday night. Tip-off is at 7:00 CDT.