Tuesday night in Utah marked the first game of a four-game road trip for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and a game that the Wolves had to have. After blowing out the Jazz in Minnesota on Saturday night, this game promised to be a little more difficult. After all, it’s tough to beat a team, much less blow them out, in consecutive games.
Sure enough, the Wolves struggled to completely put a pesky Jazz team away. The game was never really in doubt, but the lead was just precarious enough that the Wolves starters had to reenter the game late in the fourth quarter.
Even still, this was a very balanced game for the Wolves. The tone was set early by a couple of makes from three-point range by Kevin Martin and a stifling performance on the defensive end of the floor by Ricky Rubio. And finally, Ricky’s activity on defense led to a productive and entertaining performance on offense. Rubio had 3 steals in the first quarter alone, and had the Jazz’ bigs looking over their shoulders every time they caught the ball.
The Jazz couldn’t score for much of the game, and for the most part, we can actually give the Wolves’ defense some credit this time around. Of course, the likes of Marvin Williams and Enes Kanter don’t exactly top the charts of dangerous foes that Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic will face this season, and the absence of Derrick Favors certainly helps. But a win is a win.
Truth be told, the Wolves hit on all cylinders tonight in Salt Lake City, and it was sure refreshing to be able to say that in consecutive games. There really wasn’t a sub-par performer on the court for Minnesota tonight, as everyone contributed positively. Rubio and Love played particularly well-rounded games, and Pekovic was his usual dominating self in the post.
Sure, the Jazz being a bad team certainly helped. But the Wolves played a good all around game, with a lot of solid ball movement and enough defense to get the job done against a team that was essentially Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, a poor showing by Trey Burke, and a crew of marginal NBA talent.
The road gets much tougher for the Wolves in the near future, with road games in Golden State and Portland on back-to-back nights this Friday and Saturday and a game in Chicago on Monday night. If they can pull two out of those three games out, the Wolves will be back at .500 with winnable home games against New Orleans and Memphis coming up.
– Coach Rick Adelman rode the starters heavily tonight, clearly understanding that a) this was more or less a must-win affair for his squad, and b) if the Wolves could build a 20+ point lead midway through the fourth quarter, the bench could play out the string and the starters wouldn’t have to play much more than their normal minutes anyways.
Unfortunately, the Wolves allowed Utah to hang within 13 to 20 points for most of the final frame, causing Adelman to put Love and Pekovic back on the floor with under six minutes to play. Incidentally, until Dante Cunningham hit a jumper at the 10:04 mark of the fourth quarter, J.J. Barea was the only bench player to score for Minnesota.
– Back to Rubio. He played a fantastic game, putting up 11 points on 3 of 5 shooting, 13 assists, 5 steals, 5 rebounds, and just 1 turnover. He dominated Burke for the second consecutive game, and looked fantastic on both ends of the floor. He didn’t even attempt a mid-range jumper tonight, and was consistently getting into the paint whenever he pleased.
– Love was well-rounded tonight, scoring 19 points and pulling down 13 rebounds while dishing out 8 assists and again barely missing a triple-double. Pekovic dominated down low, posting 18 points and 9 rebounds of his own.. Also, for as much as Corey Brewer is a frustrating and inconsistent player, he had his best game in a long time tying Love for the team lead in points with 19 while also tallying 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal, and zero turnovers.
– Chase Budinger was more or less the only rotation player for the Wolves that struggled on the night, shooting just 0 for 4 in 13 minutes while still working his way back into game shape. The altitude of Salt Lake City probably didn’t help much, either, but we’ll see Chase start to get his legs back underneath him soon.
– And finally, Fox Sports North and the Wolves’ broadcast crew did their best to jinx the Wolves on the injury front. Between talking about Phil Ervin’s piece on the lack of injuries to the Sanford Health Injury Report declaring that the Wolves are entirely healthy for the first time in two years, well, there were a few issues tonight.
Alexey Shved was clobbered in the face on a drive to the hoop in the first quarter, fracturing his nose. It remains to be seen how long he will be out of action, but he did not return to the game tonight. Kevin Martin lacerated his right pinky finger in the third quarter while trying to get a steal against Alec Burks, and was reportedly receiving stitches and precautionary x-rays in the locker room.
– As mentioned, the Wolves will be in Golden State to take on the Warriors on Friday evening. The game will be broadcast nationally on NBATV at 9:30 p.m. CT.