After what feels like dozens of opportunities to climb back above the ever-attainable but never-defeated .500 mark since their record stood at 8-7 on November 23, the Wolves needed this one. After a night’s rest and a return home to face an Anthony Davis-less New Orleans squad, this was one of those games that they can no longer afford to lose, chalking it up to a bad night.
No, these Wolves have reached the point of must-win territory, for the most part. And a rested home game against a 19-25 team missing two of their best three players certainly qualifies as a must-win.
It was an exceedingly ugly affair, with both teams struggling mighty from the field and the officials letting an awful lot of contact and handsy-ness fly for much of the evening. (Yes, the teams combined for 48 free throw attempts, but it could have been a lot more) The Pelicans didn’t put a single point on the board until an Al-Farouq Aminu basket at the 8:00 mark of the first quarter, but the Wolves countered with a flurry of Kevin Martin bricks early and refused to take control.
Minnesota was active and generally played hard tonight, with Kevin Love setting the tone early. His jumper was off, especially early, but he was chasing boards and taking charges as if he felt the need to show the home fans how grateful he was for the starting nod in the All-Star Game.
It was an ugly game, but the Wolves half court offense was generally running as smoothly as we’ve seen it in quite some time, even if the shots weren’t falling. Even the second unit had some nice possessions in the second quarter, with Gorgui Dieng and Dante Cunningham manning the high post and J.J. Barea, Chase Budinger, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute cutting to the basket around them.
The Wolves’ starters struggled in the middle portions of the game, but an 8-0 run to close the first half gave the Wolves a 47-35 lead at the break, with Love already posting 18 points and 10 rebounds. The third quarter was sluggish as well, but a 27-20 Pelicans advantage allowed them to pull within six points by the start of the fourth frame.
Early in the third quarter, Ricky Rubio was called for a pair of questionable fouls, sending him to the bench with four personals. Barea played decently in his stead, but Rubio’s pesky defense was sorely missed and his absence helped New Orleans keep the game close.
The officiating was especially shoddy all night long, but the balance and quality of whistles in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter were especially puzzling. The Wolves did a decent job of not committing an inordinate amount of time complaining, which was a nice change of pace, but it was a frustrating span of game time that helped the Pelicans hold the Wolves down to the level of slop that they were interested in wallowing in.
The Wolves went on another 8-0 run to start the fourth quarter, opening up a 75-62 lead with just under ten minutes remaining in the contest. The Pelicans wouldn’t go away, however, and the Wolves refused to pull away, despite coach Rick Adelman leaving Love on the court for the entirety of the second half.
The fourth quarter went well for the Wolves, and although they weren’t able to pull away with the game in any real way, they maintained a minimum lead of eight points throughout the stanza.
– Rubio tweaked his ankle in the opening minutes of the game, and appeared gimpy for much of the first quarter. He seemed to work through it better in the second half, but it’s worth keeping an eye on, especially after he got banged up in Golden State last Friday night.
– The Pelicans looked absolutely terrible, shooting just 2 of 21 from three-point range (9.5%!), and 35.4% from the floor. And it wasn’t like they were just missing open shots. They simply weren’t getting open shots. Starting Brian Roberts at point guard and giving 22 minutes to Austin Rivers doesn’t help whatsoever, but a 5 for 17 night from Eric Gordon was nearly as ugly.
– Love was a monster, doing more damage on the glass and in the paint than we’ve seen him do of late. He finished with 30 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 assists, with all of his dimes coming in the second half. He played 43 minutes after not sitting at all in the second half.
– As we would have expected early in the season (but never really received), the bench was the Barea-Cunningham, show, with 10 points and 6 assists coming from the diminutive point guard and a very nice 6 of 7 night (12 points and 6 rebounds) coming from Dante. After hitting his first long-range attempt, Budinger’s lack of legs appeared to catch up to him and he struggled for the rest of the game.
– Luc Richard Mbah a Moute finally got some meaningful minutes, logging 23 of them and playing very active defense on a variety of Pelicans wings. His minutes came at the expense of Alexey Shved, who hasn’t played since having a relatively rough first half in Chicago on Monday night. Here’s hoping that he’ll get a chance to work his way back into the rotation on Friday night.
– Dieng only played 6 first half minutes. They were largely up and down, but Adelman clearly felt like he needed to ensure the win by playing Love at center for heavy minutes late in the game. This worked in part because Cunningham played as well as he has in a long time, but it would be nice to see Dieng get some additional run soon, especially in some of the upcoming back-to-backs.
– The Wolves will host the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night at Target Center. Tip is at 7:00 p.m. At 23-20, Memphis is 1 game ahead of Minnesota and Denver for ninth place in the conference. At 26-20, Dallas is currently holding down the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
See Minnesota take on Memphis by getting your Timberwolves tickets here.