In an unexpected turn of events, the Wolves played a well-rounded game on Wednesday night and defeated the top team in the league, 104-91.
Sure, Indiana was on the road, on the second night of a back-to-back. The Wolves hadn’t played in a week and were well-rested. But let’s not pretend like you still expected the home team to falter. We’ve been around all season; we’ve seen the horror that is expectations. And Minnesota bucked them tonight.
The Wolves jumped out with energy and effort on the defensive end, and actually clicked supremely on offense. Ricky Rubio played a fantastic game, and despite shooting just 2 of 10 from the field, dished out a franchise record-tying 17 assists and pulled down 7 rebounds. He destroyed the Pacers’ George Hill and C.J. Watson, and was everywhere on both ends of the floor.
The Pacers were clearly drained tonight, and the Wolves somehow resisted succumbing to Indiana’s trademark mucking-up of the game. Usually, the Wolves are bullyed into complaining to the officials and stooping to the level of their overly-physical opponents. But other than a blip late in the third quarter and early in the final frame, the Wolves maintained their intensity and kept humming along.
And somehow, we’re a handful of paragraphs into this thing and I haven’t mentioned the great Kevin Love. Well, he dropped 42 points and 16 rebounds on the visitors this evening. He shot 14 of 22 from the floor, including 5 of 10 from long range. He was fantastic, and made the most of his rare national television appearance. He was the beneficiary of a bunch of Rubio dimes in the first quarter, and added some post moves and mid-range jumpers down the stretch.
Love was easily the best player on the floor, and the Pacers simply didn’t have an answer. David West got into foul trouble early, and was out-classed by Love rather easily. He ended up putting up just 4 points on 4 of 10 shooting and grabbing 7 rebounds in 27 minutes. Paul George had a nice game for Indiana, tallying 35 points and 11 rebounds for his squad, although he did commit 7 turnovers.
The Wolves actually showed consistent defensive intensity, rotating well and gambling efficiently. We all know that they gamble too much, but it paid off tonight. Brewer, Mbah a Moute, and Cunningham all created steals off the dribble on the perimeter, and Brewer and Rubio’s aggressive double-teaming in the post early on flustered both Roy Hibbert and West and disrupted the Pacers offense.
Even beyond the gambling, however, the Wolves did play some of their better defense of the season. They forced players like George Hill and Lance Stephenson into some poor decisions from the mid-range, and dared them to hit some tough shots. For the most part, they couldn’t, and the Wolves defense held. And even without Nikola Pekovic, the Wolves rebounded fairly well for the entirety of the contest.
All things considered, this was probably the best wire-to-wire win for the Timberwolves this season, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Heading into a five-game road trip, this was an unlikely win that the Wolves simply needed to have. Love and Rubio delivered, and the complimentary players (especially the bench) did what they needed to do. Here’s to an impressive win, and the slight chance that this team can get on an incredible hot streak.
– J.J. Barea played what was certainly one of his best 3-5 games of the season, putting up 12 points (6 of 10 FGs) and 3 assists with 2 turnovers in 15 minutes. His scorching first half was sorely needed, and was exactly what the Wolves though they were getting when they signed him to a four-year pact a couple of off-seasons ago. It was interesting, in light of the flurry of trade rumors surrounding Barea and the Wolves earlier today.
– Due to match-ups (see: Paul George), Luc Mbah a Moute played 25 minutes on Wednesday, and played very well. He rarely touched the ball on offense, but was everywhere defensively and more than held his own on the glass, staying active and tipping loose balls frequently. More minutes from Luc, please.
– As mentioned, tonight was all about Rubio and Love. Budinger and Brewer were both adequate, but the stars played like stars. And that was a welcome sight to see both Rubio and Love clicking on the same night.
– Ronny Turiaf was very active, despite some serious free throw troubles (1 of 8). Just before the 8:00 mark in the fourth quarter, however, he came down awkwardly on his left leg while contesting a shot, and could barely put weight on the leg as he came off the court. Without speculating too much, it looked like one of those rough non-contact-ish knee injuries, and possibly a hyperextension-type injury that could cause him to miss some time. Which, of course, puts the Wolves in a bind with Pekovic still very questionable for the upcoming road trip.
– The Wolves will be in Utah on Friday night. It’s always a tough place to play, but another must-win against a bad team (19-33 coming into play on Wednesday) and on the front-end of a back-to-back.