Yet another in a long string of must-win games for the Wolves is in the books, and things went according to plan.
The Utah Jazz were on the second night of a back-to-back, and Minnesota hadn’t played since Wednesday night. And it showed. Of course, the Jazz were more or less at the mercy of one Kevin Love, who showed up and logged his first career triple-double by the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.
The Jazz were not only tired, but they were missing Derrick Favors. The Wolves were yet again without Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin, and with the absence of the newly-injured Ronny Turiaf, Love was forced to start at center for the first time this season. The Jazz were simply undermanned and outclassed, and Love was head and shoulders above every other player that stepped on the floor on Saturday night.
Love had his full repertoire on display in Salt Lake City, including some nice post moves and an impressive showing on the offensive glass. But his long range game was on point, and the Jazz simply didn’t have the personnel to slow him down, much less stop him. Enes Kanter and Marvin Williams were disinterested in following him out to the three-point arc, and Love gladly hoisted up 10 attempts, connecting on 6 of them.
He was especially scorching in the third quarter, dropping 22 points on head coach Ty Corbin’s crew, raining threes and dishing assists at will. As a whole and especially defensively, the Wolves had a a nice showing. They rotated with intensity and generally drilled their open perimeter shots. But tonight was about Kevin Love.
The Jazz were hapless, and the Wolves simply dared their opponents to throw up jumpers all game long. Utah couldn’t connect, and the guards and wings for the home team struggled mightily. Kanter played admirably in the paint without Favors alongside him, actually reaching a career high in points with 25 on 11 of 14 shooting. But there wasn’t much else there for the Jazz, and the Wolves took full advantage.
Indeed, Love only needed 33 minutes to throw a 37-12-10 up on the stat sheet. Take a look at Rubio’s line: 15 points (5 of 7 FGs), 7 assists, 6 rebounds in just 27 minutes. The offense was humming along, and the role players played their roles. Chase Budinger (3 of 4 from three-point range) and Dante Cunningham (5 of 8 FGs, 13 points, 5 rebounds) were very good, and the bench made up of 3/5s rookies was just good enough.
Gorgui Dieng played his most well-rounded game of his young career, and Shabazz Muhammad played decently enough, too. Robbie Hummel received some non-garbage time minutes, and the Wolves’ bench did what they needed to do against a severely inferior opponent. On the first night of a back-to-back for the Wolves, tonight’s performance was refreshing and sorely needed.
So off to Portland they go. The Trail Blazers will be minus LaMarcus Aldridge, but they also didn’t play tonight and will be rested. It’ll be a very tough game to win, but if the Wolves can manage it, they’ll get back to .500 with three winnable games to finish out the road trip. And games like tomorrow night’s in Portland are exactly the games that the good guys will need to start pulling out if they’re going to climb back into the playoff race.