Per usual, Saturday night’s tilt in Sacramento was a must-win game for your Timberwolves. They started the game slowly after their three-day layoff, but it was ultimately a relatively satisfying showing for the visitors.
The first half was a track meet, with the Timberwolves refusing to play anything that would resemble defense. The offense hummed along rather nicely, despite Kevin Love only shooting 1 of 6 from the field and tallying 6 points, 2 rebounds, and 4 assists in the first half. Kevin Martin chalked up 19 points on 7 of 11 shooting from the field in his return to the court after a three-week hiatus due to a broken thumb.
Bright spots for the Wolves early on were Martin and Nikola Pekovic on the offensive end, especially given the lack of plays that were run for Pek early on in his return. Defensively, there simply wasn’t much to write home about. Rotations were slow, and Corey Brewer didn’t have a prayer of stopping Rudy Gay, who has somewhat reinvented himself with the Sacramento Kings.
Gay shot 4 of 6 from three-point range, and similar to the Kings’ victory in Minneapolis last month, Rick Adelman refused to use Luc Richard Mbah A Moute to guard Gay, instead allowing Brewer to chase him around the perimeter. When Adelman went to his bench, Gay wasn’t on the floor, so Mbah a Moute didn’t even sniff the court in the first half of the contest.
At halftime, the Wolves trailed the Kings by a 56-53 score. It was ultimately a disappointing start to the game for Minnesota, but considering the three day layoff, it really wasn’t all that surprising, either. And in the third quarter, the Wolves finally woke up.
Coming out of halftime, Brewer finally decided to press up on Rudy Gay, not allowing him to get easy releases off of screens or to catch the ball uncontested. The Wolves fast break finally got rolling consistently, and Minnesota outscored the Kings by a 31-14 count in the third quarter.
Adelman chose to start the fourth quarter with Dante Cunningham at center and Mbah a Moute at the power forward spot without Cousins on the floor for Sacramento. It worked at first, with the bench able to tread water for a couple of minutes. Ultimately, however, the Kings got out to an 11-4 run in the final frame, causing Adelman to put Love and Martin back on the floor a bit earlier than he would have liked.
When Love and Martin returned, the Wolves still held an 88-81 lead. The Kings went on a bit of a run and eventually pulled to within 97-95 score on an Isaiah Thomas pull-up elbow jumper. From there, Pekovic knocked down a pair of free throws before Ricky Rubio drained a three-pointer from the right wing off of a feed from a driving Martin to expand the Wolves’ lead to 102-95 with 53 seconds left on the clock, effectively ending the game.
It was impressive and encouraging poise by the Wolves after letting the Kings crawl back into the game. Ideally, they wouldn’t have let the home team keep the game close, and the game would have been over much sooner, especially after bringing a fourteen point lead into the final frame. But there would be no such luck, and the ability to hold off a hard-charging team on the road is a positive nonetheless.
Love ended up with a nice 22-10-7 line despite shooting just 4 of 12 from the floor (12 of 14 from the charity stripe certainly helped the point total). Martin struggled a bit in the second half, but his strong first half helped him to a 26-point night, while Pekvoic dropped 20 points on 8 of 12 shooting and pulled down 9 rebounds in his return to the court. Rubio finished the game with 8 points and 8 rebounds and a decent all-around game.
Next up, the Wolves will visit the Denver Nuggets. Playing at altitude in the Pepsi Center is never an easy task, but the Nuggets’ injuries and off-season personnel decisions have finally caught up to new coach Bryan Shaw’s crew, and their record sits at 25-33. Tip-off is at 8:00 p.m. CT on Monday evening.