Wow. This was the most entertaining game of the season, no questions asked.
Despite several Wolvesy moments where it all could have easily came crashing down, the good guys hung in it. It took some uncharacteristically bad turnovers from James and his Heat teammates down the stretch and some missed wide-open jumpers to help Minnesota hang around.
Early in the game, the Wolves looked like they were about to be left in the dust by the two-time defending champion Heat, but the visitors closed the first half on a 10-0 run and shot out of the locker room with another burst of scoring and solid defense. Spanning the break, Minnesota went on an 18-2 run to build a small lead early in the third quarter.
The Wolves were able to carry a two-point lead into the fourth quarter, despite limited contributions to that point from Kevin Love. The outside shot was not falling for the Timberwolves’ superstar, starting the tilt 0 for 6 from the three-point arc, and Chris Bosh was simply not giving him any room to operate.
To Ricky Rubio and J.J. Barea’s credit, they were able to get Love the ball in the paint towards the latter part of the third quarter and into the fourth quarter, which was able to a) keep the Wolves in the game and b) get Love more involved in the offense, which ended up playing a huge part in both overtimes.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Wolves held a one-point lead with about thirty seconds left. A Chase Budinger turnover gave LeBron a fast-break to win the game with a matter of seconds left. After a non-call on what could have been a charge drawn by Rubio, the officials correctly called a blocking foul on J.J. Barea, sending Mario Chalmers to the free throw line with under four seconds on the clock in regulation.
Chalmers only made one of two shots, and Love had a three-pointer go halfway down and pop out to send the game to overtime tied at 97.
The first overtime was a ton of back-and-forth, and the final seconds played out nearly identically to the end of regulation: LeBron truck-sticked Rubio with no call made, and Chalmers was gifted a trip to the free throw line with a chance to win the game with 1.9 seconds on the clock. Again, he missed the first shot and made the second, and Love missed an impossible shot over a double-team at the buzzer.
In the second overtime, the Wolves finally overcame. Budinger and Love both hit big shots as they did in the first overtime, and Love made a great pass to Brewer out of a double-team that led to a tough foul on Norris Cole under the basket. Brewer made the first of two free throws, and a tough fadeaway from Ray Allen (defended by Love on a switch) fell harmlessly off the rim at the final horn.
Early in the game, the Heat’s best shooters missed an array of open three-pointers. From Rashard Lewis to Ray Allen, the Wolves dodged a number of deadly bullets from James’ compadres on the perimeter. Late in the game, the officiating got a little wacky, with zero fouls called on the Heat for a large chunk of the fourth quarter and overtime, and the Wolves were able to avoid letting that get to them, too.
Rubio was fantastic and consistently the best player on the floor for the Wolves throughout the contest. He finished with 13 points on 5 of 9 shooting with 14 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals in 46 minutes. He defended Cole and Toney Douglas for extended periods of time, and the two heat guards combined to shoot just 1 of 9 from the floor and score 2 points with just 4 assists. He was also a huge pest to LeBron on switches and double-teams late in the game, and caused more than a couple turnovers that he didn’t necessarily lead to being credited with a steal.
Love struggled for much of the game and ultimately only shot 11 of 27 from the floor and 2 of 9 from long range. He pulled down 11 rebounds and dished 2 assists, and ended up guarding the likes of James, Allen, and Mario Chalmers at various points down the stretch and largely played solid defense.
Budinger had his best game of the season, dropping 24 points on 7 of 9 shooting, including 5 of 7 from deep. He was fantastic, and it’s the kind of breakout game that Wolves fans have been waiting for since January. The two-headed monster of Gorgui Dieng and Ronny Turiaf at center was very good, too, with Dieng doing damage early and Turiaf holding the spot down for much of the late stages of the game.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Corey Brewer also did a very good job guarding LeBron throughout the game, with Mbah a Moute playing much of the fourth quarter and the first 1 1/2 overtimes before fouling out. Brewer somehow managed to keep his gambling ways to a minimum, and was a positive contributor on the evening.
Unfortunately, the Wolves were also mathematically eliminated from the playoffs tonight, but it was also inevitable. Next up is a quick turnaround in Orlando on Saturday night for a date with the Magic. Tip-off is at 6:00 CT.