If you would have given me 10,000 to 1 odds on Corey Brewer scoring 51 points in a professional basketball game, at any point in his career, I would have hesitated for more than a moment. And if someone offers you 10,000 to 1 odds on anything, you take it.
News came down right before tip-off that Kevin Love would miss the contest due to the hyper-extended elbow suffered on Wednesday night. At that point, with no Love, no Nikola Pekovic, no Kevin Martin, no Shabazz Muhammad, no Chase Budinger….well, it seemed like the game would be a lost cause.
But Brewer had a few (51, in fact) things to say about that assumption. Yes, he still alternated between looking like a Tasmanian devil and a stumbling drunk. On defense, he was his gambling self, only extra-caffeinated. And Friday night, his risky and often costly act paid off.
Early in the game, Brewer and Ricky Rubio had their hands in the passing lanes and in the pockets of the Houston offensive players, and did a multitude of damage in the open floor. Brewer’s whirling dervish act was even working in the half court early on, allowing him to post 13 points by the midway point of the opening frame.
It was an impressive and important start for the Wolves, and they took a 39-32 lead into the second quarter. Despite a 12-2 run that spanned late in the first quarter and into the second, the Wolves kept scoring two-point buckets while the Rockets poured in threes, per their Modus operandi.
During Corey Brewer’s second quarter rest, the Wolves lost the lead for a short period of time (sounds weird, doesn’t it?), and the game was somewhat of a see-saw battle for the second half of the frame. J.J. Barea failed to run the second unit with any real efficiency, and only played decent minutes when on the floor in tandem with Rubio. Brewer hit a contested heave from beyond half-court with James Harden’s hand in his face to give him 26 points at the break and pull the Wolves to within a 63-59 score.
The third quarter was an entertaining see-saw battle as well, with Houston taking a 84-82 lead into the final frame after a James Harden buzzer-beating three-pointer to give the Rockets the advantage. Brewer continued his personal onslaught, finishing the third quarter with 36 points.
Despite being largely a parade of free throws, the fourth quarter was some of the most entertaining basketball the Wolves have played this year, especially sans their superstar power forward. The defense of Gorgui Dieng and Ricky Rubio and a steady overall offensive game all-around by the Wolves kept the Wolves even with the Rockets and the close-and-late game situation pendulum continued to swing back towards the norm.
In a two-point game with under a minute left, Dieng it a huge 20-foot jumper off of a pick-and-pop with the shot clock winding down. After a Harden layup on the other end, Rubio hit one of two free throws to give Minnesota a 108-105 lead with 23.8 second remaining. After a timeout, Brewer overplayed the in-bounds and double-teamed Harden nearly forty feet from the basket. Parsons cut to the basket and converted a dunk to bring the Rockets to within 108-107 with 19.9 seconds remaining.
Rubio made two huge free throws to give the Wolves another three-point lead, but after another timeout, James Harden drained a game-tying three pointer with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute in his face. The Wolves came straight down the court and ran a pick-and-roll with Dieng and Rubio. Dieng slipped the screen, Rubio lofted a high pass into the middle of the lane that forced Dieng to reach up and catch the ball off-balance. Dieng allowed his momentum to carry him away and lofted a high-arcing, off-balance jumper from just over ten feet away that swished beautifully through the twine.
Houston was out of timeouts, and as Harden crossed half-court he lost control of the ball and it rolled around harmlessly among a pile of diving players as the final horn sounded. The Wolves mobbed Dieng at center court, and an impressive victory was sealed.
The Wolves only used eight players on Friday night, reminiscent of the short bench that Rick Adelman utilized with his dominate Sacramento Kings squads of the early 2000’s. Six players were on the court for 27 minutes or more, with Ronny Turiaf incurring foul trouble and only logging 8 minutes of playing time, while Barea played a poor 11 minutes.
Brewer played a team-high 45 minutes, with Dante Cunningham on the court for 42 minutes and Rubio playing 40. Everyone played well to some degree. In addition to the game-winner, Dieng posted 12 points and 20 rebounds, also pitching in 3 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks in 38 minutes of play. Rubio shot just 5 of 16 and had an uncharacteristic 6 turnovers in putting up 16 points and 10 assists.
Cunningham put up 20 points, 13 rebounds, and 3 blocks of his own while starting in the place of Love. The offense had impressive spacing and decent synergy throughout the evening, and the defense clamped down significantly after halftime and the barrage of long three-pointers that the Rockets rained down in the second frame.
It was yet another in an alternating string of impressive victories in recent memory, and more positive reinforcement for the squad that Flip Saunders and Adelman have assembled, despite closing out what has been a disappointing and somewhat statistically unlucky campaign. Here’s hoping there isn’t too much fool’s gold in the recent play, and that Saunders is still able to evaluate potential needs and tweaks moving forward (i.e. back-up guard play, perimeter shooting, and perimeter defense).
We’ll have plenty of posts moving forward focusing on potential off-season movement and possibilities for the Wolves. Even though the salary cap is relatively chock-full with mid-level and lengthy contracts, it feels as though Saunders will feel the need to be creative to ensure that his superstar stays in Minneapolis.
Next up is a road contest on Monday night at Sacramento, followed by an exceedingly difficult tilt in Golden State on Monday night, hopefully with Kevin Love. We’ll have some pre-game thoughts prior to tip-off at 8:00 p.m. CT, and game reaction back here afterwards.