The Timberpups welcomed the return of Michael Beasley, Luke Ridnour and Martell Webster back to the lineup in Friday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs. The Pups were hoping to beat San Antonio for the second straight game in the same season for the first time since 2000. The Timberwolves had won only one of the previous 22 games against the Spurs before 2012. But 2011-12 is a new season, particularly with the arrival of Coach Rick Adelman and point guard Ricky Rubio. The much anticipated question was how the returning players would fit into the Wolves emerging scheme. The Pups were once again slow out of the gate, not scoring their first basket until 3 minutes into the game. Richard Jefferson initially sparked the Spurs making his first four shots, but he missed his last five shots and did not score another point in the game. Michael Beasley entered the game with 4-1/2 minutes left in the first quarter after missing 11 games with a right foot sprain. Beasley did not fit naturally into the Pups’ ball movement, seemingly content to go one-on-one against his defender. They had a good close to the quarter to trail 22-21. Rubio and K-Love each had five first quarter rebounds, Wes Johnson added six points on two dunks and a drive to the basket, and Beasley added four points.
Beasley continued to fire away at the beginning of the second quarter, averaging a shot a minute in his first 6 minutes of play in the game. Rubio’s three pointer gave the Pups their first lead of the game at 34-33. Martell Webster made his first appearance of the game and season and knocked down a three pointer for the Timberwolves, his first three pointer of the year and the Pups’ first three pointer of the night. After a 9-2 run put the Pups in the lead 36-33, they had six straight misses as San Antonio went on a 9-0 run. They shot just 40% for the first half, including just one three-pointer and only seven team assists. The Timberwolves outrebounded San Antonio 23-17 for the half, with K-Love contributing eight boards and Nikola Pekovic seven boards.
The Pups began the third quarter on an 8-2 run, including three straight baskets by Niko. After hitting six of their first seven shots in the third quarter, the Wolves missed their next seven shots. Tony Parker led a Spurs comeback by alternatively scoring on dribble penetrations to the rim and perimeter jump shooting. The Target center crowd was electrified on a Rubio no-look bounce pass down the lane to K-Love for an easy lay-in. The Pups began to pull away, but the Spurs made their last four shots of the quarter to tie the game at 64 after three.
The Spurs began the fourth quarter with a Matt Bonner three to pull ahead 67-64. The Pups then went on a 9-0 run to pull back into the lead, one of 15 lead changes in the game. Derrick Williams scored three big baskets off the bench in the fourth quarter, including a two hand, behind the head slam after scoring the previous possession on a strong move to the basket scoop shot to put the Pups ahead. San Antonio then went on a 10-2 run to go ahead 79-77. Rubio put the Pups ahead 81-79 with two free throws and a long two pointer from the top of the key with 2-1/2 minutes to play, 4 of Ricky’s 9 fourth quarter points. At crunch time, the Wolves showed patience and maturity which were the Spurs’ trademarks by using the clock and moving the ball to get quality shots at the rim and in the paint, while denying the Spurs quality looks. The Timberwolves finished the game with key stops and a 10-0 run to close the game, outscoring the Spurs 23-15 in the fourth quarter. San Antonio scored only one field goal in the last 7 minutes of the game. The Spurs’ 79 total points was their lowest game total of the season, and 20 points below their game average.
The returning players gave the Pups’ starters much-needed minutes of rest. In their last game against Dallas, Rubio played 46 minutes, K-Love 43 minutes and Ellington 39 minutes. Tonight, Rubio played 42 minutes, K-Love 38 minutes, and Ellington 18 minutes. Nikola Pekovic gave a large contribution tonight, and scored 14 points on 7-13 shooting with 10 rebounds, including six offensive rebounds. K-Love scored 18 points on 6-13 shooting, with 14 rebounds. Rubio scored 18 points on 7-12 shooting, with 10 assists and four rebounds. The Pups committed only nine turnovers tonight which is a large indicator of the amount of change this team has endured this season. Derrick Williams contributed 12 points on 6-10 shooting in 19 minutes, and Beasley scored seven points on 3-11 shooting in 22 minutes. Anthony Randolph was scoreless in 5 minutes of relatively ineffective play.
A looming question is whether Michael Beasley will be able to fit into the emerging Pups’ system. I detected a crowd moan during a tight moment in the fourth quarter when Beasley received the ball and prepared to execute a one-on-everyone move. The offensive movement often stopped when Beasley received the ball. Beasley was not on the floor when the Pups closed the game with defensive stops and offensive passing which gave the Pups shots at the rim or in the paint. He also did not appear to be sharing the crowd’s and players’ excitement when the game was locked up in the closing seconds. While everyone in the arena looked excited, including David Kahn standing up and clapping his hands, Beasley showed little emotion and a flat facial expression.
Friday’s game was a tremendous win for the Pups over a long-time nemesis. The Pups have now won the season’s series against both the Mavericks and the Spurs, a notion which was inconceivable during the Pups’ 17-65 season last year. The Pups will have another good home test on Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers. The team and its fans gave every indication tonight that they will be pumped up and ready to go against a Lakers team which lacks some of the youthful energy which the Pups now possess. A win over the Lakers would move the Pups to 10-10 and a season winning percentage of .500, a remarkable feat given the strength of the Pups’ early-season competition and the shortened preseason following the lockout.
Three Stars of the Game:
1. Ricky Rubio: 18 points and 10 assists.
2. Kevin Love: 18 points and 16 rebounds.
3. Nikola Pekovic: 14 points and 10 rebounds.