The Minnesota Timberwolves entered Wednesday’s game against the Utah Jazz hoping to even their season record at 17-17 before the All-Star break. The winner of tonight’s game would be at the .500 mark going into the All-Star break. The loser would occupy the basement of the Northwest Division of the NBA’s Western Conference.
Utah came to the Target Center winning only 3 of its last 12 outings. The Timberpups scored the game’s first field goal, but then missed nine straight shots to fall behind 10-2. It seems that the Pups might need a new pregame speech before their home games. Instead of telling the team to “Go for the throat,” it seems that the pregame speech has told them to “Go for the jugular”. The first quarter was another painful 12 minutes of low energy, subpar basketball for the T-Wolves.
The Wolves fell behind 25-11 on 3 of 19 shooting before trailing 27-15 after one quarter. 24 of the Jazz’s 27 points were in the paint. At the end of the first quarter, the Wolves had hit only 4 of 21 from the field (19%), including 0 of 4 on threes. The Pups did lead the Jazz 5-0 in turnovers. K-Love was 2 of 7 shooting, and Nikola Pekovic was 0 for 5.
The Wolves’ woes continued in the second quarter. The Pups fell behind 39-21 before Ricky Rubio lead an 8-0 scoring run. But as was the case for 3-1/2 quarters tonight, when the Pups rallied, Utah answered. The Pups could not continue to close the gap, shooting 12 of 39 on field goals in the first half (30.8 %) as they trailed 49-37 at the half. JJ Barea was the only Pup to score three field goals in the first half, and no Pup scored in double digits. K-Love was 2-9 on field goals, and Pek was 0-7.
No worries, though, as the Wolves lead the NBA in winning games when down by 10 points or more at halftime. They had done so 10 times before tonight’s game. That is both good news and bad news.
The Wolves went on a 15-6 run to draw to 55-52 early in the third quarter. Utah then went on a 10-0 run and a 19-8 run in the third quarter to quiet the home crowd, leading 76-64 at the end of the third quarter. Utah scored on six of its last eight possessions in the quarter. Wesley Johnson and JJ Barea helped the Pups stay in the game. K-Love was only 3 of 13 shooting after three quarters, as Utah continued to own the paint.
The Wolves began the fourth quarter sluggishly, and trailed by 15 points with eight minutes to play. The Pups then awakened the home crowd by going on a 17-4 run to pull to within 89-87. JJ Barea lead the charge, including five of six on three pointers. Derrick Williams made two clutch baskets, including an and-one, and two free throws, in the closing minutes to give the Wolves their first lead (94- 93) since their first basket of the game . The Wolves did not aid their cause by missing 11 of 38 free throws. Ricky Rubio made only one of six free throws.
The game came to a thrilling end on a Luke Ridnour floater down the lane at the buzzer to win 100-98. The Pups closed on a 30-13 run and outscored Utah 36-21 in the fourth quarter. The Wolves battled back from an 18 point deficit to win, the largest deficit of the year which they overcame to win.
JJ Barea lead the second-half charge with 22 points, including 7-12 shooting and 5 of 6 on threes. Luke Ridnour added 17 points on 5-10 shooting. Each showed poise and leadership in willing the Wolves to the win. D-Will added 13 points and 9 rebounds in only 20 minutes of play, including the clutch field goals and free throws down the stretch. Wesley Johnson added 9 points, 4 rebounds and effective defense in 20 minutes of play.
K-Love was a non-factor again against the Jazz, a team that he has historically had trouble against. He had a very quiet 10 point, 10 rebound game on 3 of 14 shooting. K-Love and Pek (15 points on 3-11 shooting with 12 rebounds in 29 minutes) took leaves-of-absence in the second half. Ricky Rubio was also a non-factor tonight, scoring 7 points on 2 of 7 shooting, with only 6 assists, committing 6 turnovers, and missing 5 of 6 free throws. Tricky Ricky warmed the bench during the Pups’ stretch run lead by Barea and Ridnour. Darko Milicic contributed 4 minutes of no-energy, no-effort, no-results play. Regrettably, there seems be little drive (or pride) left in Darko’s motor.
This was a great win for the Pups after trailing by double digits for the majority of the game. The Pups enter the All Star break with a .500 record (17-17), while matching their win total for the entire 2010-2011 season, when the team went 17-65. This year’s team is coming from behind to win games in the second half, rather than finding different ways to surrender leads and lose games. The second half of the lockout-shortened season should prove very interesting and exciting for the Pups, who are now within reach of a Western Conference playoff spot.