No Love, no problem. The Timberwolves knocked off the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night 86-84 and improved to 13-12 on the season. Kevin Love sat out the first of his two game suspension, but the Timberpups pair of international draft picks picked up the slack in his stead. Playing at home tonight, the Wolves blew a 15 point second half lead and nearly lost on the last shot of the game as Donte Green’s corner three-pointer nearly went in as time expired.
Ricky Rubio was truly sensational tonight and tied his career high of 14 assists, meanwhile recording 6 points, 6 rebounds and 5 steals in 36 minutes. Rubio dished out an impressive 8 assists in the opening quarter, but Sacramento dialed up the defensive pressure and was able to slow him down a bit down the stretch. Tricky Ricky was dominant defensively tonight and each time he came out of the game the Pups were nowhere near as effective on both sides of the ball.
The best performance of the night goes to big Nikola Pekovic, who scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season. With Darko missing another game due to a bruised thigh, Pekovic had his way on the low post with Demarcus Cousins, Jason Thompson, and Chuck Hayes, getting inside position with ease and mixing up his post moves to perfection. Pek was able to navigate through double teams and is establishing himself as a truly dominant center over the past five games. Jack Sikma’s work with Pekovic this season cannot go overlooked and he deserves much credit for bringing out the best from our favorite Montenegrin. Pek shot 9-12 from the field and 5-5 from the free throw line.
After receiving a two game suspension for stepping on the face of Luis Scola, Kevin Love sat out and Derrick Williams got the start at PF, enjoying a nice game overall. D-Will nailed a clutch three pointer in the final minutes to put the Wolves ahead 86-83, proving to be the play that decided the contest. Williams scored 14 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in 25 minutes of play, but his free throw shooting (3-8) left many fans at the Target Center shaking their heads. For a guy who shot 57% from three-point range in college, 3-8 from the free throw line is absolutely unacceptable. In order to keep getting minutes from a veteran coach in Rick Adelman, Williams is going to have to improve from his 64% free throw shooting. Not to overlook the positives, D-Will is a tremendous athlete, player, and person, and I really enjoyed watching him have success tonight.
After scoring 8 points in the first quarter, Luke Ridnour really struggled the rest of the way and failed to record a point after the first quarter. His missed open mid-range jumpers in transition were really tough for the team, and Pop-a-shot needs to put this one in his rear view. On the other side of the matchup, Marcus Thornton exploded for 22 points and was red-hot in the second half, fueling a big comeback that nearly culminated in a big comeback win for the second night in a row. After coming back from 18 points last night to win against New Orleans, the Kings nearly came back from 15 tonight, but Green’s three at the buzzer clanked off the rim.
After a great first half, the Timberwolves really struggled on defense in the second half. Their transition defense is undeniably bad and it is mainly due to a lack of effort running down the court on defense. They also shot 18-28 (64.3%) from the free throw line, and at this stage in the season they need to begin to lock down on their basic fundamentals. K-Love’s free throw shooting was noticeably missed and they are going to have to really concentrate on easy point opportunities going forward.
Michael Beasley brought out the bad side of his game and had a game to forget, despite scoring 17 points and snagging 14 rebounds. Beasley shot just 7-21 from the field and took too many long mid-range jump shots that we thought he was done shooting. On the low post, Beasley continues to struggle this season and refuses to try for high percentage shots, instead choosing contested fade-aways. Beasley needs to get his head back into the game and start to attack the hoop, letting his jump shot follow.
Anthony Randolph, Wayne Ellington, and Martell Webster all did not play tonight, and it really confuses me as to why Anthony Tolliver is seeing minutes but AR-15 is not. Tolliver had a brutal game recording as many turnovers as points. Tolliver’s got the edge on defense, but Randolph is a completely better offensive player and does not turn the ball over as much as Tolliver. Randolph’s chemistry with Rubio has helped fuel large offensive runs this season, while Tolliver’s late turnovers contributed to the Kings late 4th quarter run tonight.
All in all, tonight was a good victory for the Pups. Although they did not plan for it to be as close as it was, they pulled out a tight game down the stretch. The Wolves now have a winning record and look to go 2-0 without K-Love tomorrow night in Memphis.
Key Player: I am not being a biased Timberwolves fan when I say that Nikola Pekovic was truly dominant tonight. He uses every one of his 290 pounds of solid muscle to completely defeat his opponents and is getting smarter about fouling, contributing to him seeing more minutes. If Pek can keep it up, the Timberwolves could boast one of the best frontcourts in the NBA when K-Love returns.
Key Stat: 18-28 for the Timberpups from the free throw line tonight. If the Pups are going to seriously contend for a playoff spot this season they had better figure out their woes at the charity strike and focus on scoring points given to them.