Coming off of two days of rest, the Timberwolves put on a late fourth quarter run which erased a 12 point Jazz lead with just over 4 minutes remaining, forcing the game into overtime. However, The Jazz defense, led by Paul Millsap, proved to be too much for the turnover-prone Timberpups. Utah secured its 16th win at home this season, defeating the T-Wolves 111-105. Paul Millsap recorded a season-high 8 steals to go along with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and most notably was able to effectively slow down Kevin Love due to his impressive defense.
Timberwolves fans had another scare last night when Kevin Love went down in the second half with what appeared to be either a dislocated or broken left thumb, forcing him out of much of the second half. However, the team trainer taped up Love’s thumb and despite the nagging injury, K-Love was able to come back into the game with around 6 minutes remaining, helping to fuel the comeback which forced the contest into extra minutes. The effects of the injury were most apparent on Love’s free throws, as he netted only 5 of his 10 attempts while being noticeably uncomfortable shooting. He finished with 25 points and 16 rebounds, but was only able to convert 9 of his 23 field goal attempts. The strong defense brought on by Millsap and the nagging thumb injury were able to get the best of Love, as he missed a few open three-pointers near the end of regulation that we have become so accustomed to seeing Love nail. Love stated after the game that his thumb is fine, and one has to hope that it has no ill effects on his jump shot and free throws going forward.
It appeared that Michael Beasley was on his way out of Minnesota as the trade deadline came down to the wire, but the Wolves eventually pulled out of trade talks with Portland and the Los Angles Lakers at the last minute in a trade that would have sent Beasley to the Lakers and Jamal Crawford to the Pups. Beasley seemed content with remaining in Minnesota, but was unable to play due to a sore big toe that he injured on Monday in the second half against the Suns. Super Cool Beas was sorely missed, as Minnesota saw limited production out of the small forward position, with both Wes Johnson and Derrick Williams unable to get in a rhythm.
Wes Johnson saw a significant increase in minutes with Beasley out, but was unable to make a statement in 36 minutes of play. Wes had 2 nice blocks and overall played decent defense, but missed several wide-open three-pointers in crucial situations down the stretch. In overtime, Wes hit a few nice open jump shots, but made the bonehead mistake of making one of his shots while stepping on the three-point line in overtime, a mistake that cost the Wolves 1 point in a neck-in-neck ball game. Wes has definitely improved so far in the second half of this season, but still has a lot of room to grow and areas to improve on before he is considered a legitimate starting SF in the NBA.
In the wake of Ricky Rubio’s season ending knee injury, Luke Ridnour continues to elevate his game and give the Wolves great minutes at PG. In 38 minutes, Pop-a-shot scored 18 points on 7-12 shooting while dishing out a season-high 13 assists. Luke brings veteran leadership and intelligence every time he steps onto the court, and he is truly a luxury to have in the backcourt due to his versatility and sweet shooting. Backing up Ridnour, JJ Barea turned the ball over 5 times in 18 minutes and was whining and complaining nearly all game. Barea, frustrated with the referees, continually forced drives into much bigger defenders and was not able to get any fouls called his way. Instead of picking up on the fact that he was not getting calls, he stubbornly kept forcing the issue and ended up being a turnover machine off of the bench.
Center Nikola Pekovic has been a consistent bright spot for the Pups this season, and the rapid improvement of the team can be largely attributed to the big man in the middle. Pek scored 20 points on 7-12 shooting and grabbed 9 rebounds, despite facing a great defensive frontcourt in Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors. When Pek was on the bench, Rick Adelman attempted to go with smaller lineups that included Anthony Randolph and Anthony Tolliver at center, but both players were highly ineffective and were exploited on both ends of the floor. Randolph has gained no noticeable mass or weight since joining the NBA in 2008, and it is the sole factor that is keeping him from being able to finish through traffic. Derrick Favors had his way with Randolph, paving the way for a defensive field day, swatting 4 blocks while grabbing 16 rebounds off of the bench.
As a team, the Wolves inability to get production from their wing players took a large toll on the offense. The Wolves outshot the Jazz 43%-41%, but the Jazz owned the Wolves in second chance points as they grabbed 17 offensive rebounds. The Wolves are still in an adjustment period, as they are learning how to play without Ricky Rubio. They appear to be getting very close to finding their groove without their star PG, and their playoff aspirations largely rest in the hands of Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea. Despite all this, the Pups put together a great run in the fourth quarter and continue to play their best basketball at the end of games, which is a very good sign.
- Key Player: No question about this one, the player of the game goes to Paul Millsap. Playing remarkable defense, Millsap recorded a staggering 8 steals and was a defensive stopper in overtime.
- Key Stat: The Timberwolves committed 17 turnovers compared to only 11 for the Jazz, and the broadcasting of passes helped lead to 13 Utah steals.
Photo Credits: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News