It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win. After leading the Los Angeles Clippers by 15 points during the first half, the Timberpups nearly blew their chance to knock off the Clips for their third time in the third matchup this season. Up 95-92 with 4 seconds left to play and the Clippers inbounding at half court, head coach Rick Adelman frantically yelled to his team, “Don’t foul!” However, Derrick Williams learned a rookie lesson as he ran straight into Chris Paul on his three-point attempt, sending one of the best free throw shooters in the league to the line with a chance to tie the game. Luck was certainly on the Pups side, as Chris Paul sank his first two free throws but left the third off the front of the rim, securing a 95-94 T-Wolves win at home. With last night’s win, the Wolves improved to 20-19 on the season and are 11-10 at home, finally over the .500 mark at the Target Center.
After leading the Clippers by as many as 15 in the first half, the Wolves went into halftime with just a 45-44 lead. A big story of the night was the loss of starting center Nikola Pekovic, who missed last night’s game due to a sore foot. In his place, Darko Milicic played a very good game and defended Blake Griffin respectably throughout the contest. Darko scored 13 points on 6-7 shooting and possessed a team-high +/- of +12. Coach Adelman has utilized individual matchups to perfection this season, and Darko has really thrived when matching up against Blake Griffin, having enjoyed three very good games against the Clippers this season.
After a 42-point outburst in Portland, Kevin Love brought his dominant play into the Target Center and yet again outperformed Blake Griffin in a matchup of the NBA’s top PFs. K-Love was red-hot all game, and saved his best for the final stretch as he nailed shot after shot when the Pups needed it most. He was nothing short of a closer last night, and the tremendous growth of his game from last season to now is absolutely tremendous. Love hit 5 of his 10 three-point attempts, catching-and-shooting over defenders and needing very little space to get a shot off. He also utilized the ball fake extremely well, catching the ball on the perimeter, shot-faking to get his man in the air and powering his way to the hole while finishing with soft touch. K-Love finished with 39 points on 13-25 shooting and grabbed 17 rebounds. On the other side of the PF battle, Blake Griffin recorded 26 points and 16 rebounds, but shot a dire 6-13 from the free throw line, with many of his missed free throws coming in the final 5 minutes of the game. When these two players are on the same court, Griffin’s very limited game is exposed as Love scores many of his points off of three-pointers, mid-range jumpers, and free throws, whereas Griffin struggles in all three of these areas. The Blake Show may get the fan vote to start in the All-Star game, but there is little question that K-Love is the NBA’s top PF.
In another tough matchup against Chris Paul, Ricky Rubio struggled to shoot the ball but contributed positively for the Pups. Rubio brought great hustle and distributed the ball well in a performance where statistics cannot tell the story. Tricky Ricky was battered and bruised all night, getting no calls his way and ending up on the floor countless times. He did not mope and complain, but instead hustled for loose balls, grabbed offensive rebounds to keep plays alive, and worked his tail off to set up teammates with open shots. He played great defense on Chris Paul, holding him to 18 points on 5-14 shooting. The intangibles that Ricky brings to the Timberwolves are impossible to overlook, and he continues to help win games even when he is not at his best statistically. Rubio’s shooting slump is sure to end sooner or later, but as long as he is doing his job as a point guard and contributing on the defensive end there is nothing more we really need out of the PG position. The Spanish Sensation ended with 4 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds.
The Timberwolves as a team shot 11-28 (40%) from three-point range and have really improved their three-point shooting thus far in the second half of the season. Along with Love’s 5 three-pointers, Derrick Williams added 3 first half threes and netted all 15 of his points in the first half. D-Will got in a rhythm from the start of the game, getting set up by Rubio for many open shots, but in the second half Williams was unable to find a rhythm and disappeared. D-Will finished with 15 points and 9 rebounds in 25 minutes.
Despite only playing 19 minutes, Michael Beasley was crucial to last night’s victory. Super Cool Beas had 9 of the teams first 10 points in the fourth quarter and carried the team offensively when not much was going right. Beasley hit a few very difficult, contested shots that we must not allow ourselves to take for granted. So many times during this season, Beasley has come into games and provided instant offense, creating something out of nothing. It is easy to rip on Beas for his lack of concentration, intensity, and overall defense, but the fact is that the Timberwolves have something that no other team in the NBA has: a player that can score at will coming off of the BENCH. Timberwolves management needs to be very smart about what they do with Beasley, for if he is traded the Pups may not realize their mistake until it is too late.
Other than Beasley and D-Will, the T-Wolves bench was quiet last night. Martell Webster and JJ Barea both received minutes but together they combined for 0 points on 0-9 shooting. Luke Ridnour got the start at SG again tonight and played efficiently, scoring 12 points and possessing a +6 in 40 minutes. Wes Johnson performed his “vanishing act” and scored 3 points in 25 minutes.
Key Player: With his performance tonight, K-Love became the FIRST player in NBA history to record back-to-back games of at least 35 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 three-pointers in each game. Love now has more 30 point-10 rebound games this season than Lebron James, Dwight Howard, and Kevin Durant COMBINED.
Key Stat: The Clippers were 21-32 from the free throw line in a game they lost by 1 point. They are going to need to learn how to capitalize on easy points if they are going to be taken seriously as a contender in the Western Conference.