Coming off a 19-point loss in Toronto last night, the Minnesota Timberwolves played the latter of a back-to-back road trip in the sparkling new $1 billion Barclays Center in Brooklyn and came back from a 22-point second-half deficit to defeat the new-look Nets 107-96. The Timberpups offseason additions played crucial roles in fueling the comeback, and the Wolves went on to outscore the Nets 32-10 in the game-defining fourth quarter.
Minnesota’s offensive and defensive struggles were on full display in the first half as the Pups trailed Brooklyn 62-47 after the first half of play. The Wolves allowed the Nets to shoot an absurd 60% FG including 8-13 (62%) from beyond the arc in the first-half alone. Deron Williams led the charge for the revamped Nets with 8 first-half assists while 11 different Nets players scored. The Timberwolves did a much better job of limiting turnovers than they did the previous night in Toronto, but only knocked down 19 of 43 shot attempts (44%) including a miserable 1-8 from three-point range. Things got worse in the third quarter as these trends continued out of the break, but the Wolves found a spark nearing the culmination of the third quarter.
After suffering a mild concussion last night, JJ Barea was able to pass the necessary NBA-mandated concussion tests before the game and was very effective in the second half. Despite recording a modest line of 6 points and 6 assists in just over 29 minutes of action, Barea did a great job of game management in the fourth quarter and was very smart with his passes and shot selection.
Luke Ridnour once again got the start for the Wolves at PG, and had the toughest matchup of the night opposite perennial All-Star Deron Williams. Ridnour simply does not possess the physicality to stay in front of the shifty-strong Williams, and D-Will did a very good job of chipping away at Ridnour. Deron was able to consistently penetrate the lane and had multiple options sitting on the perimeter ready for open three-point attempts, of which the Nets converted at an extremely high rate through 3 quarters of play. However, Rick Adelman made an excellent second-half adjustment by putting the 6-foot-6 Alexey Shved on Williams on the defensive end, and Shved did just enough to slow down the superstar point guard.
Three cheers for the Russian combo of Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved tonight, as both were significant keys to the Wolves comeback victory. To begin, AK-47 played the most complete game of any player to step on the court tonight, as he was able to keep the team breathing even in the midst of their enormous third-quarter deficit. Kirilenko finished with another fabulous stat line of 16 points (7-11 FG), 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 blocks and 1 steal in nearly 33 minutes on the court. Kirilenko continues to use the ball-fake to perfection, consistently keeping his defender off balance and gaining enough separation to effectively drive past his opponent to create scoring opportunities for himself as well as his fellow teammates. As long as AK-47 is healthy, he is worth his $10 million price tag.
Alexey Shved made two clutch three-pointers down the stretch for the Wolves and played a great game in the primetime. Shved ended with 10 points, 3 assists and 2 rebounds while really coming into his own at the end of the game. He was not scared of firing off pull-up threes and it proved to be beneficial for the team. I wonder if AK-47 and Shved were motivated by the desire to defeat fellow Russian Mikhail Prokhorov – the very man who tried signing both of them this offseason. I’ll let you decide that one.
Nikola Pekovic established himself on the low block early and exploited Brook Lopez’s poor post defense throughout the game. The Nets tried bringing double teams at Pek, but he did a very good job at seeing the court and was able to escape Brooklyn’s attempts to slow him down. With virtually no perimeter option to look to as a second option, Pek was virtually Minnesota’s only offensive option throughout much of the first half, and his 17 points on 7-9 shooting was one of the only things keeping this game from getting out of hand in the first half.
Pek continued his post dominance in the second half and we were even able to witness how much better he has gotten at running the floor, which is a testament to all of the hard work and conditioning the big center endured over the offseason. Pekovic finished with 21 points on 9-14 shooting while grabbing 7 boards.
Despite facing a 22-point deficit in the third quarter, the Timberpups did not go gently into the dark. Andrei Kirilenko fueled a Wolves run near the end of the third quarter and the Pups were able to cut the Nets lead to 86-75 heading into the last quarter of play.
From that point on, the momentum completely shifted in the Pups favor and Minnesota was able to gain their second lead of the game – the first lead of which was early in the first quarter – with 4:30 left in the fourth quarter. The Pups set the tone defensively and held Brooklyn to only 96 points after allowing 62 first-half points on their way to their second win of the season and first win on the road.
Enough cannot be said about the importance of Dante Cunningham and Chase Budinger tonight and in the second half especially. Cunningham was fierce on the low block and played remarkable defense, shutting down both Kris Humphries and even the 7-foot Brook Lopez. The 6-foot-8 Villanova graduate was extremely active on the offensive and defensive glass and was able to be very aggressive while not committing unnecessary fouls. It has only been three games, but I am absolutely sold on the Cunningham for Wayne Ellington deal. Cunningham was +18 on the court and logged his first double-double as a Pup of 11 points and 11 rebounds in 26 minutes of play.
Budinger had by far his best performance as a Pup and was very good at moving without the ball and creating options for his teammates. Budinger is at his best when he is attacking the glass and filling openings on the perimeter for his driving teammates to look to, and he did just that tonight. His shot was falling and he looked very composed on the floor at the end of the game, which is something I could never say about Michael Beasley. I should not fail to mention that C-Bud played tremendous defense down the stretch and was apart of a total team effort on that particular end of the floor. The Arizona product ended the night with 16 points (7-10 FG) and 6 rebounds.
After failing to convert on a field goal in 22 minutes last night, Brandon Roy played better – but not by much – and was mainly a neutral force in this game. Even before his knee problems, Roy has always been a subject defender, and when matched up against 6-foot-7 Joe Johnson he definitely had his work cut out for him. Even so, Roy did a nice job as a distributor on the offensive end and logged 7 dimes to go with his 6 points (3-7 FG).
Tonight’s win is a true display of just how much this team changed over one offseason, and how the subtraction of a few players and addition of high-energy, fundamentally-focused team players can dynamically change a team. Coming back from 22 points in a tough, New York atmosphere to win by double-digits is something that I honestly could not have predicted from the Timberwolves. But perhaps I was wrong about this team possessing enough firepower and guts to do what previous Timberwolves teams could not do, which is winning without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. And for that we all owe a big thanks to Rick Adelman – and ya, even David Kahn… a little bit. The Wolves are now set to host Orlando on Wednesday, and here are my three stars of tonight’s game:
- Andrei Kirilenko
- Dante Cunningham
- Chase Budinger