He’s back! In a surprise activation for Wednesday’s home contest against the Denver Nuggets, Kevin Love was cleared to play by Timberwolves training personnel and stunned the home crowd by starting a game weeks ahead of his return schedule. Wearing a protective black glove on his right shooting hand, K-Love gave the fans plenty of reasons to cheer as he posted a remarkable 34 points (12-25 FG) and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes of play. However, Love’s heroics were not enough to put away a feisty Nuggets squad, and the Timberpups were unable to hold onto a 14-point halftime lead, ultimately falling by a score of 101-94.
The return of Love was enough to overshadow the fact that the Wolves blew a big first-half lead and lost a game at home that they definitely should have had. The glove on Love’s shooting hand appeared to slightly inhibit his ability to shoot, as displayed by his 2-9 3FG and his 8-14 from the free throw line. As his hand continues to gain strength, we should see the same K-Love we know from behind the arc and at the charity stripe, and it is truly a Thanksgiving blessing that an estimated mid-December return was transformed into a November 21st return.
Free throw shooting played a key part to the outcome of this game. Both teams were nearly deadlocked in all team statistical categories, except for free throws. Denver converted on 22 of their 26 opportunities, while Minnesota only saw 16 of their 25 attempts fall. In a game that was separated by only a few points until Minnesota’s last minute foul frenzy, free throws played a huge difference maker in deciding the winner of this one.
The other big storyline from Wednesday night involved Derrick Williams, who received his first did not play-coach’s decision of the season. Williams, who previously was the team’s starting PF until Love rejoined the team, amazingly did not see the court once and appears to have completely fallen out of favor with head coach Rick Adelman. What this means going forward is very unclear, as D-Will is still only a tender 21 years of age and has flashed moments of brilliance from time to time in his young career. Dissecting this situation from the perspective of Coach Adelman, it is clear that he has had enough of dealing with the game-immature Williams and is focusing on winning now, with little to no focus on long-term prospects of this team. The implications of this are both exciting and terrifying, given that a successful team should maintain a healthy balance of veterans and young, talented kids who can someday replace the veterans who have less than five years of NBA years left. The one thing that I will say about Derrick is that from everything that I know and have learned about him, he appears to have a very good head on his shoulders and has displayed great work ethic and devotion to the game. At the same time, he is an extremely gifted player and possesses talent that very few others have. Because of this, I believe that if he continues to work extremely hard and is not a risk to be an off-the-court distraction (aka Michael Beasley), he will ultimately find his way in the NBA and will be a very good player if given the appropriate time. How often does one witness a hyper-talented, good-hearted person devote themselves completely to something and fail? If one is to fail at something they are completely and utterly competent at doing, it generally lies in external factors, as we have seen with Beasley’s pot smoking.
Andrei Kirilenko, who has been the heart and soul of the Timberwolves thus far, had a relatively quiet night and saw a decreased role in the offense with the addition of Love. In 35 minutes, AK-47 scored just 7 points (2-7 FG) and had 8 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 assists and was a -1 on the floor. The Nuggets did a very good job of guarding AK, as they gave him an extra step on the perimeter to protect against his tremendous shot-fake which he had thus far used to perfection in order to blow past defenders.
The other member of the Wolves starting frontcourt, Nikola Pekovic, was also ultimately ineffective against a quicker a more dynamic Kenneth Faried. The Nuggets did an excellent job of making adjustments at halftime and went with quicker and more versatile defensive matchups against the big bruiser on the low block.
The Pups starting backcourt had a very inefficient night on the offensive end, as starters Luke Ridnour and Malcolm Lee combined to shoot a miserable 4-16 from the field. Backups Alexey Shved and JJ Barea did not fair much better, as they shot a combined 7-21 from the field. Barea, who also made his return from a nagging ankle injury on Wednesday night, made 4 three-pointers (which is the most for any individual Pup this season), but was out of control at times and did not do a proper job of running the offense. Caught in a chippy matchup with Ty Lawson, he and Barea went back and forth exchanging offensive fouls and at times it seemed as if the two players were so caught up in their individual matchup that they failed to see the other 9 players on the court. The bigger and stronger Lawson ultimately got the better of the matchup, and it is disappointing to see the veteran Barea allow his emotions to once again dictate the way he operates on the floor. Barea ended with 12 points (4-12 FG), 3 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 turnovers while Shved finished with 8 points (3-9 FG), 3 assists, and 2 rebounds.
When it comes down to it, Denver won this game in the post as they caught Minnesota defenders failing to box out on the weak side and took full advantage of their second chance opportunities in the second half. The Nuggets as a team outshot the Pups by 6% FG and were able to steal a divisional matchup on the road. However, there is no need to fret about last night as Love is only going to get his hand stronger and improved conditioning, and hopefully in only a few weeks we will have our starting PG in Ricky Rubio back. Happy Thanksgiving Pups fans, and here are my three stars of the game:
- Ty Lawson
- Kevin Love
- Andre Igoudala