These Timberwolves know how to battle through adversity. With the news that Kevin Love may be facing season-ending surgery on his injured right wrist surfacing in the media, the Wolves battled past the 20-12 Atlanta Hawks 108-103 backed by strong offensive performances by Nikola Pekovic, Andrei Kirilenko and Derrick Williams. With Rick Adelman missing the game due to personal reasons, Terry Porter coached the Timberpups in a decisive victory that rejuvenated Target Center fans in need of a lift.
Atlanta presented favorable matchups for Minnesota, as the Hawks’ offense is heavily dependent on three-point shooting and struggles in the interior. Luckily for the Pups, Atlanta turned the ball over 15 times to only 9 by Minnesota.
This game was won on the low block, where the Wolves scored nearly half of their total points (50) in the paint. The Hawks saw strong offensive performances from both Josh Smith and Al Horford, but received only 12 points from their second unit frontcourt. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s bigs led by Pekovic, Kirilenko and Williams did work in the half-court offense while Dante Cunningham and Greg Stiemsma provided excellent interior defense in 27 and 13 minutes, respectively.
A statistic that pops out to me is the Timberwolves 29 assists as a team on 40 made field goals, exclipsing their season average of 21 assists per game by 8. This is not meant to be a knock on K-Love, but the fact remains that the ball tends to move much quicker laterally without Love’s one-on-one offensive mindset on the floor. Obviously, this team misses Love’s versatility and ability to score one-on-one, but it is very nice to see this offense clicking through effective cutting and ball movement. Ricky Rubio led the team with 8 assits and Alexey Shved notched 7 dimes.
One may not have noticed from watching the game, but the Hawks actually out-rebounded the Pups 44-43 despite coming into the game as one of the worst rebounding teams in the league. Granted, many of their boards were the result of long rebounds of missed three-point attempts, but K-Love’s absence in the paint was definitely felt by Minnesota.
Entering the game as the worst three-point shooting team in the NBA, the Wolves initially appeared to be at a great disadvantage against the 6th ranked Hawks from deep. However, Derrick Williams stepped up and knocked down 3 of his 5 attempts from range, including 7 of his 13 attempts from the field. D-Will leads the Timberwolves in three-point shooting percentage and is now sitting at 40%. Pretty impressive improvement from the 21-year-old.
Following his 18-point fourth quarter against Portland, Williams scored 17 points in only 21 minutes and now owns a PER of over 16. Although he has failed to provide a large sample of sustained efficiency, the trends of late cannot be ignored. I like the current rotation of Cunningham as starter and Williams as the 6-man, but if Derrick continues to shoot as well as he has been, it will be hard for coach to keep him out of the starting lineup.
Three Stars of the Game
- Nikola Pekovic: With Kevin Love injured, Nikola continues to keep this team competent on the low block and used his brute strength and footwork to dominate opposing center Al Horford. Pek thrived when rolling off of screens and did a tremendous job of catching and shooting quick looks near the rim leading to 25 points on 9 for 15 shooting. Facing a relatively soft Atlanta frontcourt, Pek made the most of his chances and did a good job of staying out of foul trouble which allowed him to record 35 minutes of playing time. Not to mention he hauled in 18 rebounds (6 offensive) while turning the ball over once, Pek took everyones minds off of Love with his superior play.
- Andrei Kirilenko: Despite failing to record his 1,000th career steal, AK-47 enjoyed a hyper-efficient night shooting due to a favorable matchup against the defensively-incompetent Kyle Korver. Kirilenko operated well cutting weak side and finding open teammates on backdoor cuts. Statistically, AK was nearly perfect: 21 points (7-11 FG, 2-2 3FG, 5-5 FT), 6 rebounds and 5 assists while not recording a single turnover or personal foul. He was also extremely active on the defensive end and closed out his three-point shooting opposition effectively.
- Ricky Rubio: I have gravely missed watching Ricky put on performances like he did tonight. Playing only 19 minutes given his recovery from not only knee surgery but most recently back spasms, Rubio put on a passing clinic as he tallied 8 assists in as short of a time while also swiping 4 steals. A game-high +10 on the floor, Tricky Ricky was a large factor in Derrick Williams’ success as he continually set him up for open looks and fed his confidence shooting the ball. A remarkable thing to note is that while Rubio held the highest +/- of any player on the floor, he was 0-0 from the field and scored only 4 points (points are superficial, right?). The key for our favorite Catalan going forward will be staying healthy and gradually building up his minutes on the floor, because it will not help anybody if he reinjures himself by pushing too hard when he shouldn’t (see: Kevin Love).