The Minnesota Timberwolves opened up the second half of the 2012-13 NBA season on a positive note with a 94-87 win over the Philadelphia 76ers at the Target Center on Wednesday behind a huge performance from Nikola Pekovic. Andrei Kirilenko returned for the Pups after missing the previous five games for the injury-riddled T-Wolves, and Minnesota wore out Philly’s bigs with their length and versatility.
Minnesota shot over 59% in the first quarter and led the 76ers 35-25 behind strong play from Derrick Williams as well as Pekovic. Williams looked very comfortable in the offense and attempted and drilled a few mid-range jumpers that we have grown accustomed to seeing him pass up. What impressed me most from D-Will early on was that he was rarely idle with the ball in his hands and that he appeared to flow with the rest of the Wolves in the offense.
The Pups maintained their hot shooting in the second half, stretching their lead to 53-34 with 2:50 to play in the second quarter. The Wolves second unit thrived against a Philadelphia team that is weak in frontcourt depth after the the loss of talented forward Thaddeus Young to a strained hamstring.
76ers head coach Doug Collins responded to the Timberwolves physicality in the paint by replacing starters Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen with Kwame Brown and Damien Wilkins to start the second half. Philly’s lone All-Star, Jrue Holiday, picked up his fourth personal foul half way through the third quarter and the short-handed 76ers were forced to fight for buckets without their greatest offensive threat on the court.
Philly clawed their way back in the third quarter and trailed the Pups 76-67 heading into the final quarter of play. Minnesota focused their offense on feeding Pekovic on the low block, and Pek responded by wearing out the opposing frontcourt on his way to a 27-point, 18-rebound night. The 76ers could not compete with the Wolves’ length in a game that new 76er Andrew Bynum could have played a big part in had his knees not faltered this season. The soon-to-be unrestricted free agent has yet to play a game for Philadelphia after being acquired in last summer’s blockbuster trade that sent Dwight Howard to Los Angeles and Andre Igoudala to Denver. Bynum, who is expected to demand a max-contract offer this summer, may very likely never play a single game for Philly as the organization pays a high premium for the gamble they took on the All-Star center.
The Pups went ice cold in the final period of play and allowed the 76ers to come within 4 points with a minute left to play. Minnesota left the game wide-open with very poor shooting down the stretch, but fortunately Philly matched their shooting incompetence. Despite shooting an atrocious 1-12 from the field in the fourth quarter, Minnesota held on to take this one by a score of 94-87.
Timberpups Notable Performances
- Ricky Rubio played 29 minutes and was a +10 on the floor although committing 6 turnovers and 5 personal fouls. While it was not the greatest performance from the Spaniard, he was able to make a large impact on the defensive end and provided 3 steals and 6 rebounds. On offense, Ricky was a great facilitator in the second half and created many easy scoring opportunities for his teammates despite their shooting woes. He scored 9 of his 11 points from the free throw line and also tallied 6 assists.
- Evan Turner had a tough time finishing at the rim but had an overall decent performance finishing with 17 points (6-16 FG), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block and 4 turnovers in 36 minutes. The former number-2 overall selection from Ohio State has had mixed results as a pro, but Philly continues to display their confidence in him by looking to him as one of the focal points of their offense. While I am not yet sold on Turner, I continue to be intrigued with his prototypical combination of size, length, athleticism and vision. He needs to improve his efficiency on the offensive end, and if he does he very well could play a role similar to the one Andre Igoudala played so many seasons for Philadelphia.
Keys of the Game
- Rebounding – MN 51, PHI 39. Pekovic pulled down a game-high 18 boards for the Wolves and established deep inside positioning on both ends of the floor as he grabbed 7 of the Pups’ 10 offensive rebounds. Spencer Hawes led the 76ers with 8 rebounds.
- Free Throws – Despite hitting 3 less field goals than Philly, the Wolves did work at the charity stripe as they converted 33 of their 44 free throw attempts while the 76ers were only able to convert 21 of 32. Philadelphia struggled with foul trouble in the fourth quarter and committed a ridiculous 30 team fouls compared to 23 by Minnesota.
Three Stars of the Game
- Nikola Pekovic – Impressive night for Pek as he was the clear MVP of the game last night. Exploding for 27 points and 18 rebounds in a game-high 41 minutes played, Pek made mincemeat of the interior defense brought on by the 76ers frontcourt. I would have thoroughly enjoyed watching Pek battle against the monstrous Bynum who continues to sit with arthritic knees, but it is merely a pipe dream as the Wolves finished their season series against the 76ers last night.
- Derrick Williams – After his 24-point, 16-rebound effort against Utah in Minnesota’s last game before the All-Star break, Derrick had another strong performance against the 76ers with 17 points (7-12 FG), 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 2 turnovers in 36 minutes. D-Will is beginning to look comfortable in the offense and is finally starting to take more of the open looks he receives which is very good news for his development as a pro. The less Derrick is thinking on the court, the more he is going to allow his instincts to take over. Going forward, he will need to continue to trust himself and to let the game come to him. It is pretty amazing to think that he is still only 21 years of age.
- Jrue Holiday – The 22-year-old All-Star fouled out after 35 minutes but finished with the line of 16 points (7-17 FG), 5 assists, 5 steals, 3 rebounds and 4 turnovers. Holiday was presented with tremendous perimeter defense from Rubio and had a difficult time penetrating the Wolves half-court defense in order to create plays.