Well, so much for an anticlimactic start to the season. It took the Timberwolves 53 minutes, but they ultimately held off the Orlando Magic winning by a score of 120-115. After appearing in only 18 games last season, Kevin Love rose to superstar status as he posted yet another 30-point, 15-rebound performance while hitting the game-tying three-pointer to send the game into extra minutes.
With the 2013-14 NBA season officially underway, the Wolves played host to the Magic (0-1) on Wednesday night for their home and season opener. Wolves fans got their first looks at the revamped roster that was effectively arranged and put together this past offseason by new President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders.
The Target Center was fresh with optimism following an exciting offseason of player and management turnover that has so far been positively received among the fan base. The team also experienced a relative bill of good health during much of the offseason and preseason, despite the setback of Chase Budinger as he continues in his recovery from corrective surgery. While the loss of Budinger was untimely, the core of the team remains intact while the depth has vastly improved due to multiple key free agent signings and the drafting of first-round draft picks Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng.
The Timberwolves new-look starting lineup tonight consisted of Ricky Rubio, free agent signees Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer, with Kevin Love alongside Nikola Pekovic anchoring the frontcourt. The Magic, still without Tobias Harris, went with the lineup of Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Mo Harkless, Jason Maxiell and Nikola Vucevic.
Tonight’s matchup included an intriguing battle of talented Montenegrin centers. Pekovic, fresh off of his five year, $60-million extension, battled a fellow countryman in Vucevic, a prize sent over to Orlando as a part of the infamous Dwight Howard trade. In his first season for the Magic last year, Vucevic established himself as a double-double machine and is quickly becoming one of the top young centers in the league. He put his versatility on display his while stretching the floor by knocking down multiple 10-15 foot jump-shots.
Minnesota fans got their first glimpses of Victor Oladipo, the second overall selection in the 2013 NBA Draft. The athletic and defensive specimen has been pegged by many experts as a favorite to win this season’s Rookie of the Year honors. The former Indiana Hoosier is currently playing the role of sixth man as he backs up Afflalo at shooting guard. Oladipo showed why he was regarded so highly on draft night as he made life tough for Wolves’ guards both as a defender and through attacking the basket.
Despite shooting a league-worst 30.5% in three-point shooting last season, the Timberwolves hit 4 of their 6 first-quarter attempts en route to a 38-27 lead after one period. As a team they shot 59% from the field, and J.J. Barea even scored the last 9 points of the quarter for Minnesota while Love recorded 7 points and 7 rebounds in 11 minutes.
The Wolves continued their up-tempo play into the second quarter and were clearly more suited than the Magic for transition-based basketball. However, their red-hot shooting began to fade mid-way through the quarter as Orlando cut Minnesota’s lead to single-digits heading into halftime.
- Minnesota led the Magic 60-52 while posting nearly identical shooting numbers (MIN: 21-45 FG, ORL: 22-48 FG).
- The Wolves did a nice job of taking care of the ball as they committed only 4 first-half turnovers compared to 10 by Orlando.
- Second-year power forward Andrew Nicholson had a strong first half posting 10 points and 6 rebounds opposite of Love, who himself recorded 12 and 9, respectively.
- Rubio was extremely active on the defensive end, especially in opposing passing lanes.
- Barea looked to be very comfortable in the offense in the first half as he refrained from forcing contested shots.
- Head coach Rick Adelman surprisingly did not substitute Derrick Williams in for a second in the first half, instead going with Dante Cunningham.
- None of the Timberwolves three rookies or newcomer A.J. Price saw the floor in the first half.
The Wolves came out of the break rather sloppily as the Magic quickly cut Minnesota’s lead to 2 points with nearly 8 minutes remaining in the third quarter, despite trailing by as many as 17 points in the first half. Minnesota experienced several break downs in transition defense as they allowed opponents to continually beat them down the court. With momentum shifting back and forth between the two teams (due mainly to poor defense on both ends) a thunderous slam by Oladipo shaved the Timberwolves lead to 81-80 with less than a minute remaining in the third period. Thanks in large part to Love’s activity on the offensive glass, Minnesota finished the third quarter strong and headed into the final period of play with an 87-80 lead.
With both Love and Rubio resting before the final stretch, the Magic and Wolves continued to trade baskets as the Timberwolves defense looked very disoriented without either of their leaders on the floor as the game headed to crunch time. Alexey Shved was noticeably having trouble contributing effectively as he missed a few shots badly while looking very out of sync with the rest of his teammates.
A very quick sequence consisting of an Afflalo three-pointer followed by a Vucevic slam off of a curl gave the Magic their first lead of the game since early in the first quarter with only 4 minutes to play. As the two teams went back and forth, the Wolves called timeout with 1:15 remaining as they clung to a 100-99 lead. A deflection off a Rubio pass allowed for an easy fast-break basket by Afflalo, putting the Wolves down 1 with 24.4 seconds remaining. The Wolves came right back down the court after a timeout, and Rubio was left for an easy wide open 10-footer that rimmed out. Minnesota, down 1 with no shot clock, was forced to foul the young but clutch Oladipo, who made both of his free throws putting Orlando up 3 with 12.5 seconds remaining. With the inbounds pass, Rubio found K-Love who was coming off a pinch screen and Love instinctively caught the ball and hoisted a three-pointer, hitting nothing but net and tying the game with 10.1 seconds remaining. Controlling the final possession, the Magic looked to isolate Afflalo who was guarded by the pesky Brewer. Afflalo’s fall-away jumper hit nothing but rim and the game went into overtime with the score tied 103-103.
In overtime, the Wolves looked to initiate offense through their frontcourt and a Pekovic and-1 layup and free throw gave the Wolves a 108-105 lead with 3:45 left. Soon after, Martin got himself an and-1 off a pick by love which extended the Wolves lead to 111-107 with 2 and a half remaining. Another Martin jumper put the game at 115-109 with just under a minute to play, and with 29 seconds remaining the Magic were forced to start sending Wolves to the charity stripe where they ultimately finished the job. Minnesota took home their first win of the season in dramatic fashion and truly never gave up.
Three Stars of the Game
1. Kevin Love – 31 points (8-19 FG, 3-8 3pt, 12-16 FT), 17 rebounds, 4 assists
K-Love looked every bit a superstar tonight and reminded Minnesota fans why we loved him in the first place. His game-tying three-pointer was iconic in itself, and his activity on the offensive glass was truly unmatched.
2. Ricky Rubio – 13 points (5-15 FG, 1-3 3pt, 2-2 FT), 11 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals, 4 turnovers
Although Ricky was not perfect tonight, he provided a little bit of everything and was the teams best defender throughout the entire contest. He showed promising chemistry with Love and it should only continue to improve as the season goes on.
3. Nikola Vucevic – 22 points (9-15 FG, 4-6 FT), 16 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocks
Very complete line for the rising 23-year-old as he held Pek to only 11 points and 7 rebounds. Vucevic is increasingly improving his offensive game and showed glimpses of a very pretty mid-range jump shot that should allow him to stretch the floor as he continues to improve.
- Derrick Williams is already in the dog house? The former second overall pick failed to play a single minute as Coach Adelman went with a nine man rotation that included reserves Barea, Shved, Turiaf and Cunningham.
- Minnesota lacks a legitimate shot-blocker, as displayed by their 3 total blocks. No single player had more than 1 block, and this led to 46 points in the paint by Orlando’s bigs.
- Victor Oladipo looks to be a future stud in the NBA. While he shot just 5-14 from the field, he did a great job of getting to the hoop in the second half but had a tough time converting at the rim. He looked very poised down the final stretch in the fourth quarter and will soon enough figure out how to win at the NBA level.
Game Notes: Until tonight, the Magic had bested the Timberwolves in 8 of their 9 meetings…Tobias Harris, who was acquired by the Magic in a trade that sent J.J. Redick to the Bucks last season, missed tonight’s game with a sprained ankle. Harris really came into his own during the second half of the 2012-13 season averaging 17.3 points in 27 games for Orlando…There is still no timetable for Chase Budinger to return from offseason surgery…The Timberwolves will host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.