The Timberwolves traveled to Los Angeles on Sunday night for their last game before the holiday break, facing a Clippers squad that had previously defeated them in their two earlier matchups this season. Despite an output of 79 points from their starting frontcourt and a four point lead with 18 seconds left in regulation, Minnesota fell in overtime to the impressively deep Clippers squad who improved to 12-2 at home.
This was no ordinary loss for Minnesota as they were unable to take advantage of a pair monster performances from Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. Love, playing out of his skull, scored a season-high 45 points (15-23 FG, 2-6 3pt, 13-15 FT) while pulling down 19 rebounds and dishing out 6 assists in 43 minutes of action. His frontcourt counterpart Pekovic added a career-high 34 points (16-28 FG, 2-3 FT) and grabbed 14 rebounds in 46 minutes.
How did the Wolves lose with such impressive performances from Love and Pek, you ask? Well, just ask fellow starters Ricky Rubio and Corey Brewer. In 39 minutes, Rubio failed to score a single point as he missed all 4 of his FG attempts. On the other hand, Brewer made just 1 of his FG tries in 23 minutes on the floor.
The bench wasn’t much better either, folks. Getting the most time for the Timberwolves second unit were Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and J.J. Barea, as each played 25 minutes, respectively. Mbah a Moute scored only 2 points (1-5 FG) and grabbed 6 rebounds while playing subpar defense. Barea was by far the most effective reserve for Minnesota as he held a +7 on the floor while providing 12 points, but he shot only 4-11 from the field and was once again a defensive liability matched up against both Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford.
The two squads were truly neck-in-neck all game and made this a fun one to watch, at least until the final minute. After an all square first quarter, the Clippers led the Wolves 56-54 at halftime. Here are some halftime notes and thoughts:
- Pretty great shooting from both teams in the first half with the Wolves and Clips each shooting 50% and 52%, respectively. I would like to see better rotations on defense from MN as LA creates a lot of open shots and driving lanes by simply swinging the ball around in the half-court offense.
- 0 fast break points for MN in the first half… huh? This is coming from a team who got out running in transition fairly well in the first two matchups against the Clippers.
- Does Chris Paul have guarding Ricky down to an art or what? CP3 has been excelling in his matchups against our Spanish PG this season and held Ricky to 0 first-half points.
- Love and Pek combined for 39 of the Wolves’ 54 points in the first half and were clearly the focal point of the offense. Brewer and Kevin Martin combined for only 8.
Coming out of the break, Minnesota continued to fight hard and found themselves entering the final period of play with a two point lead. It is in late game management where the two teams seem to separate themselves the most, as the Clippers had no business in stealing this game in the final minute from Minnesota. The Wolves held a four point lead with only 18 seconds remaining, but found themselves going into extra minutes due to a costly turnover by Martin after he was pick-pocketed for an easy fast-break layup with less than 15 seconds remaining. With no timeouts, the Wolves ran down the court with Rubio finding Pekovic on the low block for a high percentage look at the bottom of the key, but the Montenegrin’s attempt took an unfavorable roll and Minnesota’s greatest fears were realized: OT in the Staples Center.
Blake Griffin committed his sixth foul almost immediately to start the extra minutes, and LA decided to go smaller with four on the perimeter and it paid off for them. Although Blake was very effective posting 32 points (11-20 FG, 10-11 FT) and 10 rebounds, his dismissal from the game effectively worked in the Clippers favor as they ultimately solidified the victory on a Jared Dudley three-pointer and some impressive free throw shooting from Paul. This game was clearly an emotional blow to a now 13-15 Timberwolves squad that has been a putrid 5-11 on the road. As Pekovic preached after the game, winning is a habit and the team needs to learn how to consistently close games out. With time ticking on Love’s early termination option in his contract, the team had better figure out how to win sooner rather than later.
A popular topic of conversation following the loss was the play of Rubio, who amazingly failed to score in 39 minutes although he was effective as a facilitator tallying 12 assists and committing only 3 turnovers. Obviously, the lack of scoring is troubling especially when Love and Pek were doing anything and everything they could to keep the team in the game. Like Jason Kidd early on in his career, Rubio’s jump shot needs serious help and his troubles scoring have caused opposing teams to exploit his weaknesses. It is easy for us to sit here and demand Rubio to develop an effective jump shot, but the truth of the matter is that it is going to take a few seasons before we see serious improvement from that area of his game. He remains an effective player even without a consistent jump shot and we need to focus on how to maximize the scoring of our other rotation players. Who knows, maybe the team will realize that the answer to our scoring problems has been right under our nose the entire time (Hey Adelman, give Shabazz Muhammad some run).
Three Stars of the Game
- Chris Paul – The best game manager (and one of the greatest point guards of all time) helped to secure and maintain the Clippers’ late victory and deserves a lot of credit for his clutch play. In a game in which he only shot 6-19 from the field, Paul was able to outshine a miraculous performance from Love as he finished the game with 19 points, 13 assists and 6 rebounds in 43 minutes.
- Kevin Love – With one of the best statistical performances of the 2013-14 season, Love showed us why he is unquestionably the best power forward in the NBA. After nearly recording a triple-double in his latest matchup against LaMarcus Aldridge, Love made mincemeat of Griffin but got little support from his teammates. It is games like these that will convince Love to take his talents elsewhere once he is eligible to become a free agent after the 2014-15 season.
- Blake Griffin – Despite being outshone by Love, Griffin played a heck of a game and demonstrated his rapid improvement since last season shooting the ball. Once a liability at the free throw line, Grffin shot 10-11 last night and is nearing 70% on the season.
Chase Budinger‘s return date is still unknown as he continues to ramp up his conditioning, but should be ready to return within the next month. The Timberwolves play next at home against the Washington Wizards on Friday, Dec. 27.