On a night where Kevin Love posted another stunning line of 33 points, 13 rebounds and 9 assists, he was hardly the focus on the post game analysis of Minnesota’s 110-101 come-from-behind victory in Phoenix. Disregard the fact that he had his fifth straight game of 30+ points (which happens to be a franchise record) and the fact that he also notched his 32nd 20-10 game of the season. When the buzzer sounded and the Wolves were left victorious, the spotlight was on rookie Shabazz Muhammad and his career-high 20 points (10 of which were in the fourth quarter) that helped spark a team who has had glaring problems during fourth quarters this season.
With Love the consistent offensive force that he is, we have become greatly desensitized to his ridiculous stat lines and have come to expect him to get his 25 points and 13 rebounds a game. What we have not come to expect from this team is volume scoring (aside from the rare J.J. Barea outburst) from a bench unit that has had a very inconsistent season. As Alexey Shved has fallen out of favor with Rick Adelman due to his inefficiency on offense and mediocrity on defense, it has opened the door for Muhammad to take advantage of the hole at shooting guard that Kevin Martin left when he broke his left thumb. During this current three game road trip, we are beginning to see the thought process behind as to why Flip Saunders decided to forgo the opportunity of drafting Trey Burke in order to roll the dice on the one-and-doner out of UCLA.
I believe that Zach Harper summed up Shabazz’s play excellently tonight in this post-game tweet:
Shabazz's two big strengths out of college were moving off the ball and rebounding for his position. He killed with that tonight. Fun to see
— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) February 26, 2014
To keep the recap relatively brief, let’s skip ahead to the fourth quarter at just around the 7:30 mark. After having trailed by as many as 9 points in the third quarter, the Wolves found themselves trailing the Suns 91-83 and desperately needing a spark. As Minnesota began clawing back by scoring on two straight possessions, a Ricky Rubio interception followed by a nice lead pass to Muhammad resulted in a gritty and-1 by the athletic swingman. However, Shabazz failed to convert at the line which put the game at 91-90 in favor of Phoenix. As the two teams continued to trade leads with the game heading down the wire, Minnesota caught a huge break when Goran Dragic, who was in the midst of a tough game, drew his sixth foul after attempting to get his own rebound following a missed shot. With the game being constantly traded between mid-range jumpers from both sides, the Wolves were finally able to gain a cushion thanks in large part to the energy and hustle from Muhammad, who worked his tail end off in order to gain inside position on a missed K-Love three-pointer in order to come down with a key offensive rebound, of which he immediately rallied to a cutting Corey Brewer who put the Wolves up by 5, effectively securing the win for the Pups.
Final Score: Wolves 110 – Suns 101
The Wolves improved to 28-29 and play next on Monday night in Denver. Let’s hope that Shabazz can build on his success as Nikola Pekovic and Martin are both likely to remain out.
Three Stars of the Game
- Shabazz Muhammad - ‘Bazz truly earned first star as he scored 10 points in the fourth quarter while showing tremendous energy playing without the ball and on the defensive end. All the pre-draft knocks on his work ethic and motor on defense were totally unsubstantiated by Tuesday nights performance and the lack of consistent playing time during the first half of the season apparently has only made him work harder on improving his game. If Shabazz can take the next step and develop a perimeter game, he has the potential of becoming a great scorer in the league.
- Kevin Love - It’s pretty tough to give a guy second star when he comes one assist shy of a triple double while scoring over 30 points, but it was truly a special night from Shabazz and I’m sure K-Love did not mind all of the post game attention on the fellow UCLA alum. Love is currently on a torrid pace and is playing arguably the best basketball of his career, as shown by the following tweet from Alan Horton.
- Ricky Rubio – Ricky struggled during much of the first half of the game, but came on late to play a very effective fourth quarter and finished the night with 7 points, 11 assists, 3 steals and 3 rebounds. It was good to see Ricky on the court to finish the game as Coach Adelman has often preferred to go with Barea running the offense late in the fourth quarter. I have a sense that we are going to be seeing a lot more of La Pistola in fourth quarters from this point on in the season.
— Alan Horton (@WolvesRadio) February 26, 2014