Minnesota Timberwolves 95 – Milwaukee Bucks 85

Jim Mone – Associated Press

Tonight’s game from the Target Center featured two of the colder teams in the league.  I don’t mean the weather in their hometowns, but how they were playing coming into the game.  Both teams have been struggling to win games more recently and both teams have been woeful in their respective three point shooting – percentage wise, the worst two teams in the league.

Earlier in the day the Wolves announced that Andrei Kirilenko was going to miss another game due to his back spasms.  As if that weren’t enough, the team also announced that Kevin Love would be a game time decision due to food poisoning.  Love decided to give it a go and the Pups opened up the game with Ridnour, Barea, Howard, Love, and Pekovic.  Barea got the nod tonight over Malcolm Lee in an effort to better match up with the Bucks’ backcourt of Jennings and Ellis.  After ruining 40% of the following sentence, Milwaukee opened up with Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Tobias Harris, John Henson, and Samuel Dalembert.

Early on, both teams looked good on the offensive end of the floor and/or woeful on the defensive side.  John Henson had three offensive rebounds and tip-ins in the first three minutes of the game, largely out-jumping Love on the board.  However, Love had his jumper going, hitting his first two shots, including one from beyond the arc.

A very entertaining 1st quarter ended with the Bucks leading 30-29.  Pekovic had a monster quarter for the Wolves with 12 & 8 playing the entire twelve minutes.  Had I written a summary after the first six minutes, I would have said JJ Barea had a nice quarter, as he had 4 quick assists earlier in the quarter.  However, as soon as Ridnour went to the bench and Barea moved over to PG, he morphed into “pound the ball on the floor and then do something annoying” JJ Barea.  Probably not to anyone’s surprise, the Bucks backcourt combined for 14 points in the quarter.  Also worth noting, Larry Sanders finished the quarter with 6 blocks.  Six!  Granted, there was a flurry of activity that led to a few of these, but that is still impressive.

Both teams took a significant step backwards in the first six minutes of the 2nd quarter.  Going into the first timeout of the quarter, the Wolves had retaken the lead 41-38 and it felt like no one had done much of anything positive in twenty minutes (real time).  Minnesota was able to turn it around in the final minutes of the quarter while also holding Milwaukee to 17 points for the quarter.  At the half, the Pups held a 57-47 lead, which included an off balance three at the buzzer by Barea.

Here are a few halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • After poking fun at John Henson in the game preview, it should have been assumed that he would have a nice half (10 & 7, largely from the 1st quarter though)
  • Derrick Williams had a nice half as well, with 4 points and 5 rebounds
  • The Twolves continue to miss too many FT’s, hitting 11 of 16 in the half
  • Love had a nice half but only played 15 minutes – the food poisoning limiting his time on the court

The Wolves opened up the 3rd quarter with the same starting five that began the game and had two bad offensive sets.  On the first, the ball was swung around and Love missed a three pointer.  On the second, Love threw the ball away.  In fact, Love had a really bad quarter which led to the following perspective:

You may never see that again.  In fact, let’s hope we never see that again.

If the 2nd quarter was slow, the 3rd quarter could be defined as sluggish.  With less than three minutes to go in the quarter, the teams combined for 15 points.  The Wolves went over six minutes without scoring a basket in the quarter.  Thankfully, the Bucks weren’t much better.  At the end of the quarter, the Wolves held a 68-63 lead despite scoring 11 points in the quarter.

The 4th quarter came to a halt when Beno Udrih drove to the lane and fell into the baseline cameras.  Udrih rolled his ankle and to be honest, I gagged a little when the Bucks broadcast put the replay in slow motion.  Hope that isn’t too serious for Beno but it wasn’t pretty.

Alexey Shved played quality minutes in the early stages of the 4th quarter, with good team defense and making a few baskets to help maintain the lead.  The sequence of the game came from JJ Barea with just over three minutes to go.  Love, who had another terrible shooting night, missed a jumper but JJ grabbed the offensive rebound and kicked the ball out.  Seconds later, Barea got the ball back and drove to the basked, hitting a runner in the paint to increase the Wolves lead to 11 points.

The Bucks made a small run with a few minutes left to go in the game to cut the lead to 8 points, but Shved answered the Bucks call again with a 27(-ish) foot dagger with the shot clock running down.  From that point, it was just a matter of semantics.  However, kudos must be given to the Bucks’ Larry Sanders, who scored a garbage bucket with seconds remaining to give himself a triple double, with 10 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 blocks.  Wow!

The final score of the game was 95-85, as the Pups did enough to win in the 2nd half with a few key plays and never giving the Bucks too much momentum or confidence to push themselves over the hump.

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Nikola Pekovic
  2. Alexey Shved
  3. Larry Sanders

The Twolves are off for the next few days and swing over to the East coast (bias!) for games on Tuesday in Philadelphia and Wednesday in Boston.

Minnesota Timberwolves 95 – Los Angeles Clippers 101

Jeff Gross – Getty Images

Oh, how different the Staples Center is without Ricky Rubio on the court. Fresh off a win in Sacramento, the Minnesota Timberwolves marched into Los Angeles on Wednesday night to face the Clippers in the fourth and last game of their current road trip. Minnesota, who learned yesterday that star PG Ricky Rubio had been cleared to begin unrestricted practice with the team, was simply unable to contain Clippers perrenial All-Star Chris Paul and ultimately fell by a score of 101-95. CP3, who thrived in his matchups against Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea, did a masterful job of closing out the game for the Clippers and exploited Wolves guards for fourth-quarter mental mistakes that we were not used to seeing with Rubio on the floor late in games last season. Paul finished the night with 23 points on 7-13 shooting, 11 dimes, 3 steals, 2 rebounds, and only 1 turnover in 36 minutes of action.

Let’s get one thing straight: the Timberwolves guards played well as a whole throughout the entire contest. To sum up the performances of a few players based on a few late-game critical mistakes would be unfair and simply irrational, given their solid play throughout most of the game. Beginning with Ridnour, he forced the issue on a few passes in the final 4 minutes in a game that was ultimately seperated by a few points. Obviously, many people will rush to the judgement that Ridnour “played like crap” and should be either traded or dumped in some way, but what people are missing is that he is a valuable and integral part of this team and was outplayed in crunch time by possibly the best closer in the NBA, Chris Paul. There are no excuses for a couple of Ridnour’s 4 turnovers, but it must be understood that Ridnour is currently the first option at PG because of the absence of Ricky Rubio. Rubio, not Ridnour, will soon be the PG on the floor in the fourth quarters for the Wolves, and Ridnour will continue to serve as a very serviceable and above average backup PG once Ricky returns in a few weeks. Ridnour finished the night with 13 points (5-9 FG), 7 assists, 1 steal, 1 rebound, and 4 turnovers in 32 minutes of play.

While the top storyline of Clippers-Wolves matchups is almost always the matchup of superstar PFs Kevin Love and Blake Griffin, it was neither of the two players who decided the outcome of this game. Love had a relatively poor night shooting as he converted on only 3 of his 12 FG attempts, while Griffin was restricted by foul trouble for a good portion of the second half. K-Love had a good night at the free throw line scoring 12 of his 19 points from the charity stripe to pair with 12 rebounds and 3 assists in 35 minutes. Griffin ended with a line of 18 points (9-17 FG), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals in 33 minutes on the floor.

Turnovers and defense were keys to the Clippers victory, as they committed only 10 turnovers to the Timberwolves 18, despite being heavily outrebounded by Minnesota 52-35. Clips center DeAndre Jordan had another wonderful game to add to his fantastic 2012-13 campaign, scoring 15 points while missing only 1 FG attempt and playing tremendous interior defense. Nikola Pekovic had his work cut out for him paired against the hyper-athletic 7-foot Jordan, and was only able to convert 5 of his 13 FG attempts on his way to 11 points and 10 rebounds.

In my personal opinion, Alexey Shved had the best performance out of all Timberwolves players as he was extremely effective in the fourth quarter when it mattered most. Shved, who continues to backup Malcolm Lee at the off-guard position, scored 17 points on 5-12 shooting but knocked down 3 of his 6 three-point attempts, all of which seemed to come at crucial momentum-swinging points in the game. Shved has clearly gained the coaches trust to finish games, and he has taken full advantage of the opportunities given to him. Lee, who started at SG, played only 25 minutes while Shved logged 36, and I wonder if we will see another Russian added to the starting lineup in the coming weeks.

Andrei Kirilenko sat out Wednesday night’s game due to back spasms, and in his place Josh Howard received his first start of his young Wolves career. In 26 minutes, Howard finished with 7 points (3-9 FG), 3 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 assist.

Overall, last night was a good indicator of what Minnesota is missing from their point guards, and it will be tough to compete with teams that possess a closer like CP3 without Tricky Ricky. But do not worry Wolves fans, the time is almost near for our floppy-haired savior to return to game action. Here are the three stars of the game:

  1. Chris Paul
  2. DeAndre Jordan
  3. Alexey Shved

Minnesota Timberwolves 98 – Golden State Warriors 106

The Minnesota Timberwolves were back on the Target Center floor Friday night, hosting the Golden State Warriors.  Little change on the injury front for the Wolves, with Barea, Roy, and Pekovic all taking the night off again, perhaps due to the break the team has coming up (they don’t play again until Wednesday).  Josh Howard passed his physical and suited up for the team.

Tonight’s starting lineup for the Wolves was consistent with the past few games – Ridnour, Lee, Kirilenko, DWill, and Stiemsma.  Golden State opened up with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, David Lee, and Festus Ezeli – who has the greatest first name in the league … obviously.

The game opened up with a nice pace.  AK47 got off to a hot start with the team’s first seven points.  Similar to what I’ve said much of this week, DWill got off to a tough start with a few misses in close.  However, within two minutes he hit two jumpers near the top of the key, allowing the Target Center crowd to breathe a sigh of relief.  Just seeing the ball go through the hoop seemed to have paid off, as Derrick continued to shine, finishing the quarter with thirteen points.

At the end of the 1st quarter, the Pups held a five point lead, 27-22.  DWill and AK47’s output matched the Warriors in the quarter, accounting for the vast majority of the offense for the Wolves.  The Warriors scoring was evenly distributed throughout those that saw the floor in the quarter, with the only noteworthy piece for the opponent being that David Lee struggled from the field against DWill, shooting 1-5 from the field for two points.

The Wolves started the second quarter with a very different lineup, excluding Ridnour.  Shved, Howard, Cunningham, and Amundson joined Luke on the floor.  It was a quick start for the newest Pup, Josh Howard, as he grabbed a quick offensive rebound and hit a jump shot to open up the quarter.  Welcome to the Wolves!

Adelman’s second unit played very nicely in the quarter.  Shved, Howard, and Cunningham all played good defense, hit open shots, and helped build the lead to double digits.  However, the lead was short lived, as GS chipped away in the back half of the quarter, largely led by Carl Landry and David Lee.  At the half, the Warriors led 53-50 as the Wolves really fell apart in the final two minutes or so.

Here are a few halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • Derrick Williams, the Awakening?  15 points, with a strong outside jumper falling
  • Alexey Shved with another great showing – 12 points, 3 assists, and 2 rebounds in 15 minutes.
  • David Lee and Carl Landry combined for 20 points and 10 rebounds in the half, Stiemsma is going to have to commit a hard foul in the 3rd quarter (he didn’t)

Both teams opened the second half with the same starting lineups, but the Wolves were completely outplayed to begin the quarter.  Shved replaced Malcolm Lee pretty quickly and I suspect that is (and should be) the end of the ‘Malcolm Lee as a starting SG’ plan.  The Wolves had to burn a quick timeout as the Warriors built the lead to nine.

Unfortunately for the Pups, momentum remained with the Warriors for the rest of the quarter, as the visitor extended its lead to 13 points at the end of the quarter, leading 82-69.  The Wolves continued to give up way too many points in the paint and went cold on the offensive end of the floor.  In a change of pace from the first half, the Warriors guards and wings led the way in the 3rd quarter, with Curry, Thompson, and Barnes all contributing.  In fact, at the end of the 3rd, all three of them were at least +17 on the floor for the game.  Ouch.

The first few minutes of the 4th quarter was a continuation of the 3rd.  The Warriors continued to hit from both the inside and outside.  Any time the Wolves would make a play or two to get the lead to around ten, the Warriors answered.  This lasted for the first six minutes of the quarter and then the Wolves came to life.  The latest comeback effort was led by, of course, Alexey Shved.

Alexey continues to be the sparkplug for this team in the 4th quarter.  He’s dishing and scoring and quite honestly, seems to have ice in his veins.  Maybe it is Russian Vodka?  In any case, Shved, Cunningham, and DWill all had strong 4th quarters cutting the lead to a one possession game at one point.  However, the Warriors didn’t lose their composure and were able to do enough to secure the win.  In the final minutes, the Pups missed a few shots from long range and a layup or two, leading to the team’s second consecutive loss on its home court.

Let’s hope the four nights off forthcoming allow the Pups to get healthy and this team can come out swinging next week and into the end of the month.

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. David Lee
  2. Derrick Williams
  3. Alexey Shved

Minnesota Timberwolves 90 – Dallas Mavericks 82

Photo Credits: SunHerald.com

Somehow, some way, the Minnesota Timberwolves continue to win games. Following yesterdays news that SF Chase Budinger suffered a lateral torn meniscus in his left knee, the Wolves suffered yet another key injury in the third quarter of tonight’s matchup in Dallas as Nikola Pekovic suffered a sprained left ankle in the third quarter and was unable to return. On top of that, JJ Barea and Brandon Roy were unavailable tonight with day-to-day injuries, and Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio will be missed until approximately mid-December. Despite all of the adversity, the Timberpups gave a gutsy performance and went on to take one from the Dallas Mavericks on the road, winning by a score of 90-82.

Before leaving the game in the mid-third quarter with a sprained left ankle, Nikola Pekovic was the focus of Minnesota’s offense as he scored 20 points (8-13 FG) while racking up 6 boards and posting a game-high +21 on the floor. Pek made mincemeat out of the defense brought by Dallas centers Chris Kaman, Brandan Wright, and Bernard James, and used a bevvy of post moves to near perfection. He has elevated his post game to a superior level of intelligence and proficiency, and although he stated that his ankle is fine and that he should be ready for Wednesday’s matchup against Charlotte, the thought of losing Pek for any amount of time remains very concerning.

As the Timberwolves were once again without second unit PG Barea, Luke Ridnour was called upon to be a major part of the offense – and he answered effectively. Ridnour did not play his best game, but he did enough on both sides of the court to get the better end of a tough matchup against Darren Collison. Ridnour finished the game with 12 points (3-9 FG, 2-5 3PFG), 7 assists, 5 rebounds, and an impressive 4 steals in 37 minutes of play.

The chemistry between Alexey Shved and Andrei Kirilenko was extremely evident tonight, as both players were crucial to tonight’s victory. Shved, coming off the bench as one of the Pups primary reserve players, was vital in the fourth quarter due to his defense and playmaking abilities on the offensive end. Shved reminded me a lot of Rubio tonight, as he scored 16 points on just 3-12 shooting, but was able to effectively change the flow of the game with an intangible presence that seemed to guide the team during crunch time. He was very smart with the ball and dished out 5 assists to pair with 4 rebounds, 3 blocks, and only 2 turnovers in 33 minutes of action. The Toni Kukoc look-alike got it done at the free throw line as he sunk 9 of his 11 attempts, and did a very good job attacking the rim and not settling for poor looks. I cannot say enough about Shved and I dream of the day that we are able to witness him paired in the backcourt with Ricky.

What can I say about AK-47 that I do not say about him every time I write a game summary. The thing that astounds me about Kirilenko is his consistency on a game-by-game basis. It seems as if he ends with the same stat line every night, and his presence is felt on almost every possession that he is in the game for. The defense that he brings coupled with his poise and veteran acumen on offense has effectively guided this team to where they are now. Although he is a forward, he has been the “quarterback” for the Timberwolves and continuously creates opportunities for his teammates to be successful. At 31, AK-47 is as wise as he ever was and is as physically nimble and elegant as during even his best years for the Jazz. If MVP was to be voted on right now, I truly believe that Kirilenko would get votes. Now that is saying something.

Before tonight, Dallas was previously averaging 116 points per game on their home floor. However, things did not go as swimmingly against the T-wolves as they combined to shoot a miserable 29-80 as a team from the field. Minnesota played tough, scrappy defense as a unit, but were not the reason behind Dallas’ 4-16 from three-point range. The Mavs missed far too many wide-open looks in a game that was well within reach, and they were unable to gain any momentum when the Wolves continued to do them favors following Pekovic’s injury.

Dante Cunningham continues to bring the Wolves a much needed lift off the bench and posted another solid line of 14 points (6-9 FG), 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and a mere 1 turnover in an efficient 33 minutes for the Pups. Cunningham has thrived in his role in the offense and continues to knock down top of the key and mid-range jumpers off the pick-and-roll. He looks extremely comfortable with what is being asked of him and continues to build on his previous performances. Although his game is not the sexiest, it is of intangible value to the Pups.

With Cunningham thriving, Derrick Williams appears to be in Rick Adelman’s doghouse. Despite starting tonight, D-Will logged only 12 minutes and attempted only 2 FG in that short span of time. His only points of the night came on a spectacular first-quarter reverse slam that wowed the Dallas crowd, and I believed that it would be enough to loosen up the former number-2 pick to have a decent ballgame. However, Williams made a few mental mistakes and looked lost on defense, and Adelman held very little patience for the Arizona product. With Cunningham playing well, Williams saw very little time beyond the first half.

With Williams struggling, it opened the door for Lou Amundson to see his highest single-game minutes as a Pup. In 15 minutes, Amundson worked his tail off defending the much bigger and stronger Kaman, and I am pleased with what he was able to provide in relief. Although he failed to score a point, Amundson grabbed 3 rebounds and was a +3 on the floor.

Malcolm Lee made his first start of the season and logged 22 minutes, scoring 4 points on 2-6 shooting while grabbing 3 rebounds. Lee made a game-securing steal on OJ Mayo at the end of the game, but was otherwise a neutral force in this one. I do like what Lee has shown thus far in his career, and I do believe that he is competent enough defensively to have a future as a serviceable backup combo guard.

Finally, Greg Stiemsma and Will Conroy each received very limited time on the floor tonight. Stiemsma, who has been very effective thus far, committed 4 fouls in only 8 minutes and was left out of the rotation for the second half. Conroy made a single free throw in 4 minutes and was otherwise a non-contributor.

When breaking down the team numbers, the Wolves were able to outrebound the Mavericks 49-35, and much of it was due to the outhustling of the Mavs frontcourt by the Pups bigs. Although shot-blocking was a tremendous need for Minnesota last season, it has been a major plus this year and the Wolves out-blocked Dallas 7-2. All of this was vital for Minnesota, and was enough to overcome the Wolves 17 turnovers compared to only 8 for Dallas.

More will be known on the extent of Pekovic’s injury tomorrow, and he will most likely be questionable heading into Wednesday nights home matchup against Charlotte. All in all, great win for the Pups. Get well soon, Wolves nation. Here are tonight’s three stars of the game.

  1. Andrei Kirilenko
  2. Luke Ridnour
  3. Alexey Shved

Preview: Timberwolves at Mavericks

In order to start laying the framework for tonight’s matchup in Dallas, the first important item of conversation is the recent news that Chase Budinger tore his meniscus in his left knee and will be out indefinitely. A timetable for his return will be made after he endures the procedure to repair the damaged knee, but regardless the loss of Budinger is a large blow to an already injury-depleted Timberwolves roster.

Following a tough road loss to a talented Chicago Bulls team, the Timberwolves have continued to overcome adversity and somehow sit at 4-2 which is good for fifth in the Western Conference. Tonight will be a sure test for Minnesota as Dallas has looked very good this season and has much more depth than the Pups currently have.

Alexey Shved will start tonight at SG with Roy sitting out due to soreness in his right knee. Shved has been one of the NBAs top rookies this season and was a key to Minnesota’s fourth quarter comeback victory in Brooklyn last week. The long and lanky Russian combo guard will have his work cut out for him as he will obviously need to assume a much larger offensive role with Budinger and Roy out, and we will be able to start to see just how capable Shved can be in Rick Adelman’s offense.

A player to pay attention to for the Mavericks tonight is rookie Jae Crowder out of Marquette, who despite being selected in the second round of the previous summer’s draft, has looked like a potential Rookie of the Year candidate playing at the SF position. Will Minnesota be able to replace Budinger’s versatility off the bench, and can the Wolves find production at SF when Andrei Kirilenko is on the bench? If Derrick Williams continues to play the way he has been, the Pups are in big trouble against the former NBA champion Mavericks.

The game will be shown on local TV and will begin at 7:30PM central time. Let’s go Wolves!

Minnesota Timberwolves 96 – Indiana Pacers 94

Photo Credits: Dave Wallis – Associated Press

The Timberwolves hosted the Pacers tonight to start a back to back and this one certainly didn’t disappoint.  Rick Adelman continues to put his finger on this franchise and the Wolves pulled out the victory in the last few seconds, moving to 4-1 on the season.  There was a little bit of a setback that we’ll cover off below however, as Brandon Roy didn’t play in the 2nd half.  Let’s get to it.

About an hour before tipoff, the Twolves announced that JJ Barea would be out tonight and won’t travel with the team to Chicago (and potentially Dallas).  In other injury news, earlier this week the Pacers announced that their star, Danny Granger, would miss at least three months of the season.  There are an awful lot of injuries for being so early in the season, aren’t there?

In any case, the Twolves opened up with the same starting five they have used all season – Ridnour, Roy, AK47, DWill, and Pekovic.  The Pacers countered with George Hill, Paul George (who I still get aggravated about when I hear/see his name due to the Wes Johnson era), Sam Young, David West, and Roy Hibbert.

The game itself started off with the teams going back and forth exchanging buckets (and turnovers).  The officials really let them play, with a lot of body contact being allowed.  Going into the first TO, DWill looked impressive hitting a 3 pointer and then a driving layup that gave the Pups a 13-10 lead and forcing the Pacers to call the TO.

With about four minutes to go in the 1st quarter, there was a loose ball off of a rebound that Hibbert decided to dive on the floor for.  In the process he took down Pekovic.  First, my heart skipped a beat thinking that Pek’s leg got stuck underneath Hibbert.  Second, since that didn’t happen, I assumed Pek would squash Hibbert for the remainder of the game.  (Side note: this didn’t happen)

At the end of the 1st quarter, the Twolves held the lead 21-19.  The Pups shot 53% to Indiana’s 38%, but failed to execute at the end of the quarter, as Ridnour turned the ball over as the clock wound down.  DWill had a very nice quarter with a game high 9 points.  Paul George quietly led the Pacers with 5 points.  The entire twelve minutes was a hard fought battle between the two teams, so it wasn’t a surprise to see the low score at all.

Adelman opened up the 2nd quarter without any starters in the game.  Alexey Shved had a very active first few minutes on the floor, including a few rebounds, assists, and drawing a foul on a three pointer (and hitting all three!).  Despite Adelman saying otherwise before the game, when Shved and Malcolm Lee were both on the floor, Shved was clearly the PG and directing traffic.

The Wolves opened up a seven point lead in the 2nd, but quickly gave it right back.  Similar to the 1st, the quarter was full of small runs, a good amount of banging in the paint, and aggressiveness.  At the half, the Pups trailed 43-42.  Similar to the end of the 1st quarter, the Wolves failed to execute as the clock wound down.  This is exactly where Roy needs to step up for the team, particularly while others continue to wear suits on the sideline.

Here are a few thoughts from the first half through a Wolves lens:

  • Both Wolves centers struggled – Pek was very quiet and Stiemsma picked up two fouls in very limited floor time
  • Malcolm Lee did not look good – expect more PT for Will Conroy over the next few days
  • AK47 only took two shots in the first half and I expected that to significantly increase in the final 24 minutes

As I checked to see who was on the floor to start the 3rd quarter, I noticed that Budinger replaced Roy in the lineup, which was a little interesting.  Seconds later, the Pacers broadcast team announced that Roy isn’t on the Wolves bench at all.  (Insert nervous twitch)

Minnesota managed to get into the bonus with just over 6 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter.  However, they never really took advantage of this for the remainder of the quarter.  While Pekovic continued to struggle against Hibbert, Budinger managed to be the sparkplug the Pups needed.  As the game continued to go back and forth, it was reported that Roy was out for the rest of the game with a sore left knee.  (Continues to twitch, must stay rational)

As I continued to check for updates on Brandon Roy, the Twolves managed to build a little momentum to close out the 3rd quarter.  Chase had a strong quarter and tallied 16 points, shooting 9-10 from the FT line through three.  The quarter ended with the Pups successfully executing an offensive set, as Shved dished to Lee for a layup.  The Wolves led 69-64 going into the final 12 minutes.

The 4th quarter started with some beautiful basketball from “my main man” Alexey Shved.  Sorry, just channeling the inner Rick Kamla there.  The Wolves built an eight point lead before David West went to work in the paint to end the run.  However, the Wolves were able to quickly answer with a follow-up layup from Dante Cunningham.

As the game wore on, it got more and more chippy.  The referees warned both teams to stop complaining, while the bumping and reaching continued.  Shortly thereafter, we had our first technical of the game, with Shved picking up the T on a poor non-call as he drove to the basket.  In what could have been a real game-changer, the Wolves continued to fight against the Pacers and maintained its small lead as the final minutes approached.

Then, the sequence of the game came from Team Russia.  Shved made a driving layup, followed by AK47 stealing the inbounds pass, then dishing/feeding Shved for another layup to put the Wolves up by four.  The game continued to go back and forth for the next few minutes.  With the Wolves in position of the ball and up by three, they had a perfect opportunity to put the Pacers away but Pekovic blew a layup (please leverage “the dunk” at some point this season).  This gave the Pacers one last chance to tie the game and it came to fruition as George Hill hit a step back three with under four seconds to play.

However, that left more than enough time for Adelman to draw up a game winning play.  Ridnour inbound the ball to AK47 and the Pacers (largely Gerald Green, to no surprise) fell asleep at the wheel as Budinger cut to the basket for a game winning layup on the Kirilenko assist.  Wolves win 96-94 and move to 4-1 on the season!  No, seriously!

Tonight’s Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Chase Budinger
  2. Alexey Shved
  3. George Hill

I’m not sure what to expect out of Saturday’s game against Chicago, but Wolves fans should try to enjoy this one for at least a little while.  Let’s go Wolves!

Minnesota Timberwolves 107 – Brooklyn Nets 96

Photo Credits: Skyler Reid

Coming off a 19-point loss in Toronto last night, the Minnesota Timberwolves played the latter of a back-to-back road trip in the sparkling new $1 billion Barclays Center in Brooklyn and came back from a 22-point second-half deficit to defeat the new-look Nets 107-96. The Timberpups offseason additions played crucial roles in fueling the comeback, and the Wolves went on to outscore the Nets 32-10 in the game-defining fourth quarter.

Minnesota’s offensive and defensive struggles were on full display in the first half as the Pups trailed Brooklyn 62-47 after the first half of play. The Wolves allowed the Nets to shoot an absurd 60% FG including 8-13 (62%) from beyond the arc in the first-half alone. Deron Williams led the charge for the revamped Nets with 8 first-half assists while 11 different Nets players scored. The Timberwolves did a much better job of limiting turnovers than they did the previous night in Toronto, but only knocked down 19 of 43 shot attempts (44%) including a miserable 1-8 from three-point range. Things got worse in the third quarter as these trends continued out of the break, but the Wolves found a spark nearing the culmination of the third quarter.

After suffering a mild concussion last night, JJ Barea was able to pass the necessary NBA-mandated concussion tests before the game and was very effective in the second half. Despite recording a modest line of 6 points and 6 assists in just over 29 minutes of action, Barea did a great job of game management in the fourth quarter and was very smart with his passes and shot selection.

Luke Ridnour once again got the start for the Wolves at PG, and had the toughest matchup of the night opposite perennial All-Star Deron Williams. Ridnour simply does not possess the physicality to stay in front of the shifty-strong Williams, and D-Will did a very good job of chipping away at Ridnour. Deron was able to consistently penetrate the lane and had multiple options sitting on the perimeter ready for open three-point attempts, of which the Nets converted at an extremely high rate through 3 quarters of play. However, Rick Adelman made an excellent second-half adjustment by putting the 6-foot-6 Alexey Shved on Williams on the defensive end, and Shved did just enough to slow down the superstar point guard.

Three cheers for the Russian combo of Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved tonight, as both were significant keys to the Wolves comeback victory. To begin, AK-47 played the most complete game of any player to step on the court tonight, as he was able to keep the team breathing even in the midst of their enormous third-quarter deficit. Kirilenko finished with another fabulous stat line of 16 points (7-11 FG), 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 blocks and 1 steal in nearly 33 minutes on the court. Kirilenko continues to use the ball-fake to perfection, consistently keeping his defender off balance and gaining enough separation to effectively drive past his opponent to create scoring opportunities for himself as well as his fellow teammates. As long as AK-47 is healthy, he is worth his $10 million price tag.

Alexey Shved made two clutch three-pointers down the stretch for the Wolves and played a great game in the primetime. Shved ended with 10 points, 3 assists and 2 rebounds while really coming into his own at the end of the game. He was not scared of firing off pull-up threes and it proved to be beneficial for the team. I wonder if AK-47 and Shved were motivated by the desire to defeat fellow Russian Mikhail Prokhorov – the very man who tried signing both of them this offseason. I’ll let you decide that one.

Nikola Pekovic established himself on the low block early and exploited Brook Lopez’s poor post defense throughout the game. The Nets tried bringing double teams at Pek, but he did a very good job at seeing the court and was able to escape Brooklyn’s attempts to slow him down. With virtually no perimeter option to look to as a second option, Pek was virtually Minnesota’s only offensive option throughout much of the first half, and his 17 points on 7-9 shooting was one of the only things keeping this game from getting out of hand in the first half.

Pek continued his post dominance in the second half and we were even able to witness how much better he has gotten at running the floor, which is a testament to all of the hard work and conditioning the big center endured over the offseason. Pekovic finished with 21 points on 9-14 shooting while grabbing 7 boards.

Despite facing a 22-point deficit in the third quarter, the Timberpups did not go gently into the dark. Andrei Kirilenko fueled a Wolves run near the end of the third quarter and the Pups were able to cut the Nets lead to 86-75 heading into the last quarter of play.

From that point on, the momentum completely shifted in the Pups favor and Minnesota was able to gain their second lead of the game – the first lead of which was early in the first quarter – with 4:30 left in the fourth quarter. The Pups set the tone defensively and held Brooklyn to only 96 points after allowing 62 first-half points on their way to their second win of the season and first win on the road.

Enough cannot be said about the importance of Dante Cunningham and Chase Budinger tonight and in the second half especially. Cunningham was fierce on the low block and played remarkable defense, shutting down both Kris Humphries and even the 7-foot Brook Lopez. The 6-foot-8 Villanova graduate was extremely active on the offensive and defensive glass and was able to be very aggressive while not committing unnecessary fouls. It has only been three games, but I am absolutely sold on the Cunningham for Wayne Ellington deal. Cunningham was +18 on the court and logged his first double-double as a Pup of 11 points and 11 rebounds in 26 minutes of play.

Budinger had by far his best performance as a Pup and was very good at moving without the ball and creating options for his teammates. Budinger is at his best when he is attacking the glass and filling openings on the perimeter for his driving teammates to look to, and he did just that tonight. His shot was falling and he looked very composed on the floor at the end of the game, which is something I could never say about Michael Beasley. I should not fail to mention that C-Bud played tremendous defense down the stretch and was apart of a total team effort on that particular end of the floor. The Arizona product ended the night with 16 points (7-10 FG) and 6 rebounds.

After failing to convert on a field goal in 22 minutes last night, Brandon Roy played better – but not by much – and was mainly a neutral force in this game. Even before his knee problems, Roy has always been a subject defender, and when matched up against 6-foot-7 Joe Johnson he definitely had his work cut out for him. Even so, Roy did a nice job as a distributor on the offensive end and logged 7 dimes to go with his 6 points (3-7 FG).

Tonight’s win is a true display of just how much this team changed over one offseason, and how the subtraction of a few players and addition of high-energy, fundamentally-focused team players can dynamically change a team. Coming back from 22 points in a tough, New York atmosphere to win by double-digits is something that I honestly could not have predicted from the Timberwolves. But perhaps I was wrong about this team possessing enough firepower and guts to do what previous Timberwolves teams could not do, which is winning without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. And for that we all owe a big thanks to Rick Adelman – and ya, even David Kahn… a little bit. The Wolves are now set to host Orlando on Wednesday, and here are my three stars of tonight’s game:

  1. Andrei Kirilenko
  2. Dante Cunningham
  3. Chase Budinger