On Thursday night, an electric Target Center crowd welcomed the Timberwolves for their home opener against Detroit. It proved another up-and-down contest for the Wolves, but they delivered a 30-point third quarter that enabled them to push past the Pistons and win their home stand 97-91. Thaddeus Young once again led the squad in scoring with 19 points, followed by Nikola Pekovic with 17. On the opposing side, Caron Butler led Detroit with 24 points.
Two big improvements helped the Wolves to a win after losing Game 1 to Memphis: (1) Pekovic and (2) better ball handling. The veteran center came out looking rough around the edges again, and he went only 2-for-6 on his first attempts from the field. In the third quarter, however, Pek began to mirror his old self, tallying nine points and five rebounds during the period.
“It was like two grizzly bears fighting each other,” Young said.
Minnesota controlled the ball much better against Detroit, committing only 12 turnovers―half the number they had on Wednesday.
The first half delivered a fairly even performance between the two teams, and the lead was exchanged more than once. Mo Williams led with eight points through the first two quarters, and every point was answered by Pistons center Andre Drummond. Drummond tallied 11 points and 12 boards on the night. He looked to be an even larger threat, but fortunately for Minnesota, he later found himself in foul trouble which limited his minutes.
Following halftime, Timberwolves fans witnessed an energy and accuracy they hope will be more consistent moving forward. With Drummond on the bench and less protection in the paint, all hands were on deck; Minnesota pulled ahead to a 19-point lead that left their opponents reeling.
Butler made a noble attempt to bring the Pistons back―the forward took matters into his own hands, scoring 12 points to start the fourth quarter and shrink Minnesota’s lead to 80-74. The Wolves held their own, but eventually Detroit battled back to tie the game at 88. Young stepped up to play the role of clutch player, grabbing a smooth over-the-should pass from Ricky Rubio and knocking down a three-point bucket that ultimately led Minny to seal their win.
“We kind of went to an old play that we ran a lot with [Sam] Cassell and [Kevin] Garnett,” head coach Flip Saunders said of the play. “Thad hit a three-pointer off it and it’s kind of a go-to play to control the tempo of the game and also be aggressive with scoring.”
Despite the addition of several young players to the roster, Saunders ran Thursday’s contest primarily with the veterans. Minnesota has a strong blend of experience on its roster, and Saunders is confident that it will be the key to success.
“We’re trying to develop, but we also need some positive reinforcement and that’s by getting some wins,” Saunders said.
In addition to Pekovic and Young’s numbers, Williams and Rubio combined for 24 points and 13 assists on the evening.
Rookie Andrew Wiggins had a little larger presence in Game 2, although he struggled during the first half. The No. 1 draft pick switched gears after halftime, though. Timberwolves.com’s Dane Mizutani described the stretch:
“It started with an easy layup early in the quarter that seemed to get him going. A few minutes later he caught a pass from Mo Williams, took off from the left of the painted area, absorbed a ton of contact from Joel Anthony, and finished at the rim. He missed the ensuing free throw only to get the rebound and drill a jumper. Wiggins nailed a Kobe Bryant-esque turnaround jumper a couple minutes later to cap his impressive sequence.”
Fellow rookie Zach LaVine made his regular-season debut, but he played only four minutes and did not find any scoring opportunities.
Up next: the Timberwolves stay in Minnesota to face the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.