Utter domination is not the sort of thing that the Minnesota Timberwolves have grown very used to this season. In fact, they have usually found themselves on the opposite end of such treatment. The Pups entered Saturday night’s contest against the New Orleans Hornets having lost 11 of their past 12 games, but with the help of some healthy bodies and a cold shooting night from New Orleans, the Wolves whooped the soon-to-be Pelicans by a score of 115-86.
Minnesota got in front early and held a comfortable margin throughout the entire game. The Hornets were without their scoring leader, Eric Gordon, as he sat due to soreness in both his surgically-repaired knee and also in his back. Since returning to action for New Orleans, the Hornets have gone 8-7 in games that Gordon has played in, a very encouraging mark that has New Orleans fans feeling very optimistic for the future, as they should. The young core of Gordon with first overall selection Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Greivis Vasquez, Al-Farouq Aminu and Austin Rivers should prove competitive for many years to come.
Tonight featured a marquee matchup of Spanish-speaking point guards, one Venezuelan and the other a Spaniard. Greivis Vasquez, a former late first-round selection by the Memphis Grizzlies, continues to tear it up this season averaging 13.8 ppg and 9.3 apg. Vasquez has proven himself to be a legitimate starting PG in the NBA, and appears to have found a good home for the Hornets. The 6-foot-6 Vasquez faced off against the 6-foot-4 Ricky Rubio, and Ricky ultimately got the better of the matchup on both ends of the floor.
Minnesota’s biggest lead came in the second quarter when they led by 30 points, and the momentum did not change for the rest of the contest. No single player played more than 27 minutes for the T-Wolves, and every eligible player saw minutes for Minnesota. Although I saw no problem with resting players and giving other guys chances in a game that was essentially decided in the first period, I am perplexed that Derrick Williams played only 14 minutes. Last night could have served as valuable minutes for D-Will to work on his 1-on-1 game and gain comfort in game situations, but despite playing well, he was the only starter not to receive at least 23 minutes of playing time. Yeah, Dante was playing out of his mind and deserved to stay on the floor. But couldn’t Derrick get some minutes at SF, or is that former hope now a pipe dream? Whatever the answer is, I do not understand it.
Minnesota’s frontcourt did a number on the Hornets opposing bigs, and Minnesota outscored New Orleans 58-32 in the paint. Nikola Pekovic added 14 points and 7 rebounds and Andrei Kirilenko contributed 12 points, 6 boards, 3 assists and 2 steals. AK-47 was prevalent on backdoor cuts and was the beneficiary of some impressive Rubio passes, but largely because Andrei did such a good job of getting himself open. The Timberwolves newest fan-favorite, Chris Johnson, saw only 8 minutes at the end of the game but was still 3-3 from the field for 6 points. The Wolves other 10-day man, Mickael Gelabale, scored 11 points on 4-5 shooting while pulling down 5 rebounds in 21 minutes.
As a team, the Wolves shot 58.4% compared to only 40% by the Hornets. Once Minnesota got in control, New Orleans put up very little fight to get back into the game. The young Hornets finished up a 5-game road trip in Minnesota and fatigue appeared to be a factor in this one. All in all, a good win for the Wolves.
Keys of the Game
- Transition Defense - Minnesota committed 18 total team turnovers, but gave up only 7 points off turnovers. In other words, their transition defense was very impressive, and New Orleans did a very poor job capitalizing on the Pups mistakes. The Hornets had very poor spacing in transition, which allowed Minnesota defenders to deflect passes and get steals.
- Rebounding - The Pups were back to their old ways of dominating the paint and out-rebounded New Orleans 44-28. No single Pup got over 7 rebounds, but rebounding was instead a group effort for Minnesota.
- Passing - The Wolves tallied 30 assists as a team while New Orleans was held to only 15. Rubio did a tremendous job of penetrating the Hornets’ half-court defense and was able to find teammates breaking to the hoop. Alexey Shved added 8 assists off the bench as well.
Three Stars of the Game
- Dante Cunningham - Cunningham hit all 9 of his field goal attempts and had what might have been the most efficient game of his career. DC Hustle was absolute money from mid-range and even showed off his athleticism with a high-flying alley-oop from Rubio that got the Target Center on it’s feet. Cunningham was a ridiculous +27 on the floor in 26 minutes, and finished his perfect shooting night with 18 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals.
- Ricky Rubio - Ricky made a tough matchup against Vasquez look easy as he made fans “ooh” and “ahh” due to some spectacular alley-oops and fancy dribbling. To be honest, Rubio looked every bit of his former self last night and was even attacking the hooping and looking to get his shot from the get-go. As good as Rubio was on the offensive end, he was every bit as good on defense, shutting down Vasquez and limiting New Orleans’ primary facilitator. Because of the blowout, Rubio was only asked to play 23 minutes, but in the limited time on the floor he was able to record 9 points (3-5 FG), 7 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal and only 1 turnover.
- Alexey Shved - Enough cannot be said about how much Shved has meant to this ballclub in only his rookie season. The way Shved operates in the offense, he looks more like a veteran than a rookie. This is due to his tremendous floor awareness and instincts, as he is so good at finding open teammates off the pick-and-roll. The Russian revelation finished with 12 points (4-11 FG), 8 assists, 4 rebounds and 1 block in 25 minutes.