The Timberwolves won a game in which Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love were both inactive due to injury. Heck, they won it by 12 points. Not so bad, right? It was ugly. The Wolves made 32 of 87 field goals; a lousy 36.8 percent. Fortunately, the opponent Kings were equally inaccurate with their shot, hitting 36.0 percent. From downtown things were especially rough: The Wolves made 2 of 17 threes; the Kings 3 of 16. Of all Wolves players only J.J. Barea had a standout performance on the offensive end. With a game-best +26, very reflective of his game impact, Barea chipped in 21 points and 5 assists. He was largely responsible for a 2nd Quarter surge that saw the lead swell to 17 points. That lead would evaporate largely due to continued shooting woes and poor transition defense–the one area in which the Kings were not dreadful last night was pushing the ball for easy baskets in transition.
When the lead was erased and the Kings took a 1-point lead (midway through 3rd Quarter) Adelman called timeout and stopped the bleeding. Notable substitutions shortly following that timeout were Dante Cunningham (+21) for Derrick Williams (-11), Barea for Luke Ridnour, and Greg Stiemsma for Nikola Pekovic. Stiemer had 4 blocks in just 16 minutes and had a noticeable effect on the Wolves team defense. Of all players (mostly because we’ve seen J.J. have hot nights and understand he’s a “hit-or-miss” type) Stiemer was the most-pleasant surprise in Game 1. Along with the blocks, he had 9 points and 7 rebounds in a limited-minutes +7. This reserve wrecking crew locked up the Kings for extended stretches, extending the lead to 75-70 when Pek re-entered for Stiemer with 7:09 to play. The remainder of the game was defined by two things: Kings missed field goals and Kings personal fouls. The Wolves made their living down the stretch at the foul line, many times off of simple “bonus” free throws where they weren’t even shooting or attacking. For the game, the Wolves shot 36 free throws, making 26. The Kings only shot 16–making 13. The final nail in the coffin came when Andrei Kirilenko (who played a very-solid game, I should add) found a streaking Pekovic for a transition layup to bump the lead to 82-74. From that point forward, the game was in hand and Wolves fans enjoyed the first victory of the season, one very much needed against a Kings team expected to lose many more than it wins.
A few bullets:
* The shooting guards that everybody was excited to see, Brandon Roy and Alexey Shved, were disappointing. Neither played what I would call a bad game, but shots didn’t fall (Roy 4-14, Shved 0-3) and each was perhaps a little bit jittery for different reasons. I still feel good about these guys, and expect better performances in the future.
* There are nights when DeMarcus Cousins looks like the best parts of Hakeem Olajuwon and Rasheed Wallace. Last night, he looked like only the bad parts of Sheed. DMC had 11 points on 5-13 shooting in 25 minutes. Only 25 minutes because he had 5 fouls. On a key possession in the 4th Quarter there was a flood of players attacking the paint–one of those late-game wrestling matches was sure to ensue and a player like Cousins would likely be the winner. Only he was standing way the hell back–next to the three-point line at the top of the key. The ball did come his way and he clanked another jumper. His crappy performance was a big reason why the Wolves were victorious.
* Some interesting outcomes around the league last night. Charlotte beat Indiana? Kemba Walker had 30 points. Not a bad debut for Coach Mike Dunlap. The Knicks pounded the Heat–104-84–behind Melo’s 30 points. After 1 game, my Knicks prediction looks smart. SAMPLE SIZE! Oh, and if the season ended today, James Harden would win MVP in a landslide. The Beard had 47 last night in a win over the playoffs-expected Hawks. Remember how great Randy Foye played under Kevin McHale? For all of Mac’s failings as a GM, he really seems like a coach that instills confidence in his young players. I don’t think Harden will average 42 points per game for the entire season (Ya think?!) but the early signs from Houston look great and Thunder fans will be holding Jeremy Lamb and Kevin Martin to unreasonably-high standards thanks to Clay Bennett for cheaping out on one of the game’s greats.
Next game is tomorrow night at Toronto. Until then.
Season Record: 1-0