It wasn’t easy. Despite building a 13-point lead late in the 3rd Quarter of Tuesday night’s game at Sacramento the Wolves found themselves in a dogfight in the closing minutes. With a minute to go, and holding just a 2-point lead, Andrei Kirilenko cracked the code of the annoying Kings zone defense, filling a seam, catching a pass and quickly flipping it over to Nikola Pekovic for an open layup. On the other end of the floor, AK47 swatted a crucial shot of DeMarcus Cousins. When he secured the loose-ball rebound himself, the game was in hand, with the five-game losing streak snapped. The Wolves controlled most of this game, and deserved the win. Since we’ve got another one tomorrow night (@ LA Clippers, 9:30 CST) I’m keeping it short, so we’re heading into the bullet format:
* Kevin Love played his best tonight. He made shots (8-17 shooting, including a pair of 3’s) and scored 23 points. He rebounded the hell out of the ball: 24 total, 3 offensive–including a key tip-in of a Luke Ridnour miss during #winningtime. He defended well. Most importantly, he didn’t hold the ball. He allowed playmakers to make plays (particularly Kirilenko, who was more involved tonight), and he finished them and added possessions with all of those boards. The 25 team assists, with the most of any individual being 6 (Barea) reflects the ball movement on display by the Timberwolves offense. Love allowed that to happen by “fitting in” rather than being the whole show. Great night for a great player.
* Luke Ridnour — He made a ton of jumpers. He finished 8-13 with 18 points and 5 assists, but he was red hot in the middle of the game, 7 for 9 from the floor at one point. He isn’t much of a table setter, but he’s a money shooter when he can clear himself with a dribble.
* Malcolm Lee — I’ve roasted him plenty, and Britt Robson took his turn in more-eloquent prose over at MinnPost this morning too. But give him credit for putting together a solid performance tonight in 21 minutes of action. Lee scored 10 points on 4-6 shooting including a pair of treys. I don’t think he should be playing, but he deserves credit when it’s due.
* Defense — A much-better performance on the defensive end tonight. In the halfcourt at least. Rotations were quick and mostly correct. The difference from the last two games was apparent in the 1st Quarter. If I had to point to two reasons why this game was close despite the good offense, it would be 1) DMC shot the ball well from the perimeter, where Pek can’t guard him; and 2) Kings got the ball out in transition at every opportunity and capitalized on most of them. But the halfcourt defense, within the confines of this team’s athletic ability, was about as good as it can be. Slide Ricky Rubio in there for Luke and the ceiling is raised.
* Alexey Shved — I like the 27 minutes of playing time (I’d prefer it be more, but 27 is a fair amount of tick for a reserve) but I don’t like the pairing with J.J. Barea. You can see even on TV how J.J.’s dominant personality equals dominance of the ball. Then, later in the game, Shved becomes relied upon by the team to create action. I never feel totally comfortable when Shved has the ball until he gets in that zone–the one he reached in a handful of earlier games–where he plays completely loose and without worry. He did bury a pair of wing threes tonight (a sign of a pure shooter is hitting a wing three–the corners and top of the key are much more mechanical, robotic shots) but on the whole it wasn’t a great game for Shved. I wish he’d play a lot of minutes without J.J. next to him.
A tough one on the way tomorrow night at Staples. Very glad we got this one, because Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will be heavy favorites on their home court with rest.
Season Record: 6-7