"We need Pek." That seemed to be the consensus following another very disappointing loss without their bruising big man on the active roster.
Without Pekovic, the Wolves were beat on the boards (46-48) and they allowed the Hawks to grab 15 offensive rebounds--all of this despite them being without their own starting center: Al Horford.
A slight edge on the rebounds was far from Minnesota's only problem tonight. With no Pek, the Wolves had little choice but to look to their superstar for the majority of the offense. Love responded in turn with his third 40-point game of the season (and the 7th of his career). Unfortunately, the Wolves are now 0-3 when Love scores 40+ (the other two being losses to San Antonio & the L.A. Clippers).
Love went head-to-head with fellow All-Star Paul Millsap and the All-Star STARTER finished with the more impressive stat line, however the RESERVE got more help from his teammates and most importantly--got that W.
After a four-point loss to the Grizzlies last night at the Target Center, the Wolves got off to a very lethargic start in Atlanta. The Wolves didn't even hit a field goal until Martin buried a two-pointer almost 5 and a half minutes into the game. The Wolves were down 14-3 at one point and seemed to be on their way to a VERY long night in ATL.
Two former Jazzmen: Paul Millsap & DeMarre Carroll were the Hawks' offensive catalysts. Millsap finished the first quarter with 10 of his 20 points, also adding 5 rebounds, 2 assists & 2 steals.
With the Wolves' starters looking B-A-D to begin this one, it became clear early that if the Wolves were going to have any chance to pull out a W, they'd need a big night from their second unit--something they haven't gotten too many times this season. However, that WAS the case tonight. Dante Cunningham made a rare first quarter appearance (with Atlanta going with a smaller starting frontcourt of Millsap & Ayon and later Scott & Brand). He made his presence felt immediately with a couple of throw downs.
The second unit helped spark a run that allowed the Wolves to make it just a one-point game after the first 12 minutes; 24-25, despite the Wolves shooting 35% from the field. One sidenote: the Wolves shot just 7 free throws in Friday's loss to the Grizzlies. In the first quarter of tonight's game in Atlanta the Wolves attempted 10 free throws (making 8). Love finished the first quarter with 9 points & 6 rebounds.
To begin the second quarter we saw a very interesting lineup from Rick Adelman: A.J. Price, J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute & Dante Cunningham. It made sense going up against a team that doesn't have a lot of big bodies on the inside. It's certainly an 'odd' lineup, but the results weren't too bad--there was definitely a lot of energy & hustle from this five-man lineup.
Mbah a Moute played great on both ends--attacking the rim for easy layups and drawing fouls, while also playing great defense, moving his feet, contesting shots and even drawing a charge. It lends to a very good question: Why doesn't Luc play more?! Something I'll touch on more shortly.
Kevin Love came back in and began to heat up in that second quarter with a couple of nice mid-range jumpers.
The Wolves had an offensive explosion to end the first half. They took a 54-43 lead with 55 seconds to play, prompting an Atlanta timeout.
However, the quarter ended on a terrible, TERRIBLE foul by Corey Brewer, who hacked Kyle Korver as he flung up a 40-footer at the buzzer. Korver (a 93% free throw shooter this season) stepped to the line and hit all three to cut it to a 6-point lead; 54-48 at halftime.
The third quarter was where things got frustrating. Kyle Korver carried the momentum of the free throws before halftime over to the third quarter, where he went off for 12 points (including 3-for-3 from downtown). Korver hit his first three with roughly 7:30 to play in the quarter, to make it 115-straight games with at least one three-pointer made. That also tied the game at 60.
With Korver going off and Brewer unable to fight through picks or stay in front of him, the question rang out: Why doesn't Adelman put Mbah a Moute in?! Isn't that the point of your defensive specialist? To come in and help cool off a hot offensive player? Brewer continued to gamble in passing lanes and got hung up easily on picks--something that Mbah a Moute is known for? Not gambling, playing smart defense and a player very adept at staying in front of his man. I don't think LRMAM is an All-Defensive team kind of defender, BUT I know Brewer is NOT a good defender, but rather someone who gambles WAY too much and often gets beat off the dribble and hung up on picks.
That wasn't the only defensive problem in the third quarter. Beyond Ronny Turiaf (who had 3 of his 5 season-high blocks in the third quarter) the Wolves weren't providing any interior resistance. Atlanta players were either wide open for easy lay-ins or the Wolves bigs were forced to commit dumb fouls because they were out of position or the perimeter defenders got beat off the dribble...again!
In that third quarter, Rick Adelman was called for a technical foul. According to a Hawks beat writer (via Twitter), it was reportedly because Adelman said "Geez Louise" in response to one of the many questionable calls throughout the night. This game was pretty poorly officiated on both ends, throughout!
The Hawks stretched the lead to 16 at one point in the third (their largest lead of the game), but the Wolves went on a late rally to end the quarter to find themselves down by 11 through three quarters; 75-86. The Hawks outscored the Wolves 21-38 in the third quarter!
The Wolves began the final quarter with J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved, Chase Budinger, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute & Dante Cunningham. Within the first 45 seconds, the Wolves were able to cut that 11-point deficit to just 5 courtesy of a three-pointer by J.J. Barea and an ensuing possession ended by an Alexey Shved three-pointer.
No doubt, this was a game of runs and it seemed as though, the team that was able to go on that final run would walk away victorious.
Kevin Love was incredible in this one, but he didn't get a lot of help offensively from his fellow starters--it goes without saying that the play of the bench was what kept the Wolves in the game. Because, had Barea & Co. come in and played terrible (like usual) this one would've have even been close.
With about 7:49 to play, Love checked back into the game, with the Wolves down 86-94.
It appeared as though, much to the chagrin of every Wolves fan watching--that Barea would be closing this one out with the starters. To Barea's credit, he was having one of his best games of the season...but of course even that doesn't last long with a bonehead like J.J. At about the 8-minute mark, Shelvin Mack stole the ball away from J.J. as he drove to the rim. Barea threw his hands in the air as the ball went the other way and you could hear him on the basket microphones jawing at the officials. Barea got back down court before the Hawks could score and committed a dumb foul, by shoving Elton Brand as they ran side-by-side down the floor. He continued to yell at the refs. About one minute (game time) later after Shelvin Mack fouled Dante Cunningham, Barea still wouldn't let up and continued to yell at the refs. He was quickly called for a technical. Korver walked down to the other end to shoot the free throw and Barea joined him--continuing to yell at the refs. He was promptly called for a consecutive technical and was ejected. Korver went 1 for 2 on the free throws. It's just yet another example of how terrible J.J. Barea is! I pray that the League suspends him or even if the Wolves discipline him in some way. Neither will happen and we'll still have to watch him help the other team win down the stretch.
With Barea out, it gave Ricky Rubio a chance to play in the fourth quarter. This came just one night after Adelman sat him for the entire fourth quarter despite an excellent third quarter vs. Memphis. Rubio entered and promptly registered a steal. He also played pick-and-roll basketball with Kevin Love and got his teammates open looks. I understand Ricky's offense makes him a liability, but I don't see how Rubio's shooting is more of a liability than J.J.'s shot selection and 'hero-ball' mentality?! Rubio played aggressive defense, found his teammates for open looks and even hit the offensive glass to give the Wolves second chances in the fourth quarter.
With 4:19 to play, Paul Millsap picked up his sixth foul and had to sit down the stretch. That foul came on an aggressive Kevin Love attacking the interior for the and-one. Love sunk the free throw to make it just a four-point game (97-101).
With 1:31 to play, the Hawks led by six (106-112). Adelman called a timeout and on the ensuing possession, Love nailed a triple to make it a three-point game (109-112). Minnesota couldn't get a stop on the other end and on the ensuing offensive possession, Alexey drove the lane and attempted to kick out the ball, but did so right into the hands of Atlanta's Jeff Teague. The Wolves had to play the 'foul game' the rest of the way, but they didn't catch a break on any misses and the Hawks walked away with a 113-120 victory.
The Wolves were forced to go to Love on every possession down the stretch and to his credit, he delivered, BUT wouldn't it have made things easier for him had Minnesota's scorer Kevin Martin joined him on the court? It's just yet another questionable rotational decision by Adelman--going with Shved down the stretch instead of Martin--when the Wolves were in desperate need of offense and pristine execution.
This is Atlanta's 11th-straight win over the Wolves. ATL has also now won 9 of their last 11 games at home. This is Minnesota's second-straight loss and they're in familiar territory once again, with a sub-.500 record (23-24).
The box score...
The Wolves turned the ball over 17 times for 28 Atlanta points, they allowed 15 offensive rebounds, ATL shot a TWolves opponent season-high 30 free throws, got out on the break for 25 points and had 52 paint points.
Every Wolves starter (even Love) finished with a negative +/-, while every reserve (even Barea) finished with a positive +/-. It's not too often that, that happens!
Minnesota had Love score 43 points, but the Hawks had a much more balanced offensive attack. Four of their five starters finished in double figures (24, 20, 19 & 19), while MIP-candidate Mike Scott came off the bench to add 14 for his 11th-straight double-digit scoring game.
Getting Nikola Pekovic back will be a big boost for the Wolves, but there's no doubting that changes have to be made, if the Wolves want to end the playoff-drought they can't play .500 basketball. This isn't the Eastern Conference where 38 wins will probably get you the eighth seed, it's the Western Conference where it's likely to take 48! Through 47 games, if the Wolves want to be in the postseason, they'll need to go 25-10 in their final 35 games to hit that 48-win mark. I hate to say it, but I just don't see that happening! Unfortunately the Wolves are on their way to another season on the outside looking in!
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!