The Timberwolves were playing without their entire starting front line (Brewer, Love & Pek) and yet they stayed with the red-hot Kevin Durant and his Thunder through the first three quarters.
Corey Brewer remained in the Twin Cities after the birth of his son last night. This was Brewer's first missed game of the season and now Rubio is the only starter to have played in every game this season. Love missed the game with a stiff neck after taking a couple nasty spills in that win over the Lakers last night at the Target Center. And, of course Pekovic missed another game with that bursitis in his ankle.
Adelman went with a starting group of Rubio, Kevin Martin, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Dante Cunningham and Ronny Turiaf. With just 12 healthy players, tonight's game gave players like Robbie Hummel, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng and A.J. Price to see the court.
With Love & Pek out, the Wolves had just three 'big' guys in Dante, Ronny & Dieng. It forced Robbie Hummel to play some 'stretch four' and Dante Cunningham played a game-high 43 minutes en-route to his best all-around outing of the season.
With no Love (25.6), Pekovic (18) or Brewer (11.1) that's an average of 54.7 points of offense that the Wolves had to look elsewhere for. You've got to give a lot of credit to Rubio, Barea & Cunningham who all stepped up with so many key offensive players out. Rubio had 9 of his team-high 19 points after the first quarter and even attempted 10 field goals in the first twelve minutes! He was very aggressive and that's something the Wolves desperately needed. J.J. Barea came in, in the second quarter and picked up right where Ricky left off.
When I heard that Brewer wouldn't play I was excited for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to get more playing time (and to Mbah a Moute's credit, he played well on both ends of the floor tonight and hopefully earns a bit more trust from Adelman as the season presses on). When I heard that Love was out just prior to the tipoff, I was fearful that the Wolves would struggle to hit 80 points tonight. I was clearly mistaken.
With Cunningham, Turiaf, Mbah a Moute & Dieng getting more playing time there an aspect to Minnesota's defense we really haven't seen much of this season: Rim Protection! Starters Ronny & Dante combined for 7 of Minnesota's 8 blocks (Hummel had the other) and they certainly altered quite a few more.
The third quarter ended on a Derek Fisher three-point attempt that looked as though he was going to overshoot the basket and airball it...unfortunately Gorgui Dieng had other plans...
After an official review, it was ruled a goaltend because the ball was over the cylinder when Dieng tipped it in, so it counted as a three and the Thunder took a 77-80 lead after three quarters.
To begin the fourth quarter, the Thunder went on a 16-4 run to take a 12-point lead. Early in that fourth quarter was the first time all game that either team had led by double digits.
For the final six minutes of the game and the Wolves still down double digits, Adelman went with a lineup of Rubio, Muhammad, Budinger, Hummel & Cunningham. They were able to knock down a couple of threes to make things interesting in the final few minutes, but the Thunder ultimately pulled away for the 97-106 win.
Cunningham played a season-high 43 minutes and finished with a season-high 18 points. It was definitely nice to see him crashing the offensive glass for putbacks and knocking down those mid-range jumpers.
Mbah a Moute did a decent job defensively vs. Durant (he really can't be stopped) while also chipping in 8 points and a few rebounds as the starting small forward.
Strangely enough, Martin played just 23 minutes and finished with only 8 points on 4-of-10 shooting. He did play 40+ minutes last night vs. the Lakers and the Wolves certainly could've used his scoring down the stretch, but he didn't play at all in the fourth quarter.
Rubio did play well, leading the team in scoring (19), assists (5) and tying Cunningham with 8 rebounds. The Wolves missed 6 free throws as a team and 5 of those came from Rubio. In a game that you lose by just 9 points, seeing those missed free throws in the box score certainly hurt. Nonetheless, it was still one of Ricky's best offensive outings of the season to date.
Robbie Hummel saw his first game action since early January when the Wolves defeated the Sixers (1/6). He came off the bench for 17 minutes and did some good things on both ends. At the beginning of the season, Adelman said he (Hummel) had the skill set to be a 'stretch four' in this League (a la Kevin Love or Ryan Anderson) and I would have to agree. If he can find a consistent jumper and knock down open shots, there will be playing time for him (especially with Budinger continuing to struggle shooting the ball--something that continued tonight).
As noted above, Muhammad played the final six minutes of tonight's game and finished with a new season-high 6 points. He also airballed a three and looked shaky defensively. He got 2 of his points on an offensive rebound putback and the other two by posting up on the left box and fading away for a 12-foot jumper (hitting both). He didn't look spectacular, but he showed enough to deserve some more minutes going forward (though, barring injuries, that won't happen).
The Wolves are back under .500 at 24-25. They'll have a chance to get back to even on Friday night in New Orleans vs. the Pelicans. Corey Brewer & Kevin Love will both be back for that game and if the Pelicans are as shorthanded as they were the last time we faced them, the Wolves should find success, Friday night.
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!