The Timberwolves got their first "NBA test" this evening when they took down the Raptors on their home court in Toronto.
The Wolves fell to CSKA Moscow on Monday night, but they bounced back tonight with a good win over a pretty good Eastern Conference team.
The Timberwolves took an early lead through the first quarter (28-22), thanks in large part to their play from Kevin Love (7pts) & Nikola Peković (9pts). Kevin Martin only played the first six minutes in this one, but then sat for the remainder of the night. We found out late in the second half that Martin had a sore achilles tendon and him sitting, was simply "precautionary".
That meant more time for Alexey Shved. Shved played 21 minutes tonight and finished with 10pts, 3reb, 4ast, 1stl & 1blk. It didn't (surprisingly) mean more time for Shabazz Muhammad, as he didn't see the court at all.
The Wolves were outscored 27-37 in the second quarter as the Raps took a 55-59 lead into halftime. At the half, DeRozan already had 13 of his 17 points and Gay added 9 of his total 11. Also big during the Raptor run was three-straight made threes from newcomer Steve Novak (Novak scored all nine of his points in that second quarter).
Both teams were doing quite well offensively through the first half. Both squads were over 50% from the field and the Raptors were shooting 62.5% from deep (5-of-8). Both teams buckled down defensively in the second half. Adelman said after the game that he loved the defensive effort from the Wolves in the final two quarters.
I watched all of the first half, but after that my internet wasn't working right and I only caught bits and pieces of the second half. However, what I did see was better defense from both squads and unlike in the first quarter, the Wolves were rotating better and staying in front of their man. In the first quarter, a lot of Toronto's offensive possessions ended in the Wolves committing blocking fouls on drives to the lane.
We got a chance to see Gorgui Dieng and Lorenzo Brown in this game, a game after they both didn't play at all. Other players who didn't see the court tonight: Chase Budinger (knee), Shabazz Muhammad (coach's decision), Robbie Hummel (coach's decision), A.J. Price (coach's decision) and Chris Johnson (coach's decision). Johnson didn't play at all on Monday either, but with the Wolves playing tomorrow night in Sioux Falls vs. the Bucks, it's likely that he plays then.
Let's take a look at some of tonight's top performers...
Minnesota's "Big Three" put together some great performances and did so in limited playing time. It definitely makes you optimistic when you see these guys playing well. Ricky Rubio was especially fun to watch as we finally got a chance to see him show of his jumper. He hit a few 15-17 footers as the defense sagged off him and didn't respect him. He also (especially in the first half) had a number of VERY good pump fakes. It brought me back to last season when Andrei Kirilenko would make his defender look absolutely silly with his pump fake. Perhaps Rubio had AK give him a couple of pointers before he left town.
I was a bit surprised that Love & Peković had such an easy time working in the paint in that first quarter, mainly because Toronto's new assistant coach is Minnesota's old assistant coach (Bill Bayno). With Bayno working A LOT with Peković the past few seasons, I thought he would have a few more pointers to give Valanciunas on stopping Pek, but Nikola went off for 9 points in the first quarter and just bullied Toronto's bigs (Johnson, Hansbrough & Valanciunas).
Toronto's wings (DeRozan & Gay) had things come a little to easy for them in this one. Corey Brewer did a good job on Gay when they were on the floor together, but when Williams entered this the game and had to check Rudy, it was ugly. There were a handful of possessions that Williams showed a glimmer, that perhaps he could be an effective defensive small forward, but on the whole, it was more bad than good. Martin did okay defensively during the few minutes he was on the floor, but he certainly was a lockdown defender and Alexey Shved came in and continued the struggle. Perimeter defense is something that Minnesota's wing players need a lot of work on.
The Wolves continued to take good care of the ball. For the second game in a row they turned it over only 11 times. The Wolves picked up their three-point shooting in the second half (thanks in large part to their second-string backcourt of Barea & Shved). At halftime the Raptors were shooting 52.6% from the field (20-of-38). In the second half they shot just 32.4% (12-of-37). The Timberwolves didn't find as many easy shots in the second half either, but it was holding Toronto to such a low percentage that sealed the W in this one.
Adelman said after the game that he was VERY impressed with rookies Lorenzo Brown and Gorgui Dieng. He said after Monday's game that he was quite impressed with Robbie Hummel and A.J. Price. As far as the battle for the 15th spot goes, it's still very much up in the air. With Johnson not seeing the court at all through these first two contests, the likelihood of him being on the roster come opening day is getting slimmer and slimmer.
The Wolves are back tomorrow night vs. the Buck in Sioux Falls. That one tips at 7pmCT!
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!