The Minnesota Timberwolves came into tonight's game riding a five-game losing streak on the road and a three-game losing streak overall. Tonight both of those came to a halt thanks in large part to an improved defensive effort and Martin's clutch offense in the fourth quarter.
Martin scored 13 of his 27 points in the final period and the Timberwolves were able to hand the Mavericks just their second home loss of the season. Their previous lone loss at American Airlines Center came just five days ago when they fell to the Nuggets, 96-110. The Mavs are now 8-2 at home and the TWolves move to 3-6 on the road.
DeJuan Blair hit a two-point shot with 6:33 to play to make it a 92-90 Minnesota lead. The Wolves proceeded to rattle off an 11-2 run over the following three-plus minutes to make it 103-92 with 3:13 to play. Kevin Martin had 8 of his 13 fourth quarter points within that (just over) three-minute stretch! Kevin Love hit a three-pointer to make it a 10-point game with 1:54 to play and Love & Martin made their free throws after being intentionally fouled over the final minute-and-a-half to secure the six-point win.
Before Martin's fourth quarter outburst, Minnesota's best player was undoubtedly: Nikola Peković. He simply had his way in the paint and finished with one of his most efficient shooting nights of the season. He was matched up against Samuel Dalembert & DeJuan Blair throughout this contest, but neither had an answer for his moves in the post as he seemingly scored at will. After a slow start to the season, Pek has come on strong these past few weeks and given the Timberwolves' offense all the more versatility.
New guy Luc Richard Mbah a Moute made his Timberwolves debut tonight and did so in extended minutes. Despite having still not practiced with the team (he was excused from practice on Friday so he could return to Sacramento to get some things and spend Thanksgiving with his family) Mbah a Moute saw some significant and meaningful minutes in this one. Mbah a Moute also seemed to do something that Derrick Williams never could. In just 25 minutes tonight it was clear that Luc had earned Adelman's trust--Williams couldn't accomplish that in over two seasons! The reason he's earned that trust? He gives 100% on the floor, plays within himself and despite his offensive limitations is an extremely valuable asset on the defensive end. There was a point during the game where Adelman went with a lineup of J.J. Barea, Corey Brewer, Mbah a Moute, Dante Cunningham and Gorgui Dieng. Four of those guys are known primarily for their defense and it showed as they were a tough unit to score on. Luc was on the floor midway through the fourth quarter when the game was still "up for grabs". He was defending his former teammate Monta Ellis who had burned the Wolves all night through the first three quarters. Luc didn't shut Ellis down, but he certainly slowed him down. Ellis scored 22 points through three quarters but added just 4 more in the final period to finish with 26 on the night. If you watched tonight's game you know that Luc had a lot to do with that. The fact that those two were teammates in Milwaukee last season probably helped Luc immensely (knowing Ellis' tendencies).
I thought Luc did a very good job tonight and it's clear that he'll have a significant role in the rotation this season--especially when Minnesota faces teams with incredible offensive players that are a bit to big and strong for Brewer (like: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, etc). The one thing that definitely caught my eye was Mbah a Moute's hands. Luc had a number of passes hit off his hands as well as a number of plays where he drove the lane and was easily stripped (he had the ball stripped at least four times while in the lane tonight). I know he's a player who's limited offensively, but he's got to take care of the basketball! I don't know if he's an above-average ball handler or if he does indeed have terrible hands. For all I know he's simply not used to playing with this group of guys and needs some time to get acclimated and comfortable.
Let's take a look at tonight's box score...
Heading into tonight the Mavericks were 9-0 when Ellis had 5 or more assists in a game compared to 1-7 when he had four or fewer. They're now 9-1 after this 6-assist game from Monta. The Mavericks are also 3-4 now when their big two of Ellis & Dirk score 20 or more points apiece.
The Timberwolves had three twenty-point scorers. This is the third game this season that Love, Martin & Peković have finished with 20 or more points apiece. The Wolves are 2-1 in those games (wins tonight and vs. Boston) with the lone loss coming to the Clippers in that first meeting at STAPLES Center (where the Wolves had three opportunities in the final five seconds to send the game to overtime, but missed them all and lost...ironically enough the three chances were divided amongst Martin, Pek & Love).
In Mbah a Moute's first game as a Wolf he finished with a +10 which was the second-best of the night only behind Kevin Love's +12.
Kevin Martin missed a free throw in the final minute of tonight's game. Prior to that miss he had hit 39-straight free throws. Martin is shooting 93.5% from the line this season with just 7 misses in 107 attempts. He shot three more free throws after that miss and made them all, so a new streak begins, I suppose. Martin also finished with 1 block tonight. That's his first block of the season and thus the first of his Timberwolves career, it came on a Shane Larkin jump shot that Martin swatted from behind.
Minnesota's Big Three led them to this victory, but there were some Mavericks players that played very well in this one. Monta Ellis was a terror on the offensive end. He did a little bit of everything for the Mavericks, but he cooled off considerably in that final quarter. Former Spur DeJuan Blair had a very nice game and that just builds on what has been a very nice season in Dallas. I enjoyed watching him early in his career and I'm very glad that he's been given another chance after being benched the past couple seasons in San Antonio. He's having a revival and proving to be a very integral piece off of that Maverick bench. I'm really stunned that he didn't have more suitors this offseason (I think he was one of the last free agents to sign a contract and he did so for close to the veteran's minimum). Vince Carter also had a nice game off the bench. He's getting up their in years, but like many great players before him he's adjusted his game to remain relevant. He's no longer the athletic freak he once was, but he's still one of the Mavericks' best players thanks to his shooting and aggressive tough play on both ends. Dirk Nowitzki had a good game, but he seemed more interested in complaining about no calls than just putting his head down and working for the win. Kevin Love has been known to do that and I really hate it when players spend time jawing at the ref rather than getting back on defense or playing harder/through it. Dirk was visually frustrated as he left the court tonight and (as I was watching the Mavericks broadcast) he punched a metal wall on his way through the tunnel to the locker rooms. I like this Mavericks team, I think they'll definitely be in the conversation for one of those bottom seeds in the West come April. The Wolves should be as well and this win helps that (the Mavericks now have to win the next two meetings if they want to hold a postseason tiebreaker with Minnesota).
This was the first game in the last four outings that the Timberwolves held an opponent under 50% from both the field and the three-point line. Each of Minnesota's last three opponents had shot 50% or better from both the field and from deep. Isn't surprising that the Wolves were on a three-game losing streak during that span.
Minnesota's focus heading into tonight's game was defense and they accomplished that to an extent, however there's still plenty of room for improvement. With the addition of defensive dynamo Mbah a Moute, there's no reason to think Minnesota's defense can't improve (the return of Turiaf will help as well), though it's on guys like Martin, Love & Peković to continue to work on improving their individual defensive skill sets.
Minnesota's 50.9% shooting is the second-best of the season as is their 42.3% from deep, they also tied a season-best with those 11 made three-pointers. The Wolves were whistled for a season-low 9 fouls, but when they were sent to the line, they made just 70% of their shots (the second-worst mark of the season). The Mavericks' 9 made free throws and 11 attempts are both season-lows for a Wolves opponent as are their 24 defensive rebounds and 11 team turnovers.
Mbah a Moute was very active on the glass and came away with 7 total rebounds (tied a season-high) which included 4 on the offensive end (a new season-high). His 2 blocks also tied a season-high.
The Timberwolves are back in action tomorrow night in Oklahoma City where they'll take on Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder. That game is set to tip at 6pmCST. Stay tuned for the preview of that one, until then thanks for reading and GO WOLVES!
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!