The Minnesota Timberwolves may be without their star player, but tonight was a prime example of the fighting spirit and talent on this team.
Nikola Pekovic went for 25 & 18 and Andrei Kirilenko added 21 & 6 as the Minnesota Timberwolves survived a late scare to escape with their 16th win of the season.
These two teams met only one time last season. The game was in Atlanta and the TWolves were up 18 at the half. Unfortunately, Joe Johnson rallied his team and they were able to come back all the way, to hit a pair of clinching free throws with 4.6 seconds to play. Kevin Love missed a buzzer beater three that would've won the game and the Wolves went home losers 91-93.
Tonight the Wolves led by 16 at halftime and seemed to be cruising to an easy W and that was exactly what had me worried. I was getting a bit of deja vu and was VERY concerned that the Wolves would blow another big first half lead with their poor play in the second half.
It wasn't so much that the Wolves were playing poorly, it was just Atlanta hitting some tough shots and stringing together a couple of runs that ended up being key in the 5-point victory.
The Hawks cut the lead to a single point on a Lou Williams layup with just 1:07 to play. The Wolves answered on the ensuing possession with another bucket from the MIGHTY PEK to make it 104-101. The Hawks took a timeout and got a mid-range jumper from Al Horford to cut the lead to one-point, once again.
That's when Dante Cunningham decided to flex his 'clutch muscles'. Dante hit a 21-foot jumper on the following possession to push the lead to three, with just 15 seconds to play. The Hawks took a timeout. Out of the timeout, Josh Smith attempted an inbound pass to Al Horford in the post, that Dante swatted away to come up with his third steal on the night and ultimately seal a Wolves victory. Luke was intentionally fouled and hit both free throws to push the lead to five. Smith missed a three on the next possession and the Wolves walked away with the narrow W.
Before I get to tonight's 'top performers', I'd like to highlight Dante Cunningham. Dante's game tonight didn't show up as much in his statline. Dante finished the night with 6pts, 5reb, 1ast, 3stls and 3-of-9 FG. Not really a great game (statistically), however without Dante's two VERY clutch plays in the final minutes (that mid-range jumper and the steal) the Wolves are a game below .500 and not a game above!
A few misc. notes: Tonight marked the return of Anthony Tolliver to the Target Center. Tolli finished with 1 rebound in 5 minutes off the bench.......Head Coach Rick Adelman wasn't at tonight's game for personal reasons (in what they were calling a family emergency), Terry Porter was the acting head coach tonight and it remains to be seen whether Adelman will join the team in Oklahoma City tomorrow night......
Let's take a look at tonight's top performers....
Coming into tonight's game I was most excited about the matchup between Nikola Pekovic and Al Horford--and they really didn't disappoint. Pek didn't struggle at all against one of the NBA's better centers as he consistently went inside and didn't find much resistance in doing so. When Al Horford couldn't contain him, the Hawks tried a more physical big guy with Zaza Pachulia. Zaza didn't have much more luck. Andrei Kirilenko got hot and along with a number of crafty layups he also hit to big three-pointers in the fourth quarter to halt one of Atlanta's furious runs. Williams had another big game, following up Saturday when he scored all 18 of his points int the fourth quarter. In tonight's game, D-Will got going early scoring 6 in the first quarter and 7 in the second quarter to finish the second half with 13 points. He added the other 4 in the final quarter to finish with 17 on the night. I do hope the Wolves stick with Dante as the starter and continue to bring Williams off the bench, clearly both players are responding well to these new roles.
All three of the players listed on Atlanta's side are honestly three guys that I'd love to have on our team. All three of those guys play hard and are three of the better players at their position. Lou Williams was someone I hoped the Wolves would target in free agency this summer. They weren't interested and he ended up signing with his hometown Atlanta Hawks. With the Wolves in search of trading for another big man, I wouldn't be against a trade for Josh Smith--that'd take a lot of the better players on this roster: Pekovic & Williams for sure, among a number of others.
MISC. STATS: Dante's three steals ties a season-high........Nikola Pekovic's 12 defensive rebounds is a new season-high and his 18 total rebounds is a new season/career-high.......Luke Ridnour's 2 offensive rebounds ties a season-high........Ricky Rubio's 4 steals is a season-high (his career-high is 6 which he got twice last season).......Alexey Shved's 2 steals ties a season-high (the eighth time he's had two steals in one game).........Derrick Williams had a good night from deep, his 3 made threes and 5 attempted threes, both tie season-highs.......
Anytime you can defeat a team that shoots 49% from the field and 46% from deep, you know you did a lot of little things well to come away with a win. The Wolves were out-rebounded with a +1 (uncommon for the NBA's best rebounding team), the Hawks finished with more fast break points (a +8). However, the Wolves' 53% from deep, their 29 assists (thanks in large part to Rubio who finished with 8 and Shved who added 7), the Wolves also dominated in the paint (thank you Pek), got some great production from the bench (led by D-Will's 17) and MOST IMPORTANTLY limited turnovers. The Atlanta Hawks are a team that's great at capitalizing off turnovers, the Wolves' 10 TO's ties a season-low and had Minnesota had one of their 'bad' nights controlling the basketball, the outcome would've been much, much different.
MISC. STATS: Minnesota's 53.3% from deep is a new season-high, their 29 assists ties the second-best mark of the season........The Wolves' 10 turnovers ties a season-low for the year.......The Hawks' 77 field goal attempts ties a season-low for Minnesota opponent this season......
That's all for now, the Wolves are back in action tomorrow night vs. the Thunder in Oklahoma City. A full gameday preview of that one can be found on this site tomorrow afternoon, until then, thanks for reading HOWL and GO WOLVES!
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!