The Wolves have had their well-documented struggles this season closing out close games, tonight was not one of those cases. The Wolves closed out the game on an 11-2 run and avoided a slip-up despite a late rally from a Kings squad with three players averaging 20+ points a game.
The Kings are the only team in the NBA with three players averaging 20 points or more a game (Isaiah Thomas, DeMarcus Cousins & Rudy Gay). Unfortunately, their impressive individual scoring numbers have not led to a lot of team success in another rebuilding year in Sacramento.
The Wolves have one 20-point scorer and two others who average between 18-19. The Wolves have been without their two 18-19 point scorers the past 7 games and they've been without their 18-points per game scorer for the past 13.
Kevin Martin has missed the last 7-straight games with a broken thumb and Nikola Pekovic has missed the last 13-straight with bursitis in his right ankle. Both made their returns to the starting lineup tonight and both had an immediate (positive) impact.
There was some slight rust from both, but, for the most part, they looked really good and it was the kind of jolt the Wolves could really use if they still have the playoffs in their sights.
Kevin Martin was impressive early making his first five shots from the field. He finished with 14 of his 26 points in that first quarter. Rookie Ben McLemore was tasked with defending the former King Martin and he didn't have much success against the former franchise player. Martin finished with 26 on 56% shooting in 34 minutes. In his NBA career, his team's are now 5-0 when facing the Kings in Sacramento.
Pek came alive in the second quarter where he scored 8 of his 20 points and I can assure you that when Cousins heard Pek was returning, he had to have been less than thrilled. Cousins still had a great outing (21 points & 17 rebounds), but he just didn't look comfortable out while the two exchanged blows in the paint.
Pek was supposed to be on a 20-minute time limit (according to head trainer Gregg Farnam). Nikola played 28 minutes in tonight's win. Obviously the ankle was feeling all right. The big thing will be how it feels tomorrow. The Wolves don't play again until Monday in Denver vs. the Nuggets, so he'll have a day of rest before returning to the floor (stay tuned to the injury report for an update on any issues with Pek's ankle or Martin's thumb).
Kevin Love ended his streak of 6-straight 30+ point games and his streak of 12-straight 25+ point games with 22 in tonight's win. Love only attempted 12 shots and while the Kings did a decent job of taking some things away from him offensively, Love found other avenues to aid in team success. He helped Ricky with the role of playmaker with 7 assists, he also turned things up defensively registering a couple of steals and a block. Beyond the steals/blocks numbers he also had a number of nice sequences where he was challenging the opposing bigs at the rim, something we haven't seen him do consistently this season. Ultimately, you know Love could care less about his 30 or 25 point streak ending, I'll go out on a limb and say that having his starters join him back on the court and getting the win was reward enough.
The Wolves now move to 3-1 on their 5-game road trip with the finale coming Monday night in Denver. Minnesota also got back to .500 on the season and as of Saturday night, they're 5 games behind the Phoenix Suns for that 8th and final playoff spot.
Tonight's box score...
Rudy Gay had a terrific first half! He scored 22 of his 24 points in the first two quarters (12 in the first and 10 in the second). However, he completely disappeared in the second half and the Kings definitely felt the ill effects of that.
The Kings actually outscored the Wolves in every quarter except the third. Unfortunately (for the Kings) they were outscored by a +17 (31-14) in the third. That well-balanced third quarter was a big key to this Wolves win. They got 7 points from Love, 6 from Brewer, 5 apiece from Martin, Pek & Cunningham and another 3 from Rubio.
The other big key was how the Wolves responded to a late push from the Kings with a surge of their own. That 11-2 run is a terrific sight for Wolves fans that have seen too many big leads evaporate down the stretch with those eventually leading to bad losses to inferior teams.
The Wolves are back in action Monday night in Denver, tipoff is set for 8pmCST.
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!