The post-Ricky Rubio portion of the 2011-12 NBA season didn't start well for the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday, but Kevin Love stepped up and saved the follow up to that home loss to the New Orleans Hornets. Love started slowly with just seven points in the first half, but he unleashed a three-point barrage and exploded for 23 after the break to finish with 30 points and seven rebounds in the win. Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea aggregated a Ricky Rubio offensive performance with 17 combined assists, but they failed to fill in on defense. Steve Nash finished with an effortless 25 points on 10-16 shooting, 10 assists and zero turnovers, and Jared Dudley continued his hot play with 28 points and 9 rebounds. Sure the Phoenix Suns came into Tuesday as winners of seven of their last nine contests, but the Wolves managed to hang on for the win.
The Nikola Pekovic and Marcin Gortat matchup failed to live up to the "big ugly European center showdown" billing it promised on paper, but only because Gortat turned a rare, sustained clunker. As Pekovic attacked, banged and cleaned up messes down low to put in 15 first quarter points on 7-9 shooting, Gortat picked up two early fouls and never found his groove. In fact, the Polish Hammer managed just eight points and four rebounds in 20 nondescript minutes, but his counterpart finished with 24 points and eight rebounds (five offensive). Pekovic won, and it wasn't even close.
Players dominated in segments, and the action flowed like this: Pekovic to Michael Beasley / Derrick Williams / Wayne Ellington to Love. After Pek pounded in 15 points in the first, the Wolves bench suddenly came alive in the second quarter. Beasley started to sprinkle in long jumpshots like the defense wasn't even there and hit 6-7 attempts for 15 points in 16 minutes. As the points piled up, Beas even flashed a confident smirk or two in celebration of his efficient night. Williams earned more burn (21 minutes) and manufactured 19 points, eight rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Those two young wings exposed poor defense from the Suns as the T'Wolves outscored Phoenix 35-22 and claimed a 63-56 halftime lead.
Then Kevin Love decided to show up. Nearly everything he did on offense emanated from the left wing pick and roll at the top with the Rubio replacements, and although Love still couldn't isolate much to create down the stretch, he started nailing threes instead. Five second half triples allowed Minnesota to barely stay above water and get the road win. When the shooting windows on the perimeter emerged, Love capitalized.
Sebastian Telfair stepped in while Nash rested his back (as per usual) during the early part of the fourth quarter to score eight points in less than 90 seconds via an and-one three and a steal, layup combo to give the Suns a tentative 111-107 lead. The thing is, Nash didn't really need the help. Even without much of a contribution from Gortat, he just turned to the hottest player on the roster, Jared Dudley. Nash and Dudley combined for 53 points on 64.5 percent shooting (20-31) for the game, and it all developed in various pick and roll combinations and derivatives, as well as some planned looks for Dudley. However, the end of the game brought Gortat's clunker home to roost.
With the Suns down three and 17 seconds remaining, Jared Dudley worked to uncover on a a pin-down screen. He received the pass and measured a wide-open look to tie the game, but it caught rim and scooted away. Luckily for Phoenix, Gortat had established position for an offensive rebounds, so Wolves forward Martell Webster got hit with a loose ball foul and sent Gortat to the line to put the game back to a one-one point affair. Pek missed both foul shots, but Wes Johnson cleaned the second shot up and free turned to the line with a pathetic 51.7 percent average. By some miracle, Wes hit both of his free throws and effectively iced the game.
The Wolves escaped with the W behind 63.6 shooting beyond the arc (14-22), and moved back over .500 at 22-21 overall, while the Suns fell to 19-22.
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