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The Wolves took on the Celtics last Friday night with a special matchup of the Kevins of past and present highlighting the tilt. Kevin Garnett returned to the Target Center, an always stand-up act, with plenty of good to say about the Minnesota fans. Garnett will always have a place in the hearts of die-hard Wolves fans for years to come, but Kevin Love is making it difficult to choose who the better Kevin really is.
Garnett, though, got the better of a weary Love on Friday night. Vintage KG was in full-force, honing signature turnaround and spot-up mid-range jumpers. Love, on the other hand, couldn’t dial in his stellar play. The month of March has been good to Love, so good that Timberwolves’ management thought they’d be cute and disperse “K-Love 4 MVP” fliers. Clearly, the fliers weren’t a source of fuel for Love, who went just 5-18 from the floor. His predecessor capped the night with 24 points on 12-18 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds.
It wasn’t just Love’s fault, though. Giving up 100 to a Ray Allen-less Celtics squad means there was a terrible wrinkle in the defense all night long. Avery Bradley — who’s maturing into an effective, and well-behaved, Delonte West — found holes in the defense all night long. Rajon Rondo went just 3-11 but was so effective weaving in and out of traffic and dropping 17 dimes through the defenders’ hands.
Being undermanned is an excuse. JJ Barea, Michael Beasley and Nikola Pekovic all sat due to injury. Rick Adelman was left to fend with rotations of Wayne Ellington, Malcolm Lee and the oh-so useful Brad Miller, who stirred things up immediately by getting in the face of Garnett (Standard, of course). Even good minutes from those kinds of players won’t get you a win off a mediocre team, let alone one of the East’s most experienced group of players.
The key to the Celtics game was Love’s battle lost against Garnett and the underwhelming lineups that Adelman was forced to toss out there. And tonight the same result occurred. Love was out-battled by LaMarcus Aldridge and the lineups couldn’t muster up enough defense to salvage any type of competitiveness. Honestly, it was uglier than you think.
The Wolves actually had less turnovers, more free throws and settled for less contested three-pointers than the Blazers did. But the Blazers shot at a higher clip and physically owned the paint, which proved to be the ultimate difference. Without Pekovic underneath to supplement Love, the Blazers collectively outrebounded the Wolves badly. No one from Portland recorded double-digit totals in boards but it was the tenacity that mattered by all who contributed. Even little ole Raymond Felton squeaked out eight boards.
Love shot much better than he did on Friday but still couldn’t do enough to win his individual matchup with Aldridge. The two even got into a tussle, where heated words were exchanged, but Aldridge got the best of Love in the end.
Irregardless of the matchup, the Wolves failed to step up the defensive intensity. . . Again. Aldridge had his way in the post; Nicolas Batum stalked the perimeter; and role players like JJ Hickson, Wesley Matthews and Jamal Crawford were able to pitch in when needed to add that extra scoring punch. The Wolves couldn’t stop these guys or shake them out of their rhythm from the opening tip; it was the Blazers’ type of game and they honed it. It wasn’t until the fourth when the Blazers made their winning run, but it seemed like the Wolves never really had a true grasp on the game.
This marks two tough losses in a row. The Wolves travel to Sacramento to tango with an exciting Kings squad tomorrow night. But with the Wolves’ defeated momentum, a once easy-win now seems untrue. So it’s time to sit back, crack a brew and cheers to the Wolves’ players regaining strength and health. Salud.