It was far from pretty. Very far, in fact, but the Timberwolves are officially on top of the Northwest division and undefeated (Have to start 1-0 if your goal is to be 82-0).
Actually, everything I expected from this game didn’t really happen. Nikola Pekovic nor Demarcus Cousins dominated — both looked awfully deflated, actually. Brandon Roy couldn’t capitalize on a usually porous Kings’ defense, and Chase Budinger couldn’t hit the bottom of a lake despite his hot shooting in the preseason.
The only thing I expected that came true — and that mattered — was the Wolves came out with a big victory in game 1 of the 2012-2013 season.
In large part to a scoring and energy punch from JJ Barea and the bench, the Wolves were able to piece together a quality win after a strong fourth quarter. The starters set the tone on defense from the opening tip and sustained it throughout. They didn’t allow Tyreke Evans, Isaiah Thomas or Cousins to ever get in a groove, except for a 14-point third quarter sparked by a couple Thomas threes. Although the Wolves couldn’t shoot at a high clip from the outside, at least they weren’t allowing the Kings to do so.
The second quarter is where the Wolves started to run away with things thanks to Barea’s hot hand. Barea, after a disappointing debut season with the Wolves, looked lighter on his feet tonight and, more importantly, uninjured and unrestricted. His scoring started off on a smooth one-two crossover in transition on Thomas, leading directly to an wide open layup. It happened just so fast.
Barea continued his scoring barrage by getting to the rim — something he had trouble with last season. It was, in fact, our only reliable means of offense all night. The Wolves had trouble hitting outside shots, especially from beyond the three-point line. Budinger was cold going 0-5. Roy also went 0-for, watching as a few of his five rattled in and out.
As it goes, Adelman continued with the hot handed Barea in the fourth quarter over Luke Ridnour and it proved to be the right decision. Kirilenko put his special stamp on the fourth by flying all around, grabbing rebounds, dishing dimes and forcing turnovers, which practically sealed the deal.
Barea’s contributions on the offensive side of the ball certainly helped the Wolves win this game but the most encouraging signs came from the defensive end and the overall intensity and hustle that the bench provided. Dante Cunningham is a saint in both categories. Oh, and he can hit that mid-range with ease, the non-washed up Chris Bosh, if I may. Greg Stiemsma is just a dramatic increase in production over any option we’ve ever seen come off the bench at center. His four blocks came up huge (I could’ve sworn he had at least three more than the box score gave credit for).
Ultimately it was the bench that came up big and pulled this one out. But this victory is quite alarming. Think about it, Barea can’t/will not be the leading scorer each night. And if Budinger and Roy continue cold streaks from deep, this team can’t compete with the West’s best. Sure, as long as Andrei Kirilenko can lead the defense to stifling stops and forced turnovers, they have a shot against the Kings of the league, but what about the Thunder? The Clippers? Or even the Rockets, for that matter? Starting off a season without your two best players is painfully crippling and we all knew that going in but tonight exposed just how bad this month could possibly be. It’s simply food for thought. All in all, they played a good game — a great game defensively compared to last season — but the lack of a go-to scorer could really hinder the kind of noise they make in the month of November. We can only hope someone starts to heat up that will see consistent minutes (That’s your cue, Brandon).
Next up hit the road, taking on Toronto on Sunday and then to Brooklyn on Monday.