Comeback of ages; Wolves win 107-96

Timberwolves Nets Basketball

Pekovic was an integral piece but it was the bench — yet again — that led the Wolves to victory

Three Positives:

Jonah: I came into the season wondering how effective Adelman could implement various lineups to change the tempo of a game. Tonight proved to me that this roster is vastly more versatile than last season and has arguably changed the result of two games this season. Against Sacramento in the opener, it was the bench who came in with the energy and hustle to influence the end result. Tonight was the exact same story with an emphasis on “small ball.” Adelman was by no means waving the white flag by subbing in the bench — guys like JJ Barea, Alexy Shved, Dante Cunningham and Chase Budinger — rather trying to change the tempo of the game, looking for a more upbeat offense and active defense. That group changed the outcome of this game. Enter Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic and the Nets just couldn’t do a damn thing on the offensive end, while Shved, Barea and Cunningham ran a muck with pure hustle on the offensive end. The Wolves are a team full of grit, and when your reserves have as much or even more confidence than your starting group, there’s nothing wrong with going to them in the clutch. That’s a positive the Wolves have never seen before and it’s very reassuring.

Tom: This is so hard, because I want to say something about Alexey Shved’s first game in which he showed his massive potential (and hey, look at that, I pulled it off), but my positive this game was Dante Cunningham. Look, Kevin Love stacking up stats on stats on stats man is pretty fun, but you KNOW he’s doing it at least a little bit because he likes looking at his line after the game. Cunningham went after every board not because it would make his final line better (although his 11 boards do look pretty nice), but because HE WANTED THE DAMN BALL AND HE’S GOING TO TAKE THE DAMN BALL SO GET OUT HIS WAY RIGHT NOW. He’s like a dog that’s got its teeth into an old piece of pizza by the side of the road. You can try to take it from him, but you better be ready for a fight and fair warning, you might get bit.

Needless to say, Cunningham is quickly becoming my favorite Timberwolf.

Derek: Gah, Tom took my idea, and I don’t want to talk about Andrei Kirilenko in back-to-back games, although I could. Instead, I want to note the play of Alexey Shved and how he looked more comfortable and how that gave the Timberwolves a chance at victory. Sure, ten points on 3-8 shooting and three assists isn’t a remarkable line, but it’s how he did it. Offensively, he showed a rather diverse shot selection from the three point line and being able to penetrate the lane to lob a floater over the defense. His ability to draw in the defense enabled him to get teammates open looks, too. He turned the ball over once, but got that back on the defensive end, and finished with a +16 +/-.

Nice showing by the rookie. If he can duplicate these performances, it’ll make life without Rubio much more bearable.

Three Negatives:

Jonah: The starting five is still puzzling its chemistry together. The go-to option, Pek, is there but outside of that, who is going to score? The backcourt defense is horrendous — truly showed again tonight, given Deron Williams and Joe Johnson’s huge three quarters. None of them seem comfortable in the grand scheme of things after the tip. Derrick Williams continues to disappoint — Jim Peterson made a great point tonight of how often he loses grip of the ball when going up for a shot. Very key. Luke Ridnour is getting run over on defense and commits too many turnovers on offense. And Brandon Roy looks exactly like a player who hasn’t played in a year — although he didn’t seem that way in the preseason. The starting unit needs to give big ups to the second group and start to learn to play better together, establish roles and play smarter defense. Otherwise leads like the one the Nets created tonight won’t be an uncommon occurrence.

Tom: Until the Wolves started making their run, Brooklyn was a rather stunning 13-19 from 3-point range. They finished the game 13-23, which is still a crazy high percentage. That’s just too many 3-pointers. The Wolves absolutely MUST clean up their 3-point defense. As much fun as tonight was, they can’t expect to get that far behind regularly and win a lot of games.

Derek: Maybe it’s the chemistry Jonah talked about, but we saw two very different Timberwolves teams out there tonight. It’s great they came back, but they shouldn’t have been in the position to have to comeback on a Nets team that was also short-handed. It’s nice to know that you can comeback from 22, but it’s better to not to get down by 22 in the first place. This was one night after losing to Toronto by 19, and they need to make sure there’s not a pattern developing and develop a contingency plan until Love and Rubio return.

Three Observations:

Jonah: The only player that continues to play consistently great defense is AK47. He had four blocks tonight and was just relentless in his rotations and movement. He’s the best player we got and the sole reason our defense has turned to so-so from just being flat-out bad.

Tom: Shved’s continued development as a ball-handler, especially in the pick and roll, is going to be vital to Minnesota’s inside game. Pek is an admirable player in SO many ways, but he’s not an isolation post player, at least not for the most part. Rather, he’s a garbage man, cleaning up after missed shots or cutting huge swaths of space for himself in the paint with his enormous body and presenting a large target for interior passes. Having a player who can penetrate and pass, rather than just penetrate and score like Barea, very well might prove to be exactly what Pek needs.

Derek: This may be contradictory to what I listed in the negatives, but this team’s meddle appears to be very different than last season’s– and that was an improvement over the previous season’s. What’s the difference? The personnel. Had last season’s Wolves team gone down by 22 with no Rubio or Love to fall back on, the likes of Mike Beasley, Darko, Wes Johnson, and Anthony Randolph would’ve folded, or simply  given up. Tonight, their replacements — Cunningham, Kirilenko, Budinger, Shved — never conceded defeat, even though they were shorthanded on the road, and on the second night of a back-to-back. This was exemplified by Kirilenko diving for a loose ball with six seconds left in the game and the win in hand. Yep, the ’12 team did things the ’11 team wouldn’t/couldn’t, but the ’13 team appears to be an even bigger improvement.

Next up: The Wolves come home to take on the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night, 7 pm.