Comeback Kids: Wolves beat 76ers 106-99

It took a big comeback to do so, but the Wolves improved to .500 with a win over the 76ers.

Don’t ask yourself if the Wolves should have won by 20. If you do, you will enjoy Minnesota’s 106-99 win over the Philadelphia 76ers considerably less, and that would be a shame, because this was a fun, weird, ultimately extremely satisfying game.

It started about as poorly as a game against a team whose front office is making a conscious effort to lose can start. The Sixers, it seemed, couldn’t miss in the first quarter and blew the game open early, leading 39-20. Minnesota then proceeded to win the next three quarters 86-60. So if one erases the first quarter (which may be difficult for viewers scarred by watching Tony Wroten and James Anderson sink shot after shot), the Wolves actually DID win by 20 plus. Take from that what you will.

For most of the third quarter, it felt like the Wolves were unlikely to actually overtake Philadelphia. Lots of comebacks stop just short of their intended goal — it’s actually intensely difficult to get over the last hump of a 20-point comeback. Once the deficit gets down to three or five points, the team charging back seems to feel a sense of accomplishment which takes the fire out of them for the last necessary run.

Minnesota didn’t encounter that problem tonight, and when the Sixers made one last push in the fourth quarter, Robbie Hummel knocked a big 3-pointer to ice the game.

There were a lot of contributors, so let’s give them their due in the bullet points:

  • Kevin Love scored 26 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, but his enduring moment from the game will be his reaction to Hummel’s 3-pointer that gave the Wolves their first lead of the night — pumping his fist and screaming in appreciation. It was a big moment, and it was fun to see Love appreciating Hummel’s contributions.
  • Nikola Pekovic and Ricky Rubio scored 41 total points on 27 total shots, which is a line that would win a lot of games for Minnesota in combination with Kevin Love. Rubio did an excellent job of drawing contact — he went to the line 10 times and made nine of his free throws. If Rubio was able to get to the line more often, his points per possession would skyrocket. Rubio is currently averaging 0.74 PPP overall, which is 314th in the NBA, but he’s shooting 86 percent from the free throw line. The best way for him to put up points efficiently is to get to the line, and we saw that in action tonight.
  • The guys responsible for the Pek-secutioner shirt (I’m the proud owner of one of these shirts, for what it’s worth) are faced with a tough decision regarding Robbie Hummel. Jesus Hummelsworth (from Patrick Fenelon)? The Hummel telescope? Or, my personal favorite from Curtis Harris of Pro Hoops History, “Please Hummel, Don’t Hurt ‘Em“? It’s a decision I’m pretty glad I don’t have to make.
  • The biggest reason Minnesota won tonight? The 76ers committed a rather staggering 26 turnovers to Minnesota’s 13. Turnovers are the single best way to get back in a game — little energy has to be expended on one end, and quick baskets are usually the result. The Wolves needed all the help they could get tonight, and the Sixers were more than happy to oblige.
  • I’m not sure what happened to Kevin Martin’s shot tonight, aside from the fact that many of his attempts seemed uncomfortable and off-balance. But given the final result and the three other 20-point scorers on the roster, we’ll give him the night off without much of a grudge.
  • With the win, the Wolves moved to .500 on the season, 1.5 games behind the WTF Phoenix Suns. Minnesota will travel to San Antonio Friday, which may trip them up, but the Wolves follow up that game with winnable matchups against Memphis and Boston which could put them back over .500 again. It’s a much friendlier place to be.

All things considered, this was an entertaining win. Was it ideal? Probably not. But it’s also possible that a team learns more about itself after a gritty come-from-behind win, no matter the quality of the opponent, than it does in a 30-point blowout. And if the Wolves learned anything tonight, it’s that Robbie Hummel has clutch jeans. Let’s get this man his t-shirt already.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.