So the Timberwolves whooped up on arguably the hottest team in the West right now pretty good tonight. And although the final margin was just 11, the deficit was really a lot bigger, according to the eye test.
This was the first time since probably early November that the Wolves actually looked like the offensive powerhouse they’re built to be. They had just about every facet of their offense working in unity to create a beautiful symphony. Kevin Love played the inside-out game, burning Lamarcus Aldridge from both areas. Nikola Pekovic was a monster in the paint by using non-monsterish, finesse moves like that new turnaround mid-range jumper. And then Kevin Martin picked up the slack by being an efficient scoring guard from all over.
The first half was one of the most entertaining halves I’ve seen the Wolves play this year, and there’s been a lot of them to this point. But they just had it working and against the Trail Blazers, who’ve had our number in the past, it was exciting to watch them go full-throttle. And by “number”, I mean they’ve won 21 of the last 23 meetings against the Wolves. Ouch. It’s typically a tough, back-and-forth meeting between these two that seems like it should be dominated by terrific, one-on-one play between Love and Aldridge but always comes down to some random perimeter guy from PDX (Wesley Matthews, Nic Batum) blowing up Wolves at the seams. And it was oh-so close to being that way again tonight.
After jumping out to a 30-plus point lead in the second (It was 69-43 at halftime), the Blazers staked their bid at a comeback. Behind the incredibly gifted Damian Lillard, the Blazers kept pushing the Wolves into an uncomfortable spot, time and time again down the court. Soon enough, that “impenetrable” lead dwindled down to just four points and almost all was certain that the Blazers would finish this comeback and, at the very least, take the lead.
Luckily, the Wolves had just enough fight in them to fire up some threes to finish the third quarter on a solid run of their own. Three-pointers from Love, Martin and JJ Barea (Two from him, actually) stemmed the run and pushed that lead back up to 20 points before the fourth quarter, as the Wolves ended up sealing the deal in the end.
It was that trio, Love, Martin and Pekovic, that did all the damage in a multitude of ways to take down the fiery Blazers tonight. Love narrowly missed recording his first career triple-double with 29 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists. He actually finished the first half with eight of those nine assists. And then Martin made a nice return back to early-season form, scoring 22 points on 8-15 shooting. But it was Pekovic that took the cake for me. He netted a career-high 30 points and 14-19 shooting. He was so, so good at sealing the Blazers’ centers in the paint and then finishing on easy layups. He also showcased that new turnaround mid-range jumper, which fell a couple times tonight. We’re starting to see some growth in his game, leaning more towards finesse moves around the rim. It may seem awkward at first, and I’m not sure why we’re not used to it having watched Al Jefferson play in Minnesota before, but the numbers will continue to roll in for him and he’ll get the recognition league-wide that he deserves.
Speaking of deserving, Mr. Lillard needs some praise. I don’t care that he’s on the Blazers. This dude is insanely good. Right now, I’d take him over Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and, yes, even Ricky Rubio. He carries himself with such great maturity and his body language clearly proves his desire to win and get better each and every night. His game just about has it all, and we certainly saw that tonight, while he tried to lead the Portland comeback single-handedly. If the Blazers continue on this hot run of theirs, look for Lillard to continue to put up huge numbers and slide under the wing of national attention.
Now back at .500 on the season, next up for the Wolves are the Lakers with a battered but battling Kobe Bryant on Friday night.