Although the Bucks came into Saturday night’s matchup with the Timberwolves with the league’s worst overall record, the game carried some importance for Minnesota who had hit a bit of rough patch the last couple of weeks. The Bucks were getting Larry Sanders back from a hand injury and the Timberwolves were, well, like the Bucks, on the second night of a back-to-back. Still, with a victory in Milwaukee the Timberwolves would be able to do three things: 1) Move back to .500; 2) jump the Denver Nuggets for sole possession of third place in the Northwest division; and 3) reclaim the ninth seed in the Western Conference.
Spoiler alert: They did.
The Bucks came out with a ton of energy in an, “Aww, isn’t that just precious” kind of way. They were able to match the Timberwolves’ energy to start the game and were able to keep it a close game until about halfway through the first quarter when they scored 16 points on 14 points in the paint. However, they couldn’t resist the urge to commit careless turnover after careless turnover, including several passes thrown directly to multiple Timberwolves. In fact, in the first three minutes, Ricky Rubio had tallied three steals. I’m not sure the Bucks remembered they were wearing white.
As the game carried on into the second quarter, the Timberwolves continued to build their momentum behind a strong team three point shooting performance and points off of turnovers. Minnesota shot 11-24 from distance for the entire game and with 25 points off of turnovers. The Timberwolves force the second most turnovers per game and forced 20 more on Saturday night, so when they finished the game with 18 of their own they were able to mitigate those negative effects with their 25-12 points off of turnovers advantage. By this point the energy the Bucks exhibited early on had faded and the Timberwolves led 64-55.
To follow up two 30-plus point quarters, the Timberwolves were able to add on to their lead with another 39 point frame. Continuing the good things that had enabled them to take and hold the lead and finished the half up 103-76, including what was once a 30-point lead. Placing the worst team in the league, this was hardly surprising.
Naturally, the Timberwolves took their foot off of the pedal in the fourth quarter and allowed the Bucks to creep back into the game some. Halfway through the fourth after the Bucks had cut the lead back into the mid-teens, Adelman re-inserted his big three of Rubio, Love, and Pekovic to stop the bleeding. This isn’t as much cause for concern as it was a team that was up big on a far worse team falling asleep at the wheel and then regaining consciousness in time to put them away for good. When the Bucks were back within 12 with less than two minutes to go and Martin hit that elbow jumper to cause the Larry Drew time out, it was over. Done. Did we really need the last 12 minutes to learn this result? No, not really, especially on the second night of a back-to-back.
Love led the Timberwolves with a brilliant 33 points, 15 rebound and four assist game on 11-17 shooting, including 4-6 from three. Nikola Pekovic played well with 19-11-3, but when the Bucks threw Sanders on him late his length gave Pekovic some problems and turnovers. On top of it all, the bench contributed 19 points, which is just what the Timberwolves need to be successful for the rest of the season.
Khris Middleton led the Bucks with 23 points and nine rebounds. OJ Mayo added an efficient 19 points on 8-12 shooting off of the bench, but gave the Bucks very little else. And Sanders finished 10 points and nine rebounds in his return from hand surgery.
Nothing like a little Eastern Conference back-to-back to get your confidence back, right?