Feb 4, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash (10) dribbles in the third quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio (9) at Target Center. Minnesota wins 109-99. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Timberwolves: Kevin Love Reigns in Steve Nash’s Return

This was a comfortable 109-99 victory for the Minnesota Timberwolves who managed to draw aspects from every part of their collective character in the course of one game. Despite executing superbly on offense at times they also missed enough free throws to keep the game interesting. They also hounded the Lakers into 16 turnovers but also lacked the concentration and energy to defend consistently. However, strong scoring performances from both Kevin Martin and Kevin Love proved too much for the Lakers who, to their credit, fought hard despite the on-court discrepancy in talent.

The offensive machine was working beautifully with  Ricky Rubio at the helm, regularly finding an open Kevin Martin, whose exploits sparked the early run. The smooth combination of passing and ball movement between the Wolves starting unit is a hallmark of this team’s play and it was certainly evident in the first half. Martin in particular was struggling to miss in the first half, he ended up tying a season-high 32 points in this game.

The fluid offense seemed a fitting tribute on this night as Steve Nash returned to the starting line-up for the first time in three months. He quickly provided us with a nostalgic reminder of his ageless quality, throwing up a half-court alley-oop to Wesley Johnson in transition. His performance however was more about providing a consistent and unflappable on-ball presence than the highlight plays. Nash accrued nine assists and seven points in 25 minutes.

To end the first quarter, Rick Adelman brought out a new lineup of Gorgui Dieng-Love-Luc Mbah a Moute-Martin-J.J. Barea. This unit seems interesting (at least on paper) for it’s balance of shooting ability and defensive length displayed a rare willingness from the Timberwolves’ coach to mix the starting and bench units–a positive sign no doubt for fans looking for more adaptability in the rotation, whether this experimentation will continue remains to be seen.

Dieng especially was having the best game of his young career before an accidental Wes Johnson elbow forced him to leave the game with a facial contusion. Dieng provided an energetic cameo on both ends of the floor, a performance that belied his statistics, culminating in a dominant rejection of Ryan Kelly midway through the second quarter. He left the game after only eight minutes with four points, three rebounds, two steals and a block.

Despite thoroughly outplaying the Lakers, whose roster at this point resembles an overstaffed bench unit, the game was never truly out of hand. A large part of this was due to Manny Harris’ perfect shooting performance in the first half which single-handedly justified his second 10-day contract. The third-year point guard out of Michigan was an unexpected and persistent thorn in the Timberwolves’ side, finishing with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting with eight rebounds, consistently creating offense for himself and proving to be barely guardable.

Still, as the Wolves’ shooting cooled off the Lakers were able to cut the lead down to as low as seven points in the fourth quarter. As the injured Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill had left the game earlier, the trickle down effect had become apparent with the Lakers consistently having to rely on replacement level talent. Any Mike ’Antoni team, though, will be capable of creating offense regardless of the personnel on the floor, so it’s no surprise the Lakers could dig in and keep this game competitive throughout.

As the first half had been keyed by the team’s stars the second half was a much more holistic effort. Barea drove with intent, Rubio continued to provide a defensive nuisance whilst moving the ball and the usual suspects continued to score at a steady rate. Even Dante Cunningham got in on the action, providing a big chasedown block midway through the fourth.

By far the most troubling moment of the night came with five minutes remaining. Kevin Love drove past Wesley Johnson at the 3-point line and met Robert Sacre at the rim in a violent collision that ended in Love crashing to the floor landing on his spine and having his head snap back off the court. It was a nervous moment for any spectator. Love appeared fine after a few minutes sprawled under the basket. He returned to shoot the corresponding free throws and remained in the game for it’s finale, still managing to capably unleash a full court outlet to Corey Brewer. Brewer responded accordingly and missed the dunk.

Love’s performance may have been punctuated by the injury scare and the subsequent display of toughness, he was however excellent throughout the entire contest. 31 points on 19 shots accompanied by 17 rebounds and 3 assists, Love, once again was the beginning and the end of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ victory. A victory that takes them back to .500 once again, keeping them alive in the playoff race as they travel to Oklahoma City tonight.

 

Tags: Gorgui Dieng Kevin Love Kevin Martin Minnesota Timberwolves Rick Adelman Ricky Rubio