Notebook: Timberwolves 108, Hawks 103

Posted Jan 9, 2013 12:21 AM

Phil Miller, for

THE FACTS: Four Timberwolves starters scored in double figures Tuesday night, but it was the fifth starter, Dante Cunningham, who made the critical plays that helped the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Atlanta Hawks for the first time since 2006, 108-103 in Target Center. Cunningham nailed a 20-foot jumper to give the Wolves, who had lost 11 straight games to Atlanta, a three-point lead with 15.9 seconds to play, then stole the ensuing inbounds pass to kill the Hawks' hopes of a rally. Nikola Pekovic scored 25 points and added a career-high 18 rebounds to lead the Wolves, who improved to 8-0 when scoring 100 points or more this year, while Andrei Kirilenko added 21 points, six rebounds, and the 2,000th assist of his career. Josh Smith and Lou Williams led Atlanta, which fell behind by 17 in the first half and never quite caught up, with 21 points apiece, while Al Horford added 19 points.

QUOTABLE: "The first half, we were soft. Soft. ... We cannot wait for a half before we start playing. There's some guys in there that are going to have to be held accountable. If this doesn't change, there's going to have to be some changes, that's plain and simple. I'm not going to sit back and watch our guys come out and not be energized to play. That's totally unacceptable."
-- Hawks coach Larry Drew, after Minnesota built a 17-point first-half lead

THE STAT: 0 -- Field goals attempted by Wolves guard Ricky Rubio, who demonstrated he could have a decisive effect on a game despite not looking for his shot. With eight assists, four steals and 4-of-6 free throws, Rubio finished with a plus/minus of +10, highest of any player in the game.

TURNING POINT: Atlanta rode a 14-4 run over three minutes to pull within a point, 104-103, with 36 seconds to play when the Wolves ran their offense looking for a high-percentage shot. Guard Alexey Shved drove toward the basket as the shot clock clicked under 10, but found two Hawks in his way, so he swung a pass outside to Cunningham, standing 20 feet from the basket. Cunningham didn't hesitate, nailing a long jumper to put the Wolves back up by three -- and after a timeout, he stepped in front of Hawks forward Josh Smith to intercept Atlanta's inbounds pass, clinching Minnesota's victory.

QUOTABLE II: "Trust me, I've lost games for Rick before. It was harder then."

-- Wolves assistant coach Terry Porter, who filled in for coach Rick Adelman on Tuesday, when asked whether it would have been difficult to face Adelman had Minnesota's big lead slip away. Porter was a point guard for Adelman's Portland teams from 1989-94.

HOT: Pekovic had been hobbled in Minnesota's last two games by a sore left hip, but the injury has apparently healed. Pekovic countered Atlanta's big frontcourt almost by himself with a dominating performance, scoring 25 points on nothing but layups, and grabbing a career-high 18 rebounds.

NOT: Atlanta guard Jeff Teague may be showing signs of overuse in the absence of injured point guard Devin Harris. The fourth-year guard played 22 minutes without an assist or steal on Tuesday, was just 2-for-6 from the field, and committed five fouls. Teague is 17-for-54 (.315) from the field over his last five games.

GOOD MOVE: With 15.9 seconds remaining in the game and Minnesota leading by three, Cunningham circled around a backscreen along the baseline, came up behind Hawks forward Josh Smith, and prepared to stop, planting himself between Smith and the basket as Horford inbounded the ball. But he suddenly changed his mind. "Normally, I just get in defensive position," Cunningham said. "But I saw (the inbounds pass) kind of floating there, so I jumped for it." Cunningham intercepted the pass, ending Atlanta's hopes of a rally.

BAD MOVE: The Hawks held a team meeting on Sunday, a day after being humiliated in the second half by Boston, and vowed to refocus themselves against Minnesota. Instead, Atlanta came out with a lackluster first quarter, making only 7-of-19 shots and being outrebounded 16-9, as the Hawks fell behind by 10 points.

ROOKIE WATCH: With Kevin Love sidelined for several weeks, Alexey Shved is gaining the confidence necessary to step forward and take a larger role in the Wolves' offense. The rookie from Russia continually drove the lane or spotted up for open 3-pointers Tuesday, finishing with 15 points, seven assists and two steals.

NOTABLE: Kirilenko threaded a pass through the lane to Cunningham for a dunk just two minutes into the game, giving Kirikenko 2,000 assists during his 10-year NBA career. He added four more assists during the game. ... Minnesota played without head coach Rick Adelman, who is away from the team for undisclosed "personal reasons." Terry Porter, who last served as head coach with Phoenix in 2009, handled the team in Adelman's absence; Porter said he did not know if Adelman will rejoin the team in Oklahoma City on Wednesday. ... Love will miss "a number of weeks" with a new fracture in his right hand, Minnesota general manager David Kahn said, and the All-Star forward hopes to learn how many weeks he'll be sidelined on Wednesday. Love will fly to New York in the morning to meet with hand specialist Dr. Andy Weiland, who will examine the fifth-year forward's fractured bone and determine whether surgery will be necessary to help his shooting hand heal. Surgery or not, the Wolves hope to set a course of treatment for Love after the consultation. ... Forward Lazar Hayward, cut by the Wolves over the weekend to avoid having his contract becoming guaranteed, cleared waivers Tuesday afternoon and immediately signed a 10-day contract with the team. He dressed but did not play Tuesday. ... Atlanta guard Anthony Morrow's right hip is improving, but he experienced a stiff back on Tuesday and sat out for a sixth straight game. The Hawks were also without point guard Devin Harris, who has now sat out 11 games with a sore left foot, though coach Larry Drew said Harris could return Wednesday at Cleveland.

UP NEXT: For the Hawks, Wednesday @ Cleveland, Friday vs. Utah, Saturday @ Washington. For the Timberwolves, Wednesday @ Oklahoma City, Friday @ New Orleans, Sunday @ San Antonio.