MILWAUKEE(AP) Timberwolves coach Kevin McHale called Al Jefferson Minnesota's anchor on Monday night. With Milwaukee missing Michael Redd, the Bucks looked hopelessly lost.
Jefferson had 23 points and 10 rebounds as he roamed the paint freely and Ryan Gomes added 22 points, lifting the Timberwolves over the short-handed Bucks 90-83.
Minnesota improved to an NBA-best 10-2 in 2009 and Jefferson thwarted the Bucks when it counted in the fourth quarter with Milwaukee also missing center Andrew Bogut for the seventh straight game with back spasms.
"When they're missing their key guys, you've got guys who want to try to step up,'' Jefferson said. "They are the ones that you've really got to come out and jump on, kill their confidence early.''
Instead, Jefferson waited until the end and helped snap a four-game losing streak in Milwaukee by thwarting a big Bucks run on a broken play and a pretty pass to Gomes.
"Jefferson is one of the best low-post players in the game,'' Bucks guard Luke Ridnour said. "He gets the ball where he wants and he's tough to defend.''
Minnesota led 78-63 with just under nine minutes to play before the Bucks went on a 13-3 spurt. But Jefferson answered when the ball bounced off several hands to him before he grabbed it and scored on a strong inside move to make it 83-76.
"Big possession for us there, Al got in there, kind of a broken play. We designed a play, didn't run it very crisply, but Al got it, finished it off,'' McHale said.
Richard Jefferson, who finished 3-of-15 from the field, hit a jumper, but Al Jefferson answered when he kicked out a pass to Gomes for a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with 1:46 left.
"I knew he had enough time to shoot it. So, he shot it and made it. That was the key of the game,'' Al Jefferson said.
Milwaukee's Ramon Sessions, who had 18 points replacing Redd, said Gomes' shot was deflating.
"That was tough. He hit that and it crushed us,'' Sessions said. "That was a big shot.''
Gomes praised Jefferson's improved ability to read defenses, a big reason why Minnesota is playing so well.
"He's getting better at reading when the double team is coming,'' Gomes said. "He waited for the right time, he waited for them to come all the way down, they knew the shot clock was winding down. He was still able to get a clean pass to me and I just put it up on the rim and just prayed it went in, and it did.''
On the next possession, Ridnour missed a 3-pointer for the Bucks. Jefferson was fouled and hit both free throws to push the lead back to 88-78 with 1:11 left.
"Earlier in the season, teams make runs like that on us and we shut it down. You can just see the growth in our team,'' said Mike Miller, who had 10 rebounds. Randy Foye and rookie Kevin Love also each added 12 points for the Timberwolves.
Minnesota's schedule gets tougher with home games against Detroit on Wednesday and Los Angeles on Friday before a trip to Boston on Sunday.
Redd, averaging a team-high 21.2 points, tore the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his left knee in Saturday's win against Sacramento when he landed on Ridnour's foot. The injury puts a damper on what's been a surprisingly better Scott Skiles-led Bucks' team, which is currently in eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
But Skiles said Milwaukee must move on - and quick - if his players remain in shock without their leading scorer.
"I really can't even fathom what that has to do with playing hard and having intensity. I mean, other than it being an excuse. I don't know what else it would be,'' Skiles said. "The type of intensity we need to win a game we probably had for about 10 minutes out of the 48. It's just not enough.''
Notes: Charlie Villanueva scored 15 points and Richard Jefferson finished with 10 for the Bucks. ... Milwaukee went 1-of-14 from 3-point range. ... Redd said at the morning shootaround that it would be the first time he's ever had surgery. The operation hasn't been scheduled yet, but is expected to take place sometime next month. ... The Timberwolves rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat the Bucks 106-104 in Minnesota on Jan. 10.