Wolves Hold On, Top Kings 86-84

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Timberwolves rookie forward Derrick Williams said before Tuesday’s game against Sacramento that getting more playing time and gaining more experience on the court will help his growth as an NBA player. In the final moments of a tie game at Target Center, staring at a wide-open 3-point attempt, Williams got a chance to take another step in his maturity.

And he delivered.

Williams drained the open 3-pointer with 56 seconds remaining, Ricky Rubio added a free throw and the Wolves survived a last-second, game-winning 3-point attempt by Kings guard Marcus Thornton in an 86-84 victory over Sacramento.

The win lifts Minnesota (13-12) to its best record at the 25-game mark since going 13-12 in 2005-06, and it’s a full seven games ahead of last year’s pace.

On a night in which the Wolves played tug-of-war with the Kings, never trailing but leading by as many at 15 in the first half before Sacramento fought back to tie twice in the fourth, it was Williams who came away with the game-changing shot.

“The last few games I haven’t been hitting my shots, and I’ve been hesitant on threes in the past 10 games,” Williams said. “But I’m glad I hit that one, especially at that point in the game. It really gave my confidence back a little bit more.”

It was the Wolves’ second win over Sacramento this season.

Center Nikola Pekovic set the table for Williams’ late shot. Pekovic had his way in the paint on Tuesday, scoring 23 points, adding 10 rebounds and forcing three steals in the game while shooting 9-of-12 from the field. He was a perfect 6-of-6 in the third quarter—while Sacramento attempted to climb back into the contest by trimming the Wolves’ lead from 12 down to two at 61-59—and even electrified the crowd with a steal and fast-break dunk to extend the lead to 65-59.

“That guy is hard to stop,” forward Michael Beasley said. “When you can move your feet like that, 300 pounds, 7 feet, it’s almost impossible to stop him. He’s as strong as an ox, and he can do what he wants out there.”

Minnesota came out blazing in the first, shooting 61.9 percent from the field in their first quarter without standout forward Kevin Love, who was serving the first of a two-game suspension. The fast start coupled with a strong defensive effort helped balloon the Wolves’ lead to 15 to start the second quarter.

But Sacramento (9-16) chipped way in the second and third. The Kings, who came back from 18 down to beat New Orleans on Monday night, again showed their proficiency for battling back despite center DeMarcus Cousins’ early foul trouble. Cousins, who had brought down 39 combined rebounds in the previous two games, picked up two quick fouls and sat for 14:42 of the first half.

Much of that had to do with Pekovic, who used aggressive play down low to force Cousins to the bench.

“I think what he did was he took the initiative on the offensive end and made Cousins guard him,” coach Rick Adelman said. “Cousins had a great game last night in New Orleans, and I think Pek went out there and went after him.”

Pekovic said he’s getting more comfortable with his moves on the court with each passing game.

“When you play some time, you can try many different things,” Pekovic said. “If you score sometimes on some shots, then you get more confidence. The players were great tonight. They were passing me the ball at the right times.”

Rubio again made an impact on both ends of the court. He scored six points on the night but added 14 assists—including eight in the first quarter—and had five steals.

Williams finished with 14 points on the night, while Beasley finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds and Luke Ridnour had eight points.

For the Kings, Thornton led the way with 22 points, while Jimmer Fredette had 13 points, Donte Greene and Tyreke Evans each had 11 and Cousins finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

The Timberwolves head to Memphis on Wednesday for a 7 p.m. showdown with the Grizzlies on the road, a team they lost to 90-86 at Target Center earlier this year. The Wolves hope Tuesday’s win is a stepping stone victory for a young team learning to win close games late.

“I just told them it’s not always going to be perfect; it’s not always going to be something we look at and say, ‘That was great,’” Adelman said. “We had some terrible stretches in the game, but the important thing is we didn’t give in.”

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