Wolves Come Back, Fall Short In Home Opener

Thunder 104 (2-0), Timberwolves 100 (0-1) | Target Center

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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How it happened:
Monday's regular season opener against Oklahoma City was more than just a game for the Minnesota Timberwolves. It was more than a fierce fourth-quarter comeback that came up short, and it produced more than a 0-1 record in the standings.

It was a statement—not only for themselves but the league. This is a new Timberwolves team.

Minnesota clawed its way back in a rigorous fourth-quarter comeback attempt, turning a 12-point third quarter deficit into a late one-point lead with 3:09 to play. And even though the Thunder fought back and stole a 104-100 win in front of 19,406 at Target Center, the Wolves left Monday night feeling confident in how they performed.

"That's one of the best teams in the league, if not the best," forward Michael Beasley said. "And we took them down to the very last seconds of the game."

It was a collection of big plays from new and old teammates that kept Minnesota (0-1) coming back and led to several eruptions from the sellout crowd.

When rookie Ricky Rubio tossed an outlet pass to fellow rookie Derrick Williams, who slammed down a reverse jam to give the Wolves a 79-78 lead, the crowd exploded. When Beasley threw down a dunk to tie the game a 98-98 with 2:02 to play, Target Center felt more like a playoff atmosphere than an opening night contest.

It's that mindset that the Timberwolves hope is here to stay. No matter the opponent or the circumstances, a win isn't out of the question.

"They've got to know that we can beat anybody any night," guard JJ Barea said. "The NBA is a lot about confidence, and we need that here."

The Wolves had it throughout the fourth quarter, and after 13 lead changes they had a chance to draw even with 43 seconds left. But after Rubio snatched a defensive rebound and tossed an outlet pass to Beasley on the wing, Beasley drove to the hoop and missed a three-footer to tie the game, which Thunder forward Kendrick Perkins pulled down. Perkins iced the game with a pair of free throws.

For as close as the game turned out, it looked like jitters played a role early on.

Oklahoma City benefited from a slew of bobbled passes and a barrage of missed 3-point attempts by the Timberwolves—a facet of their game they normally handle with proficiency. On Monday, the Wolves shot 3-for-22 from behind the arc, and coupled with a 19-for-26 showing from the free-throw line, Minnesota missed key opportunities to draw closer on the scoreboard throughout.

Still, they found a way to come back.

Using a late-game line up primarily with Barea and Rubio on the back court, Minnesota began playing a more up-tempo game. The Wolves pushed the ball up floor, began finding creases in the Thunder's defense and started chipping away at their deficit.

An Anthony Tolliver blocked shot transitioned into fast break points from Barea to Williams, who slammed it home with 8:19 to play and bringing the Wolves to within one at 84-83.

Barea brought Minnesota to within 91-89 two minutes later with a basket and a free throw, and Rubio made a jump shot with 3:09 to play, giving Minnesota a 96-95 lead. That set the stage for Beasley's dunk with 2:02 remaining, making it a tie game between the Wolves and a Thunder (2-0) squad who went to the Western Conference finals a year ago.

"I thought they were struggling with our pick and rolls," coach Rick Adelman said. "They were really struggling to guard them. We were getting good opportunities."

Despite difficulties from the 3-point line, Minnesota remained in the game thanks to strong ball control. The Wolves committed 12 turnovers in the game, but they controlled tempo during their fourth quarter comeback.

Beasley led the team with 24 points in the game, while Kevin Love finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Barea finished with 14 points, Williams had 13 and Darko Milicic scored 12 in the game—eight coming in the third quarter.

Rubio dazzled in his debut, scoring six points and compiling six assists. His speed and his vision on the court was on full display in the fourth.

"He made a few great plays," Love said. "We're really happy with where he's at right now, and we'll just come out tomorrow and expect more great things."

"I tried to do what the team needs," Rubio said. "Sometimes it's trying to run, trying to push the ball and trying to score."

Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant led all scorers with 33 points, and guard Russell Westbrook added 28 points of his own. James Harden scored 16 off the bench and added six rebounds.

The Wolves travel to Milwaukee for a road matchup with the Bucks on Tuesday. Love said if the team brings the same intensity and no-quit mentality throughout the season, this squad will win a lot of games.

Barea agreed.

"We battled as a team and we showed the league what we can do," he said. "We've just got to be consistent and play like that every night."

Lay ups: Monday's sell out crowd of 19,406 was the most in a regular season opener since 2007 (vs. Denver - 19,443)...The victory by Oklahoma City was the Thunder's 10th consecutive win over Minnesota...Minnesota's 12 turnovers were minimal compared to averaging 18 per game against the Thunder in four meetings a year ago...The Timberwolves fell to 16-8 all time in home openers...Wolves coach Rick Adelman will miss the team's game tomorrow night in Milwaukee in order to attend the funeral services of his mother-in-law. Wolves assistant coach Terry Porter will serve as the acting head coach for the game against the Bucks.
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