The Top 12 Timberwolves Moments and Stories of 2012
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What a year 2012 turned out to be. The Timberwolves underwent a transformation during the last calendar year, changing the mindset of an organization that had struggled in previous seasons. But beginning on New Year’s Day, fans got a glimpse of a new age in Timberwolves basketball. Led by two-time All-Star Kevin Love, sensational rookie Ricky Rubio and the coaching of Rick Adelman and his staff, the Wolves have become a team on the rise. What 2013 will bring is still to be determined, but 2012 will go down as an exciting 12 months that helped rejuvenate Minnesota’s NBA franchise.
As we look ahead to 2013, Timberwolves.com has compiled a list of the top moments and story lines from the past year. Timberwolves.com will also post the Top Photos of 2012 (PART I on Monday, PART II on Tuesday) we head into the New Year.
January 1—Win on New Year’s Day vs. Mavericks
It had been 294 days since the Wolves’ last win. Minnesota was 0-3 on the season, and due to the lockout and a 15-game losing streak to end the 2010-11 campaign the Wolves had not won since a 122-101 victory over Utah on March 11, 2011. But all that changed on New Year’s Day, when the Wolves pulled away from the defending NBA champions in style and grabbed a 99-82 victory that cemented in a lot of Wolves fans’ minds that this team was different than years’ past. The dagger came with two minutes remaining, when rookie Ricky Rubio—playing in his fourth career game—bounced a pass between NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki’s legs to Anthony Tolliver, who drained a 3-pointer and put the Wolves up 16. The momentum carried into the following night, when Minnesota beat the Spurs 106-96.
January 20—Kevin Love’s buzzer-beater against the Clippers
The Timberwolves trailed by as many as 15 points at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, facing a Clippers team with an 8-4 record that was beginning to show signs of just how potent they could be offensively. Three Clippers players scored 20 or more points on the night, including 25 from Mo Williams off the bench, and despite missing Chris Paul L.A. led by as many as 10 with 8:45 left. But the Wolves fought back thanks to 50 percent shooting in the fourth, and Ricky Rubio hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 20 seconds left on the clock. After a Chauncey Billups miss, Love took an inbound pass from Luke Ridnour and hit the game-winning 3-pointer from 28 feet as time expired.
February 22—Ridnour’s buzzer-beater against the Jazz
It didn’t look like the Wolves would be heading into All-Star Weekend on a high note as division rival Utah came into Target Center on Feb. 22 and racked up an 18-point lead by the second quarter. But true to form during the 2011-12 season, the Wolves were able to make a second half comeback that culminated in a 98-98 tie with 7 seconds left on the clock. That’s when JJ Barea took an inbound pass then found Luke Ridnour, who cut into the lane and unleashed his patented tear-drop shot over a leaping Al Jefferson that beat the buzzer and sent the Wolves into the break with a 100-98 victory. Kevin Love’s buzzer-beater in L.A. might be the most iconic moment from the 2011-12 season, but Ridnour’s tear-drop, followed by his celebration with his arms in the air surrounded by his teammates, is a close second.
February 23-26—All-Star Weekend
What a memorable weekend it was in Orlando. The Timberwolves were coming off their buzzer-beating win over the Jazz on Wednesday night, and on Thursday Kevin Love, Derrick Williams and Ricky Rubio made the trip to All-Star Weekend down south and represented the Timberwolves organization well throughout the four-day break. Love not only scored 17 points and added seven rebounds in the West’s 152-149 win over the East, but he also won the 3-point competition. Meanwhile, Rubio and Williams each participated in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night and also got their chance to shine during the weekend’s festivities. Rubio set a Guinness World Record by making 18 shots behind the backboard in a minute after a Rising Stars practice, and Williams participated in the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest. The trio, combined with the Wolves’ strong first half, made Minnesota one of the hot topics of conversation in Orlando.
March 9—Ricky Rubio’s season-ending knee injury
It was supposed to be a statement game for the Timberwolves, who entered this Friday night matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers holding the eighth spot in the Western Conference with a 21-19 record. An announced 20,164 were on hand for the game, which was deemed a “White Out” matchup as each seat had a white T-shirt draped across it as fans filed into the arena. But with 16.4 seconds left in a one-point game, Ricky Rubio was called for a blocking foul on Kobe Bryant and, subsequently, fell to the ground. Rubio tore his ACL and LCL in his left knee on the play, effectively ending his season and beginning a nine-month recovery period that continued into December. Over that span, Wolves fans watched as he worked step by step to return—beginning with weight workouts and gradually adding in jogging, running, shooting and lateral movements. He made his return at Target Center on Dec. 15 against the Mavericks.
March 23—Love’s 51 points, Barea’s triple-double in OKC
Even though the Wolves ended up losing 149-140 in double overtime, Minnesota’s matchup with Oklahoma City on March 23 was one of the most memorable games of the 2011-12 season. Kevin Love scored a team-record 51 points, while JJ Barea recorded his first career triple-double with 25 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds. On the other side, Russell Westbrook scored 45 points to lead the Thunder and Kevin Durant added 40 of his own. The game turned into a shootout late, as Love hit one of his career-best seven 3-pointers with one second left in regulation, answering Durant’s connection from distance just two seconds earlier, that sent the game to OT. With the Wolves leading by three late in the first overtime, Durant again connected to tie the game at 129-129 with 10 seconds left. In the end, the eventual Western Conference champions stole the victory, but both teams put together a night to remember at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
July 27—Wolves sign Andrei Kirilenko
After going through the process of signing restricted free agent Nicolas Batum to an offer sheet, only to have the Trail Blazers match the offer later in the month, the Wolves announced they had signed Andrei Kirilenko to a two-year deal on July 27. Kirilenko played the 2011-12 season in his native Russia while the NBA sorted out its lockout situation, and when he returned to the league this year he brought a productivity level that mirrors some of the 11-year veteran’s seasons earlier in his career. He’s shooting 50 percent from the field for the third time in his NBA career, his 4.9 rebounds per game are his best since 2005-06, his 3.1 assists per game are his best since 2007-08 and his 13.0 points per game are his best since 2005-06. Kirilenko does the little things each game that help make a winning impact, and he’s been a major addition at small forward.
November 5—22-point comeback in Brooklyn
Coming off a disappointing loss the night before in Toronto, the Wolves found themselves down by 22 points in Brooklyn against a Nets team still riding the wave of emotion surrounding the team’s move from New Jersey. But Minnesota never stopped its comeback attempt, and the Wolves were rewarded with a memorable victory at the Barclays Center. Still trailing by 11 with 11:22 to play, Alexey Shved hit his first of two fourth quarter 3-pointers to continue the swing in momentum. Shved finished with 10 points, while Chase Budinger hit a pair of 3-pointers of his own and scored 16 on the night. Nikola Pekovic led the team with 21 and Andrei Kirilenko added 16 of his own, and in the end Minnesota left Brooklyn with a 2-1 record to start the season.
November 9—Budinger buzzer-beater against the Pacers
In the Wolves’ fifth game of the season, Minnesota fans got a chance to see how valuable newly-acquired forward Chase Budinger could be in this nail-biter against the Indiana Pacers at Target Center. In this back and forth game that included 13 ties and nine lead changes, the Wolves found themselves in a tie game at 94-94 with 3.8 seconds left after George Hill hit a 25-foot 3-pointer to knot things up. But after a timeout, Andrei Kirilenko took the inbound pass and found Budinger on a back-door cut with 0.8 seconds left on the clock. The Wolves won, 96-94. Budinger finished the game with 18 points on 4-of-6 shooting off the bench, hitting 9-of-10 free throws, and his clutch performance lifted Minnesota to 4-1 on the year. Unfortunately for Budinger and the Wolves, he tore the meniscus in his left knee the next night in Chicago, and he is not scheduled to return until March.
November 21—Love’s surprise return vs. Denver
Wolves forward Kevin Love had a surprise setback in October when he announced he suffered a broken right hand during a morning training session, and that setback was scheduled to sideline him 6-8 weeks. But on Nov. 21, about a week and a half earlier than originally thought to be his first shot at returning to the lineup, Love’s name appeared on the starting lineup board in the Wolves’ locker room about an hour before tipoff. Love surprised everyone with his return, then went out and scored 34 points and added 14 rebounds in his regular season debut. His late announced return helped generate 1,000 additional tickets sold for the night’s game before tipoff. The Wolves, however, couldn’t hold on in a 101-94 loss at Target Center.
December 15—Ricky Rubio’s return against the Mavericks
Nine months after suffering a season-ending knee injury and a meticulous recovery process that Wolves fans watched every step of the way, Ricky Rubio made his return on Dec. 15 at home against the Dallas Mavericks. And he did it in grand fashion. Rubio had a return to remember, dishing out nine assists in 18 minutes while also scoring eight points and grabbing three steals. Perhaps just as important, the Wolves beat the Mavs 114-106 in overtime. “They gave me a great gift, that W in overtime,” Rubio said after the game. “It was amazing.”
December 20—Barea’s 14 points in 4th to beat OKC, snap 12-game winning streak
This was a big-time win for the Timberwolves, who were facing a Thunder team currently on a 12-game winning streak at home in the franchise’s first game on TNT since the 2005-06 season. And they needed a big boost from guard JJ Barea to get it done down the stretch. Barea finished the game with 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting, but it was his 14 points in the fourth quarter that sparked the win. After OKC went on a run to cut the lead to 1, Barea scored 11 of the Wolves’ next 13 points and helped build the lead back up to 10 with 6:25 to play. He was 3-of-4 from distance in the game, including two big 3-pointers during that stretch in the fourth and one more with 5:26 to play that pushed the Wolves’ lead to 11. It was Barea’s 10th consecutive game scoring in double figures.