Top 5 Surprises Of The 2012-13 Season

Top 5 Surprises Of The 2012-13 Season

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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I guess if we’re talking surprises during the 2012-13 Timberwolves season, we could start and end the conversation with the injuries. Minnesota lost 341 man games to injury this year, including essentially the entire year for Kevin Love and Brandon Roy. Chase Budinger wasn’t far behind. Then if you throw in Rick Adelman missing three weeks due to a family health scare, Minnesota’s season really did hinge on the availability (or lack thereof) in their locker room.

But let’s throw all that aside for this list. There were some pretty impressive favorable surprises that took place during the 2012-13 season, ranging from comebacks to unforeseen production.

For me, there were a few honorable mentions that didn’t make the cut because they weren’t incredibly surprising. For instance, Ricky Rubio’s triple-double against the Spurs was a great moment and was eye-opening because it happened against San Antonio, but it’s no surprise Rubio picked up his first NBA triple-double. That was only a matter of time, especially at that point in the season when he was coming within a rebound or two in the games leading up to that Spurs matchup. I’d also say the two home wins over Oklahoma City were great moments and a little alarming, but the Wolves have matched up well against the Thunder over the past two years.

Rallying from 22 points down in Brooklyn

Let’s set the stage for this one. After a nice victory on opening night at home against the Sacramento Kings, the Wolves played one of their most disappointing games of the season in Toronto on Nov. 4, a 105-86 loss. The next night in Brooklyn, Minnesota found itself down by 22 points with 9:36 remaining in the third quarter at 71-49.

But that’s when things started to change.

Derrick Williams hit a 15-footer, followed by a Greg Stiemsma jumper that cut it to 18. Over the course of the next eight minutes, Minnesota chipped away basket by basket and entered the fourth trailing by 11 after an Andrei Kirilenko layup with 15.9 seconds on the clock.

“At the start of the fourth quarter, down 11, I told them the first five minutes are going to be crucial to this game,” Adelman said.

He was right.

In those first five minutes, the Wolves trimmed that double-digit deficit down to two highlighted by back-to-back 3-pointers by Chase Budinger and Alexey Shved. They tied the game at 92-92 with 6:29 to play on a Dante Cunningham jumper, and they took their first lead since the first two minutes of the game with a Nikola Pekovic layup with 4:39 left.

Pekovic helped seal the win with a strong move to the basket with 1:32 remaining, giving the Wolves a 100-96 lead. They’d extend that up to 11 by night’s end, securing a 107-96 victory and handing the Nets their first home loss since moving to Brooklyn over the offseason.

It was the fourth-largest comeback in Wolves history, trailing a 25-point comeback against Charlotte on March 1, 1996, a 24-point comeback at Houston on February 17, 1992 and a 24-point comeback at Dallas on Jan. 17, 1998.

Budinger’s buzzer-beater on Nov. 9 vs. Indiana

The magic kept happening in the first full week of November for Minnesota. After that memorable 22-point comeback in Brooklyn, the Wolves followed it up four days later at Target Center with a 96-94 win over Indiana thanks to a buzzer-beater by newcomer Chase Budinger.

There were 13 ties and ninie lead changes on this night in early November, with Indiana never leading by more than three. Minnesota led by as many as nine in the fourth quarter and by six with a minute remaining, but George Hill hit a jumper followed by a free-throw to cut it to three, then he knocked down a 25-foot 3-pointer with 3.8 seconds left to tie things up at 94-94.

After a 20-second timeout, the Wolves inbounded to Andrei Kirilenko near the left sideline. He held onto the ball for seemingly as long as he could until he caught a streaking Budinger on a back cut to the basket. Budinger caught the pass and scored on a pretty layup with 0.8 seconds left, giving the Wolves a 96-94 lead. Paul George attempted one last hurl from 54 feet that didn’t make it to the rim, and Minnesota defeated a Pacers team that ended up being the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

It was the 25th buzzer-beater in Wolves history, the first since Luke Ridnour’s teardrop against the Utah Jazz on Feb. 22, 2012, and the fourth during Rick Adelman’s tenure as coach. The Wolves have more buzzer-beaters in the past two seasons than the franchise had from February 2007 through the end of the 2010-11 season.

Against the Pacers, Budinger had a team-high 18 points off the bench, while Derrick Williams had 15, Nikola Pekovic had 13 and Alexey Shved and Dante Cunniingham have 11.

Love’s return on Nov. 21/Rubio’s return on Dec. 15

Two returns caught us by surprise this season, but for different reasons. No question fans patiently awaited Kevin Love (broken right hand) and Ricky Rubio (ACL surgery) each returning to the lineup, but each found a way to make their respective nights memorable for those who were in attendance.

Love’s return was a complete shock.

He broke his hand midway through October and was scheduled to miss about eight weeks while it heeled, meaning no one expected him to return until early December. But on Nov. 21, Love completely surprised everyone by returning during a home game against the Denver Nuggets. No one knew he was going to play until the team announced he was in the starting lineup about an hour before tipoff.

Love performed exceptionally well in his return, scoring 34 points, adding 14 boards and shooting 12-of-25 from the field. He scored 16 of those points in the first quarter alone. But the Nuggets made a run in the second half and took the lead for good with 3:55 left in the fourth.

In another surprise twist, Love re-broke his same right hand on Jan. 3…against the Denver Nuggets.

For Rubio, it was less the shock value of his return and more the impact he made right away.

The Wolves talked a lot about tapering expectations on Rubio when he got back on the court following ACL/LCL surgery in March 2012. Taking nine months off from playing NBA-level basketball and being thrown right back into the mix is a tough prospect to attempt. But Rubio, playing on a strict 18-minute count, played exceptional ball in his first game back.

Facing the Mavericks on Dec. 15, Rubio dished out nine assists, added three steals and had eight points and four rebounds in his return. He check in for the first time with 1:47 left in the first quarter, then started the second with J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved, Derrick Williams and Greg Stiemsma.

He even had the ball in his hands with 3.9 seconds left in regulation, missing a 3-pointer that would’ve given Minnesota the win. The Wolves did end up winning 114-106 in overtime thanks to a 10-0 run to start the extra session.

Rubio would eventually return to form in full, and in many ways during the final month or two of the season he looked like he was even better than he looked before the ACL injury last season. But it took time, and that Dec. 15 return was probably his best performance until a 14-point, eight-assist showing against Charlotte on Jan. 26. The process he went through in December and January made that initial comeback even more impressive given how much of it was likely built on adrenaline and emotion. He certainly got a reciprocal response from the fans in attendance.

Gelabale/Johnson’s immediate impact

Minnesota caught the Houston Rockets at just the right time on Jan. 19, though it took a surprise effort from a pair of unlikely heroes to solidify a much-needed victory and send the Rockets to their seventh straight loss.

The Wolves entered this Saturday night contest reeling. They were on a five-game losing streak themselves, they were without coach Rick Adelman over the previous six games and they were trying to add depth to combat the injuries that were piling up. Coming off a four-game road trip down south, the Wolves decided to part ways with 10-day signee Lazar Hayward and, after being granted an injury hardship exception, were looking to bring in a pair of players to help add a little cushion to their bench.

Enter Mickael Gelabale and Chris Johnson.

The duo came from different backgrounds—Gelabale hadn’t played in the NBA since 2007-08 and was competing overseas when he got the call from the Wolves. Johnson had bounced between the NBA and the D-League over the past two seasons, never playing more than 20 games in a single season for any of the three teams he’s joined.

But on Jan. 19, everything fell into place.

The duo each signed and joined the team during shootaround that morning, and by that night they were dressed and available to compete. In the fourth, the two were the difference.

Gelabale and Johnson scored the first 23 points of the quarter for the Wolves, with Johnson notching 13 on 3-of-3 shooting and Gelabale adding 10 on 3-of-6. Johnson added six rebounds, both played all 12 minutes of the fourth and the Wolves ended up stealing a 92-79 victory against the Rockets.

The two 10-day signees outscored the Rockets 23-20 in the final quarter.

"I would have to go back and look, but I don't recall in my experience having two guys like that come in and step in and putting in the kind of work for us tonight on both ends of the floor,” acting head coach Terry Porter said. “It wasn't just the offensive end, but both of them had tough assignments at the other end. Chris obviously did a great job of protecting the rim and Gelabale doing a great job guarding Harden."

Their performances in that first game helped set the tone for their tenures here in Minnesota, as each signed second 10-day contracts and followed that up with guaranteed contracts to finish out the year with the Wolves. Johnson played in 30 games for Minnesota, while Gelabale played in 36 over the course of the season.

Alexey Shved’s Rising Stars Performance

Alexey Shved earned his spot in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge because of his jump shooting and his innate court vision throughout the first half of the season, but he made a splash at All-Star Weekend because of his sometimes overlooked athleticism. Shved stole the show during a couple moments of the Rising Stars Challenge, a 163-135 win for Team Chuck at Toyota Center in Houston on Feb. 15. He showed off his hops throughout the night, headlined by an alley-oop reverse jam from Isaiah Thomas midway through the first half.

It raised some eyebrows not only among the TNT analysts, but also his peers on the court.

“I didn’t know he had that, reverse dunks—going down the lane dunking,” Hornets forward Anthony Davis said. “I didn’t know he had that at all. That was never in our scouting reports that he can go upstairs. He definitely showed his skills tonight.”

Last year’s Rising Stars MVP Kyrie Irving had high praise, as did Cavs center Tyler Zeller.

“We had just a pure shooter in our scouting report,” Zeller said. “That’s something that does surprise you, and you’ve got to be wary of it a little bit.”

Shved finished with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including a pair of 3-pointers, and also had four assists. Not to be outdone, his Wolves and Team Chuck teammate Ricky Rubio finished with five points and tied for a game-high 10 assists on the night.

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