Wolves' Comeback Against 76ers Is Lesson Learned

Wolves' Comeback Against 76ers Is Lesson Learned

The Timberwolves had a tough time getting going on Wednesday, but Kevin Love and company got hot when it mattered most and downed the Sixers 106-99. (Photo credit: David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images)

Minnesota opened up Wednesday night’s home contest against Philadelphia with arguably its flattest 12 minutes of play this season. The Wolves were sluggish, the ball wasn’t moving, and the shots—particularly inside three feet—weren’t falling. It was that type of night.

By the time they entered the second, the Wolves trailed by 19 and looked like they could be headed for a loss at home against a top-five lottery-bound team leading into a stretch this month that would make any team with fringe playoff aspirations cringe. Add in Minnesota played so well from start to finish in Detroit a night earlier, and it was tough to imagine the impact a loss like this could entail—even in the tail end of a back-to-back.

But something happened in the second half. The offense started picking up steam, the Wolves stopped giving up transition points with such fluidity and Minnesota began showcasing the type of play needed to keep themselves in the Western Conference playoff hunt. By night’s end, the Wolves’ 106-99 win ensured they did not need to take solace in any moral victories, but perhaps they got a two-for-one out of the deal.

It was the Wolves largest comeback victory at home since Kevin Love's 31-31 game against the Knicks on Nov. 12, 2010.

“It gave us a lesson,” center Nikola Pekovic said. “We should see how we can do it if you just put in some effort, you know? If you keep playing like we’re supposed to play.”

The Wolves have been in those situations before this season, mostly on the road. They’ve had first halves where they couldn’t quite get it going, then turned it on in the second only to come up just short in the end. The Cavs and the Clippers immediately come to mind. But this one was different. This one, at home, was a game universally looked at as a game the Wolves needed to win. Philadelphia is rebuilding, while the Wolves have postseason ambitions.

Coming off one of its most efficient offensive performances of the year a night earlier, Minnesota looked fine-tuned. Then the first quarter began.

Coach Rick Adelman has stressed all season long that each game is unique, and just because the team plays well one night means absolutely nothing the next. That was on full display on Wednesday night, when it took the Wolves a good half to get rolling with the requisite level of intensity.

It began early in the second quarter, when the Wolves’ unit of Pekovic, Dante Cunningham, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Alexey Shved and J.J. Barea held the Sixers’ second unit scoreless for the first five minutes. The Wolves cut the lead to 11 in that span, then stayed afloat and trailed by 13 at the half. Philadelphia, which shot 77.3 percent in the first quarter, shot a more down to earth 45.0 percent in that second frame.

In the third, the Wolves chipped away. They cut it to eight by the 9:29 mark, then trailed by single digits the rest of the frame with the exception of a 30-second span with just under five minutes left. Ricky Rubio’s 3-pointer with 1:46 left in the third tied it—completely erasing that once 19-point deficit—and Hummel’s jumper with 8:27 left in the fourth gave Minnesota its first lead of the game. The Wolves never trailed again.

Minnesota gets the W, and gets to look in the mirror.

“It’s one of those things where you think you can’t learn a lesson from winning,” Hummel said. “You have to take a loss to learn a lesson. That’s really not the case. I think the fact that we were able to come back and win the game is great for our team and it also shows we’re kind of maturing a little bit.”

For Love, it’s an opportunity for growth and confidence. It shows the Wolves can come back from that type of deficit. He referenced the Cleveland game in early November, when Minnesota trailed by 23 and had a shot on its last possession to win it. The team possesses the ability to make these types of runs, but the key is not getting in those types of situations where the deficit is so great.

Still, knowing you’re never out of a game goes a long way toward building confidence.

“We might have caved in in years past, but this is a different blend of guys that knows what they’re capable of,” Love said. “And you mentioned it, we’re back at .500 now. We’ve got to keep this thing going, and we’re going to be able to continue to get better.”

Love, by the way, can’t get much better than he’s playing to date. His 26 points, 15 rebounds and five assists on Wednesday night was his fifth such 25-15-5 game of the year. No other player has one 25-15-5 game this season.

He was a major factor in that victory on Wednesday, as was Robbie Hummel’s play off the bench. His 3-pointer in the fourth when he just stepped off the bench was huge confidence-wise, and he finished 4-of-6 with 10 points in just under 12 minutes.

Knowing that your leader will give you that type of production and a key bench player will do the same in pivotal moments is another boost for this team. It shows how everyone on the bench needs to be ready to contribute when his name is called.

That’s another lesson, too. And it wasn’t accompanied by a moral victory.

“We just had to pick up the intensity,” Love said. “[Adelman] thought they were going to come out and play hard, and they did. That’s how they grind it out and win games. We felt like if we matched their intensity, we were the better team. We felt like we did that in the second half, got on a bit of a run.”

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