Minnesota is slowly starting to get healthy — and it’s slowly starting to show.
In a matchup that marked the long-awaited return of Kevin Martin, exactly a week after the long-awaited return of Nikola Pekovic, the Wolves continued to prove that this season could have been different had they been at full strength.
Minnesota pulled away late in the contest on the back of Martin and coasted to a much-needed 110-98 win over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night at Target Center. It marked the squad’s first win at Target Center since Dec. 10 against the Portland Trail Blazers.
In the locker room after the game the mood was lighter and players seemed to have a little more swag about them.
Postgame Interview: Kevin Martin
“It gives the whole team confidence,” Andrew Wiggins said.
Martin absolutely took over and went full beast mode down the stretch after the Celtics threatened to make things interesting. Marcus Thornton nailed a three-pointer to cut the deficit to 86-82 with 8:02 left in the game, and Martin went berserk. He went on a scoring rampaged that featured a three-pointer of his own, a nasty and-one, and another shot from long range to get the lead back up to 95-82. His last shot on his personal 9-0 run came right in the face of Avery Bradley and sent Target Center into a frenzy.
“I’m just a scorer at the end of the day,” Martin said while adding he didn’t feel any pain. “It felt good early on to see a couple go in. I went through a little [rough] stretch there and just had to knock some of the rust off and got back at it in the fourth. It’s just fun to get a win. That’s what it’s all about.
Martin led the way for the Wolves with a game-high 21 points in 27 minutes, while Pekovic had 14 points in 28 minutes.
“It’s a confidence level,” Flip Saunders said of Martin being back. “It gives our players [someone] they can count on. In this league a lot of it is about trust and the more players we have on our team that the other players can trust in those respective roles, the better chance we’re going to have at success.”
Martin and Pekovic simply being on the court also opened up lanes allowed other players to step up — and that’s exactly what happened.
Minnesota boasted seven players in double figures with Martin leading the pack. LaVine scored 17 points, Gorgui Dieng had 16 points to go along with 14 boards, Pekovic chipped in 14 points, Wiggins and Thaddeus Young netted 12 points each, and Lorenzo Brown rounded out the very balanced scoring attack with 11 points.
Postgame Interview: Kevin Martin
Saunders appeared extremely impressed with the effort of LaVine. While he finished with an ever-so-important 17 points, he also made some plays that went beyond the stat sheet. It also came a day after he was named as a Slam Dunk Contest participant, and the day he was named to the Rising Stars Challenge along with Dieng, Wiggins, and Shabazz Muhammad.
“That’s voted on by coaches,” Saunders said of the Rising Stars Challenge. “That shows that they think our guys have a chance to be legitimate players in this league. [LaVine] does, too, and he shows those signs. We’d be more concerned if we never saw those signs.
Minnesota also saw signs from Brown — a man that just recently signed a 10-day contract with the team. Brown looked comfortable on the court, and while he hasn’t even been with the team for a full practice, appeared to blend right in.
“We drafted him because we thought he was a potential player,” Saunders said while adding he has a “soft spot” for players that played in the NBDL. “He showed great poise in the game.”
Minnesota moves forward with a game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night before the highly anticipated game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night.
“We’ve got another three weeks of Training Camp,” Saunders joked after the victory. “These guys coming back, it’s going to take them about three weeks to get their sea legs back. … We’re going to find out how our pieces all fit together.”
If the game against the Celtics was any indication, it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.
LEADER OF THE PACK
Kevin Martin proved just how valuable he is to a roster filled with youth. In his first game in more than two months Martin snapped for a game-high 21 points on 7-for-18 shooting. His personal 9-0 run in the fourth quarter stretched the Wolves lead just as Boston threatened to make it a contest. It’s safe to say Minnesota is happy to have the gunslinger from Western Carolina back in the fold.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE GAME
-- Kevin Martin, who had missed the last two months with a broken wrist, entered the contest with 5:11 left in the first frame. Martin scored on his first twos shots from the floor and finished with 21 points in the game.
-- Minnesota led 48-41 late in the first half following a nasty Zach LaVine putback slam. Then the Celtics went on a run. Boston closed the half on an 8-0 run and took a 49-48 lead into the locker room.
-- In his first action since signing a 10-day contract Lorenzo Brown didn’t disappoint. He played 24 minutes in the contest and finished with 11 points on 3-for-6 shooting.
-- Minnesota shot 6-for-16 from long range in the contest, which included a pair of big shots from Kevin Martin
-- As a team the Wolves were an incredible 28-for-32 from the charity stripe. They outscored the Celtics 28-7 from the free-throw line.
Minnesota will travel to the East Coast for a Friday night tussle with the Philadelphia 76ers. There could be some vengeance on the minds of some players as the Wolves gifted Philadelphia its first win of the season a couple months ago. That game will also serve as a tune up for the anticipated matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night at Target Center.