Opening night in the Target Center started off with a commemorative montage displayed on the jumbotron, celebrating the Timberwolves' 25-year anniversary. The lights dimmed, and Isaiah Rider's dunk contest, the Garnett/Marbury duo, and the Garnett/Cassell/Sprewell trio flashed on the screen, as fans looked back on some of the better Wolves moments.
When the lights came back on, there stood Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and Nikola Pekovic, the current faces of the franchise. The Timberwolves haven't been to the playoffs in 10 years, and there's little doubt the three of them would like to earn their place in Wolves history. Heading into their first regular season game with a (mostly) healthy roster, today was the first step towards that goal.
Tonight's game likely won't be part of any montages, but they got off to the start they wanted, defeating the Orlando Magic tonight in overtime 120-115.
"It's a good game to learn from," Wolves' head coach Rick Adelman said following the victory.
The game started off great for Minnesota. They scored 38 points in the first quarter, the most points ever scored in a quarter on opening night for the Wolves. J.J. Barea gave Minnesota a big lift in that first quarter, scoring 9 of his 11 points in the game's first 12 minutes. They led Orlando 38-27 after the first.
Their biggest lead of the night, however, came early in the second quarter, when they led the Magic 46-29 with just over 9 minutes to go. Ricky Rubio, J.J. Barea, Kevin Love and Corey Brewer all got off to hot starts for the Wolves, giving them the early advantage. Orlando was eventually able to get back into the game, slowly decreasing the deficit as the game went along. Eventually, they were even able to take a 103-100 lead with less than 15 seconds left on the clock. That's when the Wolves' All Star stepped in.
Kevin Love was tonight's best player tonight for either team. He finished the night with 31 points and 17 rebounds, including the three-pointer that tied the game at 103, leaving 10 seconds left in the game. The shot brought the contest into overtime after a missed jumper at the buzzer by Aaron Afflalo. Perhaps the most pleasant sight from Love was his work inside defensively.
"I thought tonight he had a really good effort on the defensive end and on the rebounding," Adelman said following the victory. "He got a lot of rebounds early."
Love took a step back in the overtime period, allowing Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic to score a combined 12 of the team's 17 points in OT, including a completed and-one for each of them. Martin had a rough shooting night, only going 6/19 from the field, but hit some big shots late, and completed a perfect 9/9 from the free throw line finishing with with 23 points. Pekovic sat for much of the fourth quarter, as coach Adelman went with Dante Cunningham in an attempt to create mismatches. He eventually subbed back into the game and played for the essentially all of overtime, finishing the game with 11 points and 7 rebounds in 29 minutes.
Corey Brewer, for the most part, played an excellent game on both ends of the floor. He had 16 points, including a very important tip-in late in regulation, to go along with 3 steals. His activity without the ball, both on cuts and on leaks to start fast breaks gave Minnesota a number of easy shots.
Along with Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio also came away with a double double for Minnesota. Like Brewer, he shot the ball much better in the first half, but he still finished with 13 points, 6 rebounds, 11 assists and 3 steals.
One notable absence from the game was Derrick Williams. After the game, Williams said he was fully healthy, and did not have any idea that he would receive a DNP for the evening. Rookies Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng and Robbie Hummel all joined Williams in the group of players receiving a 'DNP - Coach's Decision'.
Orlando's best players tonight were Nikola Vucevic, who finished with 22 points and 16 rebounds in 45 minutes, and Aaron Afflalo, who had 28 points, 9 boards and 5 assists in 41 minutes of action. Second overall pick Victor Oladipo showed some nice flashes of potential, and finished the night with 14 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists on 5/14 shooting in 36 minutes.
Overall, the game had some great moments offensively, but there were certainly moments of frustration for coach Rick Adelman. The players seemed happy with the victory in the locker room, but still aware of their issues that allowed Orlando's comeback. Winning the free throw battle (28/34 for Minnesota, 11/18 for Orlando) helped them hold onto what was a roller coaster of a victory.
"We gave too many easy baskets when we couldn't make one, and at the end we just fought all the way through and we knew we could win," Ricky Rubio said following the game. "Kevin (Love) made a great 3-point shot and he took the lead. In overtime we just realized that they gave us another chance and we weren't gonna lose this chance."
Minnesota will stay home and play the Oklahoma City Thunder Friday night at 7pm for their next game. The Thunder are also 1-0 to start to the year, holding onto a 101-98 victory over the Utah Jazz tonight.