With 9:22 remaining in the first quarter, Kevin Love made the first of his four threes on the night to give the Timberwolves a 7-6 lead over the Memphis Grizzlies. They wouldn't trail again, as they ran out to a double digit lead in the 2nd quarter and were able to hang on throughout the 2nd half to even their record at 12-12 and earn their third victory in the last four games.
Kevin Love once again led the way offensively, with 30 points on 11-21 from the field, and also played some stout interior defense when asked to guard Zach Randolph, a player who has often given the Wolves trouble in the past. In fact, this win broke an 11 game losing streak against the Grizzlies, who aren't the same team without Marc Gasol available.
Mike Conley starred for Memphis, scoring 28 on a variety of drives to the rim and perimeter shots, but he was forced to leave the game after a knee to knee collision with Dante Cunningham in the 4th quarter.
The Wolves saw a 10 point halftime lead sliced in half quickly in the third quarter, and the rest of the game was played with the Wolves hanging on to a lead that ranged from 2 to 9 points most of the way. There were several key moments throughout the 2nd half, perhaps none more important then the Wolves five point possession three minutes into the 4th quarter. With the bench in the game and Memphis having closed within two points, Alexey Shved drove the lane and received a flagrant foul from Ed Davis, who raked his arm across Shved's face. After looking at the monitors, the referees determined that in addition to the flagrant, Kosta Koufos was guilty of goal tending. After Shved completed the three point play, he found Nikola Pekovic on a pick and roll, and Pek was fouled as he went up. His two free throws pushed the lead back to seven and gave the Wolves some breathing room.
Another key sequence occurred with just over four minutes left and the Wolves up five. The ball came loose on a Ricky Rubio drive, but he was able to recover and get the ball to Dante Cunningham, who swung it to Kevin Love on the left wing, and Love buried the last of his threes on the night as Zach Randolph contested in vain. It pushed the lead back to eight.
The Grizzlies would get as close as three again, but four straight Pekovic free throws and a transition layup by Pek iced the game for the Timberwolves, who get a big win.
This the Wolves 3rd win in four games, including 2 of the last three on the road, with the only loss coming in close fashion in San Antonio on Friday night. Kevin Love is dominating proceedings, putting up 30 tonight after his monster 42 point effort against the Spurs.
Tonight featured better play from the bench, as the Wolves got 31 points from their reserves, including 15 from J.J. Barea, who, despite forcing a couple late, made 5 of 10 from the field and 3 of 5 from range. Alexey Shved, who got run in both halves tonight, continues to show small signs of life, as in addition to the above described three point play, he also made just his fifth three pointer of the season in the first half. Robbie Hummel, who saw some key playing time late in the game in place of Luc Mbah a Moute, chipped in with six rebounds.
Kevin Martin sat out most of the 2nd half with apparent knee soreness and was scoreless in 19 minutes. Meanwhile, Nikola Pekovic was big early (six of the Wolves first nine points) and late, (scoring their last six), and finished with 19 points.
Prior to the game in Detroit, I was hopeful of winning three out of five; the Wolves have a chance to better that in Boston tomorrow night, where they play the 2nd night of a road back to back. That will be difficult, but a win would push them back above .500 with more tough games ahead, as Portland will be in town for the first meeting of the year prior to another two games in Los Angeles against both occupants of Staples Center before Christmas.
A solid win tonight as the Wolves maintained their composure and the lead, got the baskets and stops they needed to notch their fifth road win of the year.
On to Boston.