Their third opportunity to tie the game in the final five seconds, a tip attempt by Kevin Love, hung agonizingly on the iron before falling out as the buzzer sounded, sending the Wolves to their third loss of the season, 109-107 to the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center last night.
What a ball game.
I rarely say things like this, but I'm proud of the Wolves today. On the second night of a back to back, against a good team playing well, they took every punch and came back swinging. I kept expecting them to fade, and they kept fighting.
In the 2nd quarter, down 11, Nikola Pekovic came to life, scoring 10 points in the final three minutes of the half as the Wolves manage to close the gap to one point at halftime.
In the 3rd quarter Chris Paul starts percolating (cough, refs, cough) and Ricky Rubio is called for four fouls. Down six, Kevin Martin makes two big plays late and it looks like we're going to the 4th in a two point game, until Jamal Crawford makes a half-court shot at the buzzer to give the Clippers an 85-80 lead. I admit that at this point, I finally thought it might be over.
I really thought it was over in the 4th quarter, down 11, with under five minutes left. Then, the hack-a-big started, DeAndre Jordan missed free throws, two long Kevin Martin threes sandwiching two Kevin Love free throws, and it's a four point game. Down six with 1:30 to go, and you had to wonder what was left. Nikola Pekovic answered with two baskets in the last minute, the second a classic Pek put-back, to set up the final two possessions. After forcing a Blake Griffin miss, the Wolves designed a play for Kevin Martin to get the ball on the move and look for a shot. After the briefest of hesitations cost him a look at a potential game winning three, he wound up getting off a 15 footer with DeAndre Jordan all over him, which led to Pek's offensive rebound miss and Love's potential game-tier refusing to roll over the front of the rim as time expired.
Video courtesy of Late Round Producions
This was the Nikola Pekovic break out game we've been waiting for, as he went 11-15 from the floor and finished with 25 and 10. It was only a matter of time. While he did get particularly strong position in the post in this game, he also just converted shots he's used to converting, and it made all the difference. Hopefully this one gets Pek back on track and we see his numbers return to their normal levels.
In some ways, this is how the Wolves offense is supposed to look, with all three of their main scoring weapons firing. Kevin Martin led the way with 30 points, and Love added 23. Neither of them converted that well from inside the arc, but they each made four three-pointers, and Martin was 8-8 from the free throw line.
Defensively, they had real trouble against the top rated offense in the league. On the positive side, they did a great job running the Clippers off the arc, which was clearly something they were working at. However, the Clippers were able to score inside off post-ups and dribble penetration plays that really hurt the Wolves, as did their mid-range shooting, as the Clips shot 62.5% from inside the arc.
Once again, the simple box score tells us a stark story about the fall off from the Wolves starting unit to its bench, as the entire starting five was plus while all reserves were minus. The story is the same game after game, as the reserves as individuals and as a group are playing poor basketball. The Wolves desperately need Chase Budinger back, and Ronny Turiaf wouldn't hurt either. However, a hearty congratulations to Gorgui Dieng for making his first two field goals in the NBA (and only committing one foul in five minutes!).
Twice in their three losses this season, the Wolves have had the ball in their hands with a chance to win or tie in the final possession. They are playing good basketball, perhaps the best basketball they've played in a decade. Let's make sure we enjoy it.
One last thing: A shout out to Canis Hoopus readers: over 1500 comments for a late west coast start? Weren't we saying we weren't going to stay up in the pre-game thread?