Right before tonight's tip-off versus the Cavaliers was set to begin, it was announced that Kevin Martin would be absent from the lineup due to flu-like symptoms. In his absence, the Timberwolves posted their biggest margin of victory so far this season, beating the Cavs 124-95 at the Target Center. Even without one their two premier shooters, they shot nearly 55 percent from the field, and 50 percent from beyond the three-point line, easily their best percentages so far this season.
"Terrific game for our guys, came out from the start and they carried it through," Wolves head coach Rick Adelman said following the victory. "The first three quarters especially, we just moved the ball so well. We were good at both ends of the court, had a lot of energy. You get 34 assists and 9 turnovers, that's huge."
Things seemed OK for Minnesota without K-Mart, starting quickly in the first half. They had yet another high-scoring first quarter, getting out to a quick 37-24 lead. The second quarter wasn't much different, as Corey Brewer, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love got the Wolves out to a 70-47 lead.
The second half saw more firepower from the Wolves, as their lead grew to as high as 39. They were able to sit their starters for the entirety of the fourth quarter and give their young guys a chance to get some extra run. Unlike the win in Los Angeles against the Lakers, they never let the Cavaliers back into this game by any stretch, and kept their lead near or above 20 throughout.
Starting in Martin's place tonight was rookie Robbie Hummel, putting Corey Brewer at the shooting guard spot for the night. Hummel finished with 10 points and 4 rebounds on 4/6 shooting in 28 minutes of play. The road Hummel has taken to get here has been a tough one. Before tearing his ACL (twice) while at Purdue, he was one of the best college players in the country and was likely a first round draft pick. Now that he's finally healthy again, he still had to fight to make the roster. Now he's starting in an NBA game. He took advantage and played a solid game, playing within himself and making positive contributions.
"He played great," Corey Brewer said about the rookie. "He did what he had to do, he didn't make any mistakes, and he played solid."
In Martin's absence, it was Brewer quickly took initiative in the scoring column, paying homage to K-Mart by cashing in several times from deep. He finished the game with 27 points on 10/17 shooting (5/5 from beyond the arc) in only 29 minutes of action. He was the one who got the Wolves off to their hot start, scoring the team's first 9 points.
They had planned on using Brewer to guard Waiters (and Irving at times) even if Martin suited up, and with wing play being essentially interchangeable on offense, there was little difference in the game plan in terms of his responsibilities.
"He's just been playing great," Adelman said. "The energy he plays with, it just carries over to everybody else."
Brewer wasn't the only one putting up big numbers for Minnesota, not by a long shot. Kevin Love got his first 'MVP' chants of the season, as he managed 33 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists in 32 minutes. Ricky Rubio had another stat sheet stuffer as well, compiling 16 points, 6 rebounds and a career-high 16 assists on 5/7 shooting.
The only two Wolves who weren't able to put points on the board were A.J. Price, and birthday boy Shabazz Muhammad. They shot a combined 0-8 from the field, with Price playing just over 12 minutes, and Shabazz clocking in at 9.
Kyrie Irving led all Cavaliers in scoring, finishing 8/17 from the field with 20 points and 2 assists in 27 minutes. He took a hard fall in the second quarter, in what appeared to be an injured jaw. He came back fairly quickly and he seemed to be fine.
This year's 1st overall draft pick, Anthony Bennett, had another rough game in his young career, scoring 6 points on 3/11 shooting. That's his career high through 9 games.
It's clear that the Wolves felt good after their tough loss to the Clippers on Monday, and used that positive energy to put the opposition away early, even with their No. 2 option unavailable. With Martin's absence, it gave other guys a chance to step up, and that's exactly what happened. That's what playoff teams do, and the Wolves did it tonight.
The Wolves will now head to Denver to face off against Corey Brewer's team from a year ago, the Denver Nuggets. The game will take place Friday at 7pm CST, and will be broadcast on ESPN.