The Wolves celebrated the return of Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic with a win tonight in Sacramento. Keyed by a strong third quarter, the Wolves took a 13 point lead into the 4th, and were able to withstand a run by the Kings that got them to within two points.
Martin and Pekovic both had strong outings in their first games back from injury: Martin led the Wolves with 26 points on 9-16 from the field, and was particularly strong early in the ball game when he carried the offense in the first quarter. Pek collected 20 and 9, including 7 offensive boards. He looked like Pek, and it was spectacular.
They were needed as Kevin Love struggled shooting the ball tonight, managing only 4-12 from the field, though he did make 12 of 14 free throws to finish with 22 points. Still, it was not the dominant performance we've come to expect from Love, especially recently. That others were available to share the load was key to this win.
Sacramento started the game very hot from the field, and the Wolves were able to hang in mostly at the free throw line, where they wound up with 38 attempts on the night. Eventually, the Kings cooled off, and their penchant for turnovers came to the fore (19 for the game), and the Wolves were able to take control of the game in the third quarter.
As often is the case, the first few minutes of the 4th were harrowing for the Wolves, as their bench unit saw the lead evaporate quickly. By the time the starters returned, the Kings were on a serious roll, and managed to get within two points at 97-95. The key sequence started with a Rubio turnover, which led to a Rudy Gay layup attempt that would have tied the game with under 2:00 minutes left. His miss was followed by two Pek free throws off an offensive rebound, then a Rubio steal that led to his three pointer with under a minute left that gave the Wolves a seven point lead and effectively ended the game.
The Wolves are now 3-1 on their road trip, and a win in Denver on Monday would make this the most successful trip in recent memory. They are perhaps now playing their best basketball of the season, with four wins in five games since the All-Star break. It's likely too late for a real playoff push, but it's exciting to see them playing good ball.
Enjoy it while you can.