MINNEAPOLIS -- Prior to Wednesday night's game against the Celtics, the Wolves had not won at Target Center since beating Portland on Dec. 10. Kevin Martin's return to the lineup, after missing 34 straight games with a fractured right wrist, helped lift the Wolves to a 110-98 victory over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night. But Martin wasn't the only factor.
Freshly signed point guard, Lorenzo Brown, was more than effective in his regular season debut with the Wolves after signing a 10-day contract earlier in the day. Having him at point guard made a LARGE difference tonight. Brown scored a career-high 11 points on 3-6 shooting (2-3 from three-point land), added three assists in 24 minutes (another career-high) and played the entire fourth quarter.
Zach LaVine started at point guard in place of Mo Williams, who missed the game due to personal reasons. Up until the 2:45 mark of the second quarter, LaVine looked severely overwhelmed by Avery Bradley's gritty on-ball defense; he couldn't do anything right. But one gorgeous pass by Andrew Wiggins to a streaking LaVine, resulting in a jaw dropping alley-oop from one rookie to another, sparked the 19-year-old UCLA product.
LaVine had a put-back dunk 30 seconds later, coming off an 8-foot shot from Wiggins that rimmed out, and carried that positive momentum into halftime. He scored the first six points of the third quarter -- nailing a 21-foot jumper, two free throws, and a driving layup over Bradley -- causing Celtics coach Brad Stevens to call a rage timeout with 10:21 still left in the third. The Wolves were up 55-49 at this point.
LaVine scored seven more points in the third, giving him 13 in the quarter, and Saunders subbed Brown in with 56 seconds remaining (78-70 in favor of the Wolves). LoBro ended up playing the final 12+ minutes of the game, even as LaVine had a breakthrough quarter.
"We had great point guard play," coach Flip Saunders said. "I thought Zach [LaVine] was very good. Lorenzo Brown came in and considering that the guy just went through a walk-through today he was great. We thought about putting Zach back in because he had been playing so well, but offensively it had been flowing so well it was best to go with those guys and let them try to finish the game."
Celtics coach Brad Stevens was impressed with the Wolves rookies.
"LaVine played great, I was really impressed, he did a great job," Stevens said after the game. "Wiggins salted it away with some good moves late. Those guys are good players and their athleticism is elite."
Jared Sullinger finished with 16 points and eight rebounds, Marcus Thornton scored 15 points in 14 minutes (HE TOOK 14 SHOTS, making seven of them), and rookie Marcus Smart added 12 points and 6 assists off the bench -- his 8th double-digit outing of the season.
But Boston couldn't deal with Minnesota's size inside. Nikola Pekovic beat up Sullinger and Tyler Zeller, while Gorgui Dieng recorded his 12th double-double of the season, finishing with 16 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks. Dieng is now averaging 2.1 blocks in January and ranks eighth in blocks per game this season (1.78).
- Free throws were the real key tonight. The Wolves finished 28-32 from the line while Boston was only 7-9. That's one tremendous advantage at the charity stripe.
- Lorenzo Brown crossed up Phil Pressey, breaking his ankles like the Target Center floor was Rucker Park...
- LaVine scored or assisted on eight of the Wolves 12 baskets in the third quarter. Additionally, taking it to Avery Bradley is far more impressive than dominating Jeremy Lin. LaVine scored a career-high 28 points in a win over the Lakers on Dec. 28, but this was his best game without a doubt. Given his putrid first half, his performance was actually quite remarkable. I was genuinely shocked by the way LaVine turned it around. During the third quarter, Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe tweeted the following:
Zach LaVine is eating up Avery Bradley, time to switch Smart on him. #celtics— gary washburn (@GwashburnGlobe) January 29, 2015
- Nikola Pekovic finished with 14 points on 5-8 shooting, his fourth game in double-digits since returning on Jan. 21. Pek's averaging 12.8 points per game since returning to the lineup.
- Seven different Wolves players reached double figures tonight. The bench finished with 39 points, their most since scoring 41 on Jan. 10 vs. San Antonio.