I will never forget this game. My first season covering the Minnesota Timberwolves as a credentialed media member was coming to end when the Houston Rockets came to town on April 11, 2014. The Wolves were a respectable 39-39 hosting the 52-win Rockets, and while this was Minnesota’s best record in years, their inability to close tight games kept them out of the playoff race.
If the Wolves were going to get win No. 40, they would have to do it without Kevins Love, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic. This left the Wolves with Ricky Rubio, Gorgui Dieng, Robbie Hummel, Dante Cunningham, and Corey Brewer as their starting five. Talk about a bunch of prolific scorers.
To even out the lineups, Dwight Howard sat this game out leaving James Harden to gladly get his shots up. This was the first night of an away-home back-to-back at the end of a road trip and it made sense for Houston to sit Howard with a playoff run looming. Howard would play the next night in Houston.
Aside from Harden, Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones, Omer Asik, and Jeremy Lin were the Rockets starters. This game was so long ago that Parsons was still a 40-minute per game player and Robert Covington and Patrick Beverley couldn’t even get in the game. But Kevin McHale was able to find four minutes for Isaiah Canaan.
Anyway, this isn’t about Kevin McHale’s rotations. This is about career 8.7 points per game scorer Corey Brewer dropping 51 points in a game. That’s a four-quarter, 48-minute game with no overtime.
Brewer’s previous career high was 29 points, set the season before with the Denver Nuggets. Corey Brewer played 814 career games and scored more than 20 points 54 times. The highest single-season scoring average in Brewer’s career was 13 points per game even. None of this is to diminish Brewer’s career or abilities, but the point is he was not a scorer.
Yet, in spite of this fact, he would set a Timberwolves franchise record for scoring and hold that title for 10 months.
Something in the Air
The first thing I remember about this day was feeling weird. Nothing was going on or wrong, I just recall sensing a weird vibe. It’s fitting this feeling carried over to the basketball game I was covering in the evening. No Pekovic, Love, or Martin against one of the best teams in the conference? Why not. At least Howard’s absence somewhat leveled the playing field.
Despite playing shorthanded, the Wolves led 39-32 after one quarter. Brewer was nearly one-quarter of the way to his eventual career high with 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting. Not only was the efficiency impressive, but Brewer averaged 10 shots per game for the entire 2014 season.
The Wolves regressed hard in the second quarter, scoring just 20 points in the quarter. You know who didn’t regress? That’s right, Brewer. The swingman chipped in another 10 points while none of his teammates mustered more than two points in the final 12 minutes of the first half. Houston led 63-59 at the half, which wasn’t bad given the Wolves’ missing players and Parsons and Harden combining for 33 points on 11-for-16 shooting.
With 26 points at the half, we joked on media row that Brewer could get to 40 before the night was through. If this was someone like Karl-Anthony Towns, that jump would surprise few people but Brewer’s reputation was solidified seven years into his career. And after a 10-point third quarter that brought him to 36 points, Brewer getting two more buckets seemed inevitable. Fifty, however, seemed like a stretch.
The Wolves entered the fourth trailing by two points, which had to feel like a small victory in itself. If the Timberwolves wanted to steal a victory, they need Brewer to put the team on his wiry-but-sturdy shoulders once again.
Brewer delivered with a 15-point quarter that included shooting 4-for-7 from the field and hitting 7-of-8 free throws in the frame. While no one was cheering on media row, there was a lot of amazement at this unlikely scoring performance. Brewer’s performance was inexplicable and came from nowhere, but moments like these are among the most memorable in sports.
What no one remembers is the Wolves holding on for the 112-110 victory. Aside from Brewer, Cunningham (20 points) and Rubio (16 points on 16 shots) were the team’s next greatest scoring contributions.
A Night Unlike Any Other
Brewer finished the game with 51 points, two rebounds, one assist, and six steals. He used 32.6 percent of the team’s possessions but turned the ball over only twice. What’s most impressive and differentiates Brewer’s performance from 50-point games in 2020 is that he shot just six 3-pointers.
Brewer made up for his outside shooting by making 11 of his 15 free throw attempts and going 17-of-24 on 2-pointers. In fact, Brewer made just three shots outside of the paint in almost 45 minutes of playing time. Had Howard played, it’s unlikely Brewer has the same unfettered access to the basket. Brewer took advantage of this weakness again and again and the Rockets could do little to stop him.
Some other notable happenings included:
- The short rotations — Houston played eight players (if you don’t count Canaan’s minor minutes) and Minnesota did the same. These are playoff rotations late in the regular season.
- Aside from Covington, future Timberwolf Troy Daniels was also on the bench for this Rockets team.
- Harden had 33 points on 14 shots because he went 15-of-19 from the line and missed a triple double by two rebounds.
- This game was a great reminder of how good Parsons was: 27 points, seven rebounds and seven assists on 4-of-8 shooting from deep.
- Despite playing just eight players, four Wolves scored in double figures and the team received all of eight bench points.
While Brewer was never a big-time scorer, this game said a lot about him as a player. Brewer was ready and stepped into a greater role when the team needed him to. Looking at the injuries the Wolves had on this night and the lack of support from the remaining cast, and the Wolves easily lose this game if Brewer gives them any less.
This game was arguably the strangest one I had ever covered but will definitely go down as one of the most memorable for me.