Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio pour in 18 each as Wolves hold off Spurs
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The reinforcements arrived for the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday, but it was the usual suspects who led the team to an 87-79 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
Though Michael Beasley returned after missing 11 games and Martell Webster made his season debut, it was 18 points each from Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio that propelled the Wolves to their second straight victory over a team that had held a 16-game winning streak over them heading into the season.
"Terrific win for our guys," coach Rick Adelman said. "Especially against a veteran team like that that wins those games all the time. We made stops, we executed and we rebounded the ball and that's what you have to do win those games in the fourth quarter."
Joining the stalwarts in all the fun was Nikola Pekovic, who got his first start of the season in place of an ill Darko Milicic. He scored 14 points -- two shy of his career high -- and grabbed 10 rebounds.
"He was terrific the whole game," Adelman said. "He battled (Tim) Duncan and he does his job. He is a force around there because he is always posted up, always strong. Very aggressive. "He has been playing well. Every time we use him, he has done a nice job and (Friday) just stepped in."
The game was knotted at 64 all in a low-scoring affair at the start of the fourth quarter that remained close along the way, with each team trading baskets.
The Wolves took an 83-79 lead with 1 minute, 45 seconds remaining after Wesley Johnson blocked Duncan's shot and got the rebound and Love scored on the other end. After two defensive stops, Love sealed it with a runner in the lane to put the Wolves up 85-79 on their way to their ninth victory of the year.
"Hopefully," Adelman said, "this is a step forward for us."
Adelman said before the game he was going to be "patient" with the return of Beasley, Webster and Brad Miller, not wanting to force things and further screw up a rotation that was plenty disjointed as it was.
Beasley was the first to step foot between the lines, making his return with 4:32 left in the first quarter after missing 11 games with the mid-foot sprain he suffered Jan. 6 in a loss to the Chicago Bulls.
He missed his first shot of the game but made back-to-back baskets on his next two shots, one a nice turn-around jumper followed by a spot-up jumper on the next trip down the court.
Beasley showed his ring-rust, however. An attempted cross-court skip pass in the second quarter was easily read and intercepted.
He finished with seven points on 3-of-11 shooting and added four rebounds and two assists in 22 minutes.
"It was good to get those guys back," Adelman said. "It gives us a lot of options. They both have been out for a while, so they were probably a bit rusty. But it gave us some options to go with different people and hopefully, that will give me more options of who to play and when to play them."
Webster's season debut came with 5:57 remaining in the second quarter after the veteran sat the first 18 games. After a quiet first couple of minutes back on the court, Webster showed he still has the dynamic flair to his game by driving to the rack in traffic before his dunk attempt hit the back iron and bounced out.
His first basket came with 52 seconds left in the quarter, a 3-pointer from the elbow off of a dish from Rubio.
That was it for Webster. Adelman made good on his comments about bringing him along slowly and not giving him any more run in the tightly-contested second half. Webster finished with six points on 1-of-3 shooting with two rebounds in six minutes.
"It felt good," Webster said. "I didn't want to go out there and force anything, let the game come to me and be patient. And just enjoy it. It was fun getting back out there with my teammates. The back felt good. I practice much longer than six minutes, so that was nothing for me."
Miller never got into the game, but being on the bench in something other than street clothes was a positive sign for the 13-year veteran.
The Wolves outscored the veteran Spurs 23-15 in the final frame and only allowed them one basket in the final six minutes in a game that showed the young Wolves continue to take a step forward, closing out games in the fourth quarter.
"We weren't playing to win last year," Love said. "This year, we are playing to win games. We are confident. Real confident. No matter what happens."
2: Consecutive dunks for Johnson in the first quarter. He had six on the season up until that point.
0: Minutes for Anthony Tolliver, who got a "Did not play -- coach's decision."
2: Turnovers for the Wolves in the second half after turning the ball over eight times in the first half.
The section of sport coats behind the bench got a lot smaller with the return of Beasley, Ridnour, Webster and Miller. The biggest question mark that remains is J.J. Barea.
Barea missed his fifth straight game while he continues to recover from a reoccurring hamstring injury that first popped up in the second game of the season against Milwaukee.
Since signing his four-year contract during training camp, Barea has only played in six of the 19 games -- missing additional games with an ankle injury.
Barea has resumed practicing and said his hamstring feels good, but he and training staff are being overly cautious, so the vicious cycle of returning to the court and then returning right back to the shelf can cease and the veteran can finally get into some sort of rhythm on the court with teammates he knows more from seeing in the trainers' room than he does on the court.
Barea is intensively competitive and said he hates sitting out more than anything. But this time he has given way to the training staff that has convinced him it is better for himself and his teammates if he gives his hamstring proper rest.
"I told him he can't wear it. I am afraid he is going to pull the other hamstring," Adelman about Barea's NBA Championship ring he was given Wednesday in Dallas. The $50,000 ring is so bulky Adelman was afraid it would weigh down the 175 pound veteran.
"I have two, four, six witnesses. I am going to hold you do that," Love, counting the bodies in the room that overheard Barea tell him that he would be back on the court soon.
"God forbid we come out and start a game well," Love said, joking about the slow start the Wolves once again got off to, turning over the ball on the first three possessions.
The Wolves get a day off on Saturday before opening their doors for Kobe Bryant and the Los Angles Lakers to make their first of two appearances at the Target Center this season. A victory against the Lakers will put the Wolves at .500.
Then, the Wolves will immediately board a jet to have a rematch their former GM/coach and the Houston Rockets down in Texas. Kevin McHale and the Rockets got the best of a nine-man Wolves team on Monday, handing Houston its seventh win in a row.