Kevin Love endures rough night, then delivers in clutch to down Sixers
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Kevin Love struggled offensively all night, but he saved his best for last in Sunday's 92-91 last-second victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
With 3.6 seconds left and down by a point, coach Rick Adelman showed faith to put the ball in the hands of his All-Star. Love delivered -- driving to the rim, getting fouled with one-tenth of a second left and making both free throws to give the Wolves their biggest win of the season, moving them back to the .500 mark.
"It just shows what type of player he has become," Adelman said. "He makes the plays in the fourth quarter. He made the big free throws to win the game there and that's what you expect out of him."
It was the classic basketball scenario every kid who has ever picked up a basketball has simulated on their driveways -- one to tie, two to win with next to no time left on the clock. Love couldn't recall ever being in that position before.
"Not for a long time," he said. "Couple times in high school, maybe AAU ball or something."
It gave the Wolves a win against the best defensive team in the league and a big one at Target Center, where they've struggled to a 9-10 record this season.
"Just a great win," Adelman said. "We have had so many tough losses against good teams here, to come out and get that win, make plays down the stretch, get stops when we needed them. I couldn't be happier for them."
The Wolves got off to what is becoming their trademark slow start against the 76ers, falling behind 18-7 before Adelman had seen enough and called timeout. Whatever he said to them worked, the Wolves came out and ripped off a 10-0 run that brought them within two points of the 76ers at the end of the quarter.
Rubio gave the Wolves the offensive punch they needed, scoring 14 of his career-high 22 points in the first quarter while the rest of the team shot a combined 4-of-16 from the field.
The rest of the Wolves eventually began hitting shots and Rubio began to rack up assists, dishing all five of his assists in the third quarter.
"It is good, especially when we play good and everybody having fun," Rubio said.
Making Rubio's scoring explosion all the more crucial was the fact that Love struggled so mightily on the offensive end -- a rarity for the Wolves' only All-Star.
Love struggled to 7-of-23 shooting from the field. He missed seven straight shots at one point and didn't score in the second or third quarter.
"I really was struggling," he said. "For me, it was ugly all-around for the first 3½ quarters and I finally got it together there."
Love didn't reach double-digits in points until midway through the fourth quarter, when he made three straight shots during a 60-run that gave the Wolves an 80-78 lead with 8:04 remaining.
After the second of the two shots, Love ran down the court, pumping his fists as if he had just hit a game-winning shot, almost in self-mocking fashion.
"I am here. I have arrived in this game finally," was how Love explained the reasoning behind the over-the-top celebration.
"He stayed with it," Adelman said. "That's what you have to do. That's the way it is in this league. That is the best defensive team in the league so they are going to take things away from you so you have to find a way."
Rubio added, "I knew he would score the ball."
Love's free throws were clutch, but it was the defensive stop on the previous possession that gave the Wolves their chance to steal the victory. The Wolves held firm with the clock winding down and came away with the rebound.
4: Consecutive games with 10-plus points for J.J. Barea, who finished with 14 off the bench.
0: Points for Wesley Johnson, who played 22 minutes and shot 0-of-4 from the field.
.1: Seconds for a healthy Darko Milicic, who has been replaced by Pekovic. He was inserted at the end of the game to prevent a 76ers miracle tip-in with .1 seconds left in the game.
The Wolves continue to stay healthy after starting the season with a handful of guys on the shelf.
Malcolm Lee has yet to make his return from surgery to repair a torn meniscus on Dec. 30, but that is because Adelman doesn't want to rush the rookie into action. Lee played three games with the Sioux Falls Skyforce in the NBA Developmental League but has returned to the team and has been practicing.
Lee and Anthony Randolph were the two inactives for Sunday's game.
"I don't want to talk about it."
-- Rubio, blushing, when asked about the Justin Bieber backpack given to him by veteran teammate Brad Miller as a part of rookie hazing.
The Wolves left right after the game to catch a plane to Denver, where the Nuggets await them on Monday night. This is the first meeting with the Nuggets (17-14), who swept four games against the Wolves last season. The Nuggets have also won 16 of the past 17 games in the series, with the lone Wolves win in five years coming on Nov. 29, 2009.
The Wolves will then get Tuesday off before returning home to face former Wolf Al Jefferson and the Utah Jazz. It is the second meeting between the two, with Utah winning the first game 108-98 in Salt Lake City on Jan. 21.
After the Utah game, the Wolves will get an opportunity to rest their legs during the All-Star break, getting six days off. Love, Rubio and Derrick Williams will be in Orlando competing in various All-Star festivities.