Tolliver returns in 108-98 loss to Portland, team finally healthy
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Anthony Tolliver returned in the Minnesota Timberwolves loss to the Portland Trailblazers 108-98 Friday night at Target Center.
Tolliver had 10 points and two rebounds in 21 minutes in his first game back since spraining his right MCL against the San Antonio Spurs Dec. 3rd.
"He has been so hyper and so eager to get back," coach Kurt Rambis said. "If it was up to him he would have been back a week ago. But until we got clearance and OK from the medical staff, we were holding him out. But he has been pounding his knee, he has been involved in practices, extra work after practices and before and it doesn't look to me like there is mental holdback from his injury."
Tolliver had been averaging 6.4 points and 4.1 rebounds in 19 minutes a game before getting hurt but is the type of player that adds the things that can't be quantified by statistics.
"He can defend a couple of positions," Rambis said. "He gives us more mobility at the big spot—the power forward spot. He can also knock down some outside shots. Transitions well, runs the floor, provides a lot of energy, taking charges, defensive kind of things."
But as Rambis stressed, there is a difference between being back on the court and being in complete game shape. Practices in the NBA can be intense, but like all sports, it doesn't compare to playing games.
"Do we expect everything to be perfect when he comes back? No, he is going to have to find his way again but it is good to have him back," Rambis said.
Tolliver's return signifies something more significant than a backup forward/center being healthy. It marks the first time all season the Wolves have their entire roster healthy and available to play.
All NBA teams go through tough injury spells but it is especially detrimental to a team as young and inexperienced as the Wolves.
Jonny Flynn and Martell Webster each missed the first 24 games of the season while they recovered from hip and back surgery. Luke Ridnour missed a six game stretch in November with a leg injury that forced the Wolves to start Sebastian Telfair and sign Sundiata Gaines as an emergency point guard. Centers Darko Milicic and Nikola Pekovic with a laundry list of lower body ailments that tend to happen to big men.
So after 37 games, a cavalcade of injuries and a team that swears they are almost over the hump, Rambis finally has the full compliment of players he has said is necessary to figure out just who this young group of guys is as a team.
Rambis warns, however, just because everyone is healthy, these things don't happen overnight; "It still takes time for guys to figure out how to play together."
"Not only the starting process of how to play together but they've got to grow together so they can make all the nice little reads and see what the defense does and react accordingly and put the ball in all the right places at the right times," Rambis said. "As well as cover each others backs at the other end of the floor. Right now we're, defensive-wise, we are reactionary and don't anticipate what is coming up. We need to get to that point where we are anticipating."