Wolves get stern wake-up call in 19-point comeback win over 76ers
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The scene at halftime was not a pretty one.
As the Wolves headed to their Target Center locker room Wednesday night, a sense of bewilderment seemed to be ripe throughout the team.
Needless to say, coach Rick Adelman was not in a good mood when he addressed his team, down 61-48 at the midpoint of what on first glance looked like it should have been a fairly controllable affair for the Wolves against the seven-win 76ers.
"He was mad," center Nikola Pekovic said later, laughing slightly at his own understatement.
The Sixers, a youthful assembly of players slotted in the bottom tier of the Eastern Conference, delivered the Wolves a sobering blow quickly after the opening tip. Unfurling their newly instituted, relentlessly upbeat style, the 76ers kept Minnesota in a state of shock as they created a 19-point lead by the end of the first quarter.
Gone was the surge of energy that coursed through the Wolves' 27-point beat down of the Pistons Tuesday at Detroit. The game-to-game inconsistencies that have hounded them for the first quarter of the season had sprouted once again.
The Wolves, who entered with a 1-5 record in the second game of back-to-back match-ups this season, looked the part of a tired and disorganized crew. Philadelphia was the opposite, showing off aggressive cuts to the basket and its track meet style.
"Obviously the first quarter was awful," Adelman said. "They'll run up and down the court and try to attack the basket as quick as they can. They just got going and got us on our heels. It just took us a long time to get into it."
With a bounty of close-range shots falling to the wayside (37 percent first half shooting mark, 11-of-25 in the paint), the second quarter did little to ease the Wolves' struggles. By the end of the first 24 minutes, Minnesota had surrendered its second highest first half point total of the year (61) and trailed by 13.
Adelman felt he didn't have to say much at halftime, letting their poor play do most of the talking, aided by his disgruntled demeanor message that emphasized the Wolves had no reason for playing with such complacenc.
The wake-up call got through.
Ultimately, the Wolves found a way to survive the possibility of the most glaring loss of their season. Before Wednesday, the biggest comeback they had mounted was five points. That number became 19.
Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic's combined 46 points and 26 rebounds, plus Ricky Rubio's season-high 21 points, served as the anchor for the Wolves' second half resurgence. By the end of the night, Minnesota could breathe a sigh of relief, its return to .500 (11-11) preserved thanks to a 20-point second half differential over the Sixers in a 106-99 victory.
The spark came not from the Wolves' starters but from a reserve unit that has battled reoccurring droughts of ineffectiveness lately.
Rookie Robbie Hummel played the role of catalyst. Hummel scored all 10 of his career-high point total in the fourth quarter, including a shot from 21-feet out that put the Wolves in the lead for the first and only time with just over eight minutes remaining.
"When opportunity knocks, you've got to be ready and take advantage of it," Love said, who heaped praise on Hummel and the second unit's comeback role. "He does that. He's a Coach Adelman type of player -- a guy who can really shoot the ball well from the outside, is very solid and you can put him in in any situation."
The pent-up frustration from a miserable first half was obvious just by taking notice of Love and his fellow starters' reactions as they took their spots on the bench. A critical opportunity to get to 11-11 with a road trip-heavy schedule looming was slipping away.
When Hummel's deficit-erasing shot trickled through, the tension was instantly released. Love erupted from his bench seat, fists propelled upward, leaping out onto the court with a triumphant yell.
"It was a release of a lot of emotions that were dragged down from the first half," Love said. "It was just a full team effort tonight in coming back. It showed that the second unit can step up and can score. Definitely a character builder for us."
It was a game the Wolves came away knowing clearly they have to learn from or they will be doomed to fall into the same pattern.
The Wolves have shown often this year the threat they pose when their effort is at full throttle and are defensively in-sync. That showed Tuesday when they rebounded from a stretch of seven losses in nine games with an impressive all-around performance at the Pistons' expense.
For half of the night Wednesday, the strides made less than 24 hours earlier looked to have added up to nothing. But the Wolves delivered in a dire moment.
"You get a nice win last night, it means nothing tonight," Adelman said. "They better understand that. If you want to build anything and get any type of streak going, night after night you have to come out and play. We're lucky ... We got the win, but hopefully we got a lesson there."
Now the trick is making sure that lesson sticks -- something that hasn't happened yet in the season's first month and a half. It will need to take root quickly. The Wolves kick off a three-game road trip on Friday at San Antonio.