Sunday night the Minnesota Timberwolves became one step closer to being a healthy team again. Center Nikola Pekovic and forward Andrei Kirilenko both returned from injury, and were key down the stretch as they helped knock off the New Orleans Hornets.
The Wolves finished the game getting beaten in almost every single category except for field goal percentage, where they shot 56% from the floor. It was a refreshing sight to see the Wolves shoot the ball so well, even hitting a third of their three point attempts after a lousy performance earlier in the week going 6 for 24. Ricky Rubio poured in 16 points to go with six assists, two rebounds, two steals, and two blocks. Derrick Williams went off for 28 points and seven rebounds for Minnesota, and continues to play with a lot of confidence.
The other area where they happened to finish higher than the Hornets was in blocks, finishing with 10 as a team. It was in this second key area the Wolves’ topped the Hornets where two other players came through with less than a minute to play. None were more important though, than Kirilenko’s pair at the end of the game.
The Wolves were down 95-94 with under a minute to play when Pekovic was fouled, getting sent to the line for a pair of free throws. Pekovic prior to this point in the game had attempted four free throws, only making one of them. It was only fitting that making his first appearance back on the court since his abdomen injury, he would be the one to come through in the clutch. Pekovic was able to knock down both of them, putting Minnesota up 96-95.
On the next Hornets possession, Kirilenko blocked a shot attempt by guard Eric Gordon. At the other end of the floor it was Kirilenko who was fouled this time and sent to the line. Splitting the pair, he increased the Wolves’ lead to two. New Orleans took a timeout in effort to draw up one last play with six seconds remaining.
Roger Mason Jr. attempted to be the hero for the Hornets as he spotted up for a three. Kirlilenko, however, had other plans. Coming through with yet another crunch time block, he sent the Hornets packing as Minnesota ended up winning by two.
The tenacity and defensive presence is something that had been lacking as of late for the Wolves, which was absolutely provided tonight. Kirilenko is a guy who can get all the little things done at a high level; scrambling for loose ball, fighting for rebounds, contesting shots, and stealing the ball. Pekovic on the other hand is a tank in the paint, which had been missed dearly as of late. Coming on strong as a starter last year, “Pek” proved worthy of being the consistent starting center the Wolves had previously been looking for. Unfortunately for both Pekovic and Minnesota, he has struggled to stay on the court this season.
Timberwolves fans hadn’t had much to cheer for recently, losing quite a few more games than they have won since their two starters went down. Tonight was encouraging to see Minnesota play well as a team and win the game in the remaining seconds with clutch play, especially coming from Pekovic and Kirilenko.
This team remains to be a mystery, as fans continue to wonder “What if?” regarding their being decimated with injuries. Tonight, hopefully, was a sign of positive things to come as Minnesota tries to convince the coaching staff and front office of the things that need to happen in order to succeed next year. You’re almost there Minnesota, just waiting on two more bodies to get healthy. Then, it’ll be time to see what this team is really all about.