Both teams were without their star player Wednesday night at the Target Center. Chris Paul missed another game for the Clippers. Kevin Love remains out for the ‘Wolves thanks to his broken hand. Having said that, the story for the Timberwolves was the members of the team who returned to action. Alexey Shved and Nikola Pekovic returned to the lineup and head coach Rick Adelman returned to the sideline.
With the exception of a couple swings, the game was competitive throughout. The Timberwolves rode hot shooting and jumped out to a 10 point lead in the first half, only to see a 2nd quarter spurt by Jamal Crawford and Blake Griffin stake the Clippers to a 4-point halftime lead. From there the Timberwolves fought back from their own double-digit deficit in the second half, arriving at the 3:00 mark of the final quarter with an 88-87 lead. Unfortunately the Clippers finished those final minutes on a 9-2 run and won the game 96-90. The Timberwolves could not hit a shot and could not pull in key rebounds as they came up short once again.
One moment in that final quarter embodied the current state of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Still within a basket and coming off of a key stop at the defensive end, the team moved the ball and set up a decent three-point look for Andrei Kirilenko. The man they call “AK47,” with his feet underneath him and the Target Center faithful gasping in anticipation, proceeded to bonk an ugly miss that hit the backboard first. This team can put together a decent overall game against a tough opponent, but it sorely lacks a player who can knock down a key shot.
Pekovic played well in his return, putting up 17 points and 12 rebounds. Unfortunately for him, young Derrick Williams found foul trouble and the Timberwolves simply were not big enough for the Clippers’ big men. DeAndre Jordan played well and Blake Griffin was especially impressive with 26 points and 13 rebounds. In the end the Timberwolves wasted a fine performance by Ricky Rubio and a chance to start their home stand off with a victory.
One final lesson from Wednesday’s game: if ever the Timberwolves find themselves in an ugly brawl, say a throwback to the days of the Knicks and Pistons of old, they know one player will stand squarely in the middle of the fray. Greg “the Steamer” Stiemsma was involved in two dust-ups in this game. One was not his fault (Matt Barnes was ejected for an inexplicable flagrant-2 on the big man). One was his fault (he shoved veteran Grant Hill for no apparent reason).
So yes, Greg “the Steamer” Stiemsma showed some toughness on this night. Fans can process that as they choose.