The new-look Minnesota Timberwolves can score. They can run. They can put an opponent in a hole.
And they can also let it back out.
Adelman, the team’s veteran head man, before Wednesday night’s 120-115 season-opening, overtime win against Orlando: “They seem to lose their concentration. They seem to be going pretty good, and they just kind of kick back like they’ve got it made. You can’t do that in this league.”
Adelman, after his team let a 17-point lead slip away and required a game-tying 3-pointer from Kevin Love to force overtime: “It’s a game of mistakes, and what you’re trying to do is build on it. … We had some really good moments, but then the second half, some guys who did well in the first half didn’t do as much in the second half. We have to find a way to do it both halves.”
The first quarter-and-a-half of Minnesota’s curtain-drawing survival depicted almost everything Adelman and the Timberwolves brass had hoped for in compiling an offensive-minded roster this offseason. Love was rebounding and facilitating, Rubio was scoring, and Ronny Turiaf, Dante Cunningham and J.J. Barea were providing multiple sparks off the bench.
Cunningham’s 19-foot jump shot 2:54 into the second quarter gave Minnesota a 46-29 lead over a team that won 20 games last year, and the Timberwolves appeared well on their way to a signature, campaign-commencing blowout.
Problem is, they too slipped into such thinking — even in a game Minnesota (1-0) knew it needed with a tough opening month of road trips, back-to-backs and top-notch Western Conference tests, starting with Friday’s home clash against Oklahoma City.
“I don’t think we want to afford to lose any game like that, especially when we’re up 14, 16 in the middle of the game,” said shooting guard Kevin Martin, who scored 23 points but on 6-of-19 shooting in his Timberwolves debut. “Great teams learn to bump that up to 20 and not give other teams life.”
Vindicating preseason musings that its defense needs serious work, Minnesota allowed Aaron Afflalo (28 points, 20 in the second half and overtime) and Jameer Nelson (18, 11) to orchestrate a 20-point turnaround during the final two quarters. Rookie Victor Oladipo’s two free throws with 12.5 seconds left gave Orlando (0-2) a 103-100 advantage.
Love’s third career game-tying or go-ahead 3 in the final 10 seconds of a game sent it to a fifth frame, and Martin overcame his nightlong shooting struggles to score an overtime-high seven points, including three on an off-balanced, running jumper and subsequent and-one free throw.
Before forcing the extra period Love told Martin he’d give him a chance to rectify his off-night. “I just kept telling him, ‘You’re a great second-half (player) and even more so a great fourth-quarter player. Don’t’ even worry about your shots. It’s one game. It’s opening night. Just continue to play.’ He did that.”
Said Martin: “I couldn’t let him down for a fifth straight quarter tonight.”
In his first game since Jan. 3, Love returned with a fully healed hand and knee to accumulate a game-high 31 points and 17 rebounds — his 19th career 30-point, 15-board outing. He, too, recognized a need to avoid long lulls but said he never doubted his team would win.
“You’ve got to believe that,” Love said. “I still thought that the whole time. I think as a team, we didn’t let it rattle us.”
That’s the encouraging news, Adelman said. Minnesota retained its composure.
“We responded,” the coach said. “It’s an 82-game schedule; this is not a one-game season.”
And that’s a good thing, because after a tough first year here and last year’s injury-derailed season, the 67-year-old coach doesn’t have many hairs left that haven’t already turned gray.