Love stars in unexpected Wolves debut
NOV 21, 2012 5:08p ET
Love, the Minnesota Timberwolves star forward, made his season debut Wednesday against the Denver Nuggets — several weeks earlier than anticipated after he broke his hand last month doing knuckle pushups. Love's activation was announced about an hour before game time at the Target Center.
In the end, though, Love's 34 points and 14 rebounds weren't enough. Even with their best player back in the lineup, the Timberwolves squandered a 17-point lead before losing 101-94 to the visiting Nuggets.
As excited as Love was to get back onto the court, he was equally frustrated with the loss. He took it personally, despite his impressive numbers.
"With my stats alone, I could have lost the game, too," Love said. "Eight for 14 from the free-throw line and 2-for-9 from 3. That's uncharacteristic of me, but you've got to give (credit) to them (the Nuggets). ... More than anything, I'm upset we didn't win."
Some of Love's teammates knew the day before that that he would be making his debut on Wednesday. Others found out during the shootaround the morning of the game. The late announcement even helped boost ticket sales, as the team announced an additional 1,000 tickets were sold in the hour leading up to tip-off.
The fans who didn't know? They stood and watched in disbelief as Love was introduced in the starting lineup.
The Nuggets, too, were perhaps caught by surprise at the news of Love's return, as it took Denver's defense an entire half to adjust.
"I didn't learn until maybe 60 minutes before game time," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "I hit my head like, ‘OK, we have not shown any film or anything on this matchup.' Kevin Love is an All-Star player and thankfully it's a 48-minute game."
During his brief NBA career, Love has broken news through his Twitter account. When the Timberwolves fired coach Kevin McHale in 2009, it was Love who first tweeted about it. The same was true when Minnesota hired Rick Adelman last year as Love tweeted, "Houston, we have a coach."
Instead of announcing to his nearly 500,000 Twitter followers that he would be playing on Wednesday, Love kept the news close to the vest.
"I didn't want to make a big deal about it," Love said. "I told my teammates, and they didn't really believe me. Once they saw a jersey in my locker, they believed it was true."
If there was any doubt about Love's return, he let it be known that he was officially back by the end of the first quarter. The 24-year-old All-Star ended the first quarter with 16 points — single-handedly outscoring the Nuggets by one — and a game-high six rebounds in nine minutes. He added six points in the second quarter to pace the Wolves to a 58-44 lead at the half.
But a big third quarter by the Nuggets helped trim Minnesota's lead to just four with one quarter to play. Love was 1-for-4 from the floor in the third and was also whistled for a technical foul after jawing back and forth with Denver center Kosta Koufos.
All the energy, all the buzz seemingly created in the first half by the return of Love was gone after the Nuggets' run.
"We just stopped in the third quarter," Adelman said. "We still had a four-point lead, but we needed to do more. We needed to get more people involved."
While Love was rolling early, the Wolves failed to find another go-to scorer when the Nuggets shut Love down in the second half. J.J. Barea, back after missing a few games with a foot injury, was second in scoring with 12 points. Nikola Pekovic, who also made his return after missing two games with an ankle injury, added 10 points.
But when the Wolves needed answers in the third quarter, they counted a bit too much on Love to make plays.
"He's our leader, but we can't stop playing the game," said veteran forward Andrei Kirilenko, who had seven points and eight rebounds in the loss. "We have to move more. We have to get opportunities more, help each other more, and especially defensively. We have to be very, very concentrated as a team."
Love was cleared to play Tuesday by team doctors, who said he could give it a go on Wednesday. Love played with a black wrap on his injured right hand, which he said he'll have to wear for several weeks. He wasn't nervous about reinjuring the hand against the Nuggets, and it was certainly tested.
Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried caught Love on the right hand on one play in the first half, and Love threw down a two-handed dunk after a steal not long after.
"Those two things were a good test for it," Love said. "I had done all I could do to strengthen the hand and prepare for this. I'm still not where I want to be, but it's going to be a process. I'm obviously not where I want to be right now."
Despite Wednesday's loss, Minnesota has to feel better about the situation it's in with the returns of Love, Pekovic and Barea. For a while, the Timberwolves had just nine healthy players on the roster and had to sign forward Josh Howard to add some depth.
Minnesota begins a four-game road trip Friday in Portland. The Wolves will now have their best player back on the floor for that West Coast swing. With Love healthy again, it might take a few games for Minnesota's roster to jell.
"I haven't even practiced, so I just threw myself into the game hoping something good would happen," Love said. "When everybody gets back healthy, we're all going to learn to play together. But we need to win now."
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