MINNEAPOLIS — Ronny Turiaf jumped off the bench and booked it to the Target Center court’s opposite end. Chase Budinger stuffed the collar of his warmup t-shirt into his mouth. Rick Adelman’s face actually appeared to show genuine, heartfelt concern.
Then Kevin Love scraped himself off the floor.
Again. And again. And again.
This isn’t as loud as the 30-30 game. It’s not as pronounced as Love’s three 40-point efforts this season. It wasn’t a game-winning, tying or changing 3 from the left wing.
Those are aesthetically pleasing. But Kevin Love’s season is no longer a beauty pageant. It’s becoming much more of a street brawl.
"He’s a soldier," Turiaf said.
Said point guard Ricky Rubio: "He’s a warrior."
And coach Rick Adelman, whose team rode Love’s latest gritty performance to a 109-99 survival Tuesday at the Target Center: "He works his tail off. They put small guys, big guys on him. He finds a way to be productive."
Tuesday, the cost was 40 minutes and 38 seconds of tough, physical play against Lakers bruisers Robert Sacre and Chris Kaman, particularly in the fourth quarter as Minnesota (24-24) held off a battered Los Angeles group seeking to snap a six-game losing streak. Three days earlier, he warred through a swollen ankle to tally 43 points and 19 rebounds in a loss at Atlanta.
The ankle was better by the time Minnesota and Los Angeles (16-32) tipped off Tuesday. But by the end, there was nary a spot on his body that wasn’t sore, bruised or bleeding.
First, Love took a hard charge from Kaman just outside the restricted area. Next, a face-down tumble to the floor while going after a loose ball.
Then came the moment that had Turiaf off the bench in a hurry to make sure the leader of his team was still conscious.
With 4 minutes, 10 seconds remaining, Love drove through the left side of the lane for a layup. Sacre and made slight contact with Love, who, suspended in mid-air, went crashing to the hardwood.
Love’s lower back hit the floor first. Then his head snapped back, strong enough to give him whiplash. Love’s legs twitched as he writhed in pain.
"I was like, ‘Uh-oh, more minutes for me, I guess,’" joked Turiaf, who fractured his elbow on a similar tumble earlier this season. "But in all seriousness, it’s the ‘uh-oh’ like I’m hoping that my teammate is fine."
But two minutes later, Love was up and walking to the Timberwolves’ bench under his own power. He then connected on two free throws to give Minnesota a 102-91 lead.
He finished with 31 points and 18 boards, his NBA-best seventh game with 30 or more points and 15 rebounds and a body that required extra ice before the team took off for Oklahoma City.
With center Nikola Pekovic out until further notice with bursitis in his right ankle, Love said it’s up to him to pick up a lot of the interior slack.
No matter the price.
"I’ve taken a few shots here and there," Love said. "I just want to continue to keep playing and give this team all that I can. Yeah, I’ve taken a physical beating, but you’ve got to expect that, being one of the top guys, people are gonna come at you."
Love said he didn’t show any concussion symptoms and was even with it enough to take a jab at team trainer Gregg Farnam while relaying his final and most accentuated fall of the evening.
"More than anything, what worried me the most was Gregg Farnam was, like, two inches from my face," said Love, who convinced Adelman to let him remain in the game so he wouldn’t stiffen up. "I feel bad for his wife."
On a night where injuries were a theme well before 12,559 fans rose to their feet for the national anthem, Love survived. So did the Timberwolves, who climbed back to .500 for the 12th time this season but allowed Los Angeles to trim a 25-point second-quarter lead to single digits midway through the fourth quarter.
It’s a pattern of mediocrity Minnesota can’t seem to shed, Adelman said.
"We have to stay with a mindset that you’re not going to give in and give them any runs like that," Adelman said. "It just seems like the game’s never gonna be as easy as you would like.
"It’s just been a problem area for us all year long."
Love made sure it didn’t matter this time. So did Kevin Martin, who hit 3 of 4 3-pointers in the first quarter on the way to a game-best and personal season-high-tying 32 points. Ricky Rubio dished out eight assists — five in the first quarter as the Timberwolves took a 38-26 lead into the second.
By then, players were already dropping by the minute.
Rookie Minnesota center Gorgui Dieng left the game in the second quarter with a facial contusion. He, too, said he doesn’t have a concussion but that his jaw was very sore after taking an elbow to it while chasing after a rebound.
Dieng spent the rest of the game in the locker room, and neither he nor Adelman was sure of his status for Wednesday’s road date with the Western Conference-leading Thunder.
Ailment-riddled Los Angeles had it worse, though, losing starting forward Jodie Meeks 1 minute, 26 seconds in with a right ankle sprain and reserve Jordan Hill with less than a minute left in the opening period.
Playing in his first game since Dec. 10, Steve Blake battled through the entire second half with a ruptured eardrum. Steve Nash also returned from injury and played 24 minutes, compiling seven points and nine assists.
The Lakers were already without Kobe Bryant (knee) and Pau Gasol (groin), neither of whom made the trip to the Twin Cities.
Amid such carnage, Love actually came out lucky.
"I’ve always played somewhat of a physical brand of basketball, "said Love, who has scored 28 or more points in each of his past five outings. "You get knocked down, you get back up and just keep going at it."
But now the Timberwolves — still 11th in the West — play their second game of four games in five nights with an aching All-Star and a weary starting contingent, four of whom played 30 or more minutes Tuesday against a team Minnesota could’ve easily blown out if not for being outscored 26-21 in the third quarter.
"A lot of guys played a lot of minutes tonight," Rubio said, "and we had a lot of hits, so we’re gonna try to take a good night’s rest and be ready for tomorrow."