As the losses piled up and the season dragged on through the first five weeks, the Minnesota Timberwolves were hoping Kevin Love would make a big-time impact upon his return to the court.
How does double-doubles in back-to-back nights sound for starters?
In his second game back, Love had 18 points and 10 rebounds to help the Timberwolves to a 108-101 victory over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night.
“He’s worked real hard on his game and then he got hurt,” center Al Jefferson said. “Now he’s just showing what he can do.”
Ryan Gomes scored 23 points on 9-of-10 shooting and Jonny Flynn had 16 points and four assists for the Timberwolves, who won for just the third time in 20 games this season.
Carlos Boozer had 21 points and 13 rebounds, but also had six turnovers, and Deron Williams had 18 points and 11 assists for the Jazz, who had a season-best four-game winning streak snapped.
“I think we feel about as bad as you can feel,” said coach Jerry Sloan, whose Jazz allowed 57 percent shooting and seven Wolves to reach double figures. “If you can’t guard anybody better than that, I don’t know how you can even expect to win.”
Love broke his left hand in the preseason and made his season debut Friday night at New Orleans, where he posted a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
He was even better against the Jazz. His putback of a miss by Flynn gave Minnesota a 101-93 lead with 1:43 to play, putting the game out of reach for the Jazz.
“I didn’t know what to expect minutes-wise,” said Love, who has played 51 total minutes in his first two games. “If I get that kind of time, I feel like I can be that productive.”
The Timberwolves trailed by 14 in the first half and three at halftime, but put together their most complete second half of the season to pull out a rare victory. Love hit two 3-pointers, and Gomes and Jefferson each scored nine points in the final period.
“I thought our guys did a real good job, for a huge majority of the ball game, doing the right things, sticking to the game plan defensively and moving the basketball,” coach Kurt Rambis said. “It was nice to see.”
Jefferson finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds. He only made four of his first 15 shots, but went 3 for 4 down the stretch.
The Jazz were playing without Andrei Kirilenko, who missed the game with a sore lower back that has been a problem for the last two weeks. He played 14 minutes in the victory over Indiana on Friday night, but missed his second game this week Saturday.
With rookie point guard Eric Maynor controlling the action like a veteran, the Jazz took a 12-point lead midway through the second period. Maynor had six points, four assists and a steal in 7 minutes and knifed through the lane for a layup that gave Utah a 44-32 lead.
But Love fueled an 11-0 run to end the quarter, keeping the Timberwolves in the game with some tough offensive rebounds and a soft touch from the perimeter.
“The killer for us was that 11-0 run right at the end of the first half,” Sloan said. “It looked like we had everything in control. We had a terrible finish (to the half), they had a great finish. And then they came back and shot the ball really well in the third quarter and made it tough for us.”
Sloan blamed himself for inserting the starting lineup back into the game at the end of the period with his second unit playing so well.
“I thought this was a game we could’ve won,” Boozer said. “To have it slip out of our hands the way we did feels worse with the record they have.”
It doesn’t get any easier from here for the Jazz. They play four games in six days next week against the Spurs, Lakers (twice) and Magic.
“This is a pretty tough stretch for us. That’s where we’re at,” Williams said. “We’ve had some good wins, but a lot have come against teams that don’t have winning records. We have to see how we do against the top in the league.”
NOTES: Jazz F Kyle Korver, who has not played this season after having knee surgery, was a game-time decision but did not play. … Jazz F Mehmet Okur added 16 points, eight rebounds and four assists. … The 6-foot-10 Love hit two more 3-pointers, pushing his season total to four in two games. He only made two all last season. … Gomes has topped 20 points in three of the last four games.