K-Mart leads Wolves to win in first game ‘back off the shelf’
MINNEAPOLIS — The left-wing 3 felt perfect coming off Kevin Martin’s trigger-happy fingertips.
Swish. And a smile from Martin toward Flip Saunders on the Timberwolves bench.
The next time down the floor, Martin pulled a classic Kevin Martin move, leaning into Boston’s Marcus Thornton, drawing a chintzy foul and chucking the ball straight at the rim.
In. This time, Martin strutted toward his teammates, puffed out his chest and slapped a couple hands on the sidelines before connecting on another 3 Minnesota’s next possession.
This time, Martin just trotted back down the floor — business as usual.
"Back off the shelf," Martin grinned before the Wolves’ 110-98 victory over Boston on Wednesday at the Target Center.
Martin returned to the lineup after a 35-game absence, but he wasn’t fully back until the fourth quarter. That’s when the 31-year-old, 11th-year vet went off for 12 of his game-high 21 points, including a nonet of them consecutively that helped secure Minnesota’s eighth win of the season.
Since Martin went down Nov. 19 with a fractured right (shooting) wrist, the Wolves (8-37) had tasted victory just four times.
"It’s a confidence level," said coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders, whose team snapped a 10-game home losing streak dating back to Dec. 10. "In this league, winning, a lot of it’s trust.
"Our guys know that K-Mart can make big shots. They know he’s great at the free-throw line. They know he knows how to get fouled. All those things played in tonight in big-play situations."
Said guard Zach LaVine, who had 17 points, six assists, four rebounds and three steals: "Big difference. He’s a huge scoring threat."
And LaVine’s fellow rookie Andrew Wiggins, who notched half of his 12 points in the fourth: "That’s K-Mart. That’s what he does."
What he does is give Minnesota, which still has the NBA’s worst record, two of its three missing starters back. Nikola Pekovic (wrist, ankle) made his third straight start Wednesday, and Ricky Rubio (ankle) could be back by the end of next week, Saunders said.
Like Martin, that pair had been out since November.
"This is an emotional game," Martin said, "just seeing what your guys have been through in the past couple months, what people say about your squad and certain players. That’s always a feel-good type of thing when you’re a big part of a win."
He wasn’t the only cog, though.
Despite missing Rubio and Mo Williams, who was out attending the funeral of a close friend and mentor, the Wolves got solid point guard play for 48 minutes — a rarity since Rubio rolled his ankle Nov. 7 at Orlando. LaVine came out attacking in the third, scoring eight straight points to start the frame.
That sparked a 15-3 Minnesota run after it trailed 49-48 at the break.
The fourth belonged to Lorenzo Brown, who had just arrived in town and signed a 10-day contract with the team that drafted him in the second round in 2013 but waived him before the start of that season. In his first NBA game since March 4, 2014, Brown scored 11 points — his first-ever double-digit outing — and handed out three assists.
He played the entire fourth quarter.
"I’ve been on the road for like two weeks already," said Brown, who came straight from the NBA Developmental League’s Grand Rapids Drive following that squad’s seven-game road trip. "I’m a little tired, but it’s nothing."
Said Saunders: "Considering the guy went through just a walk-through today, he was great. We thought about putting Zach back in because he played so well, but offensively, we were flowing so well and getting the ball to people, we thought it was just best to go with what we had and let those guys try to finish the game."
Starting alongside Pekovic for the third straight contest, Gorgui Dieng had 16 points and 14 rebounds for his 12th double-double. Pekovic scored 14 points, and Thaddeus Young and Andrew Wiggins finished with 12 apiece.
The Celtics (16-28) kept things close with a series of 3-pointers, making 4 of 6 in the third quarter. Trailing by as many as 13, they’d cut it to 86-82 four minutes into the fourth before Martin "knocked some rust off" and took over.
"I’m just a scorer, at the end of the day," said Martin, who averages 19.2 points per game since signing with Minnesota in 2013. "I can put the thing in the hole."
Moreover, he’s the kind of go-to guy the Wolves have been missing in another lost season characterized by young players’ development and derailed by injury.
There’s a sense of opportunity setting in as the lineup regains health, albeit in piecemeal fashion. Rubio is still out indefinitely, and Robbie Hummel (broken finger) and Shabazz Muhammad (outer oblique strain) are both facing weeks out of the lineup. Williams has been battling some hip pain to boot.
But 11,434 fans and a floundering franchise clinging only to future hope saw Wednesday what a more healthy, experienced group can do.
"We’re good with those (starters) back," Wiggins said. "It opens up so much more. They’re vets. They’ve been in this game for a long time, so it makes things easier on all of us."
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