Wolves waste little time in rout of Atlanta
MINNEAPOLIS — During a season that hasn’t lived up to expectations, the Timberwolves are all too learned in the field of game-altering buckets with time ticking down. Coming into Wednesday’s home matchup against Atlanta, Minnesota was yielding 28.5 points per game in the final 3 minutes of quarters — tied for the second-worst mark in the league.
So when Corey Brewer had a chance to dole out some late-period punishment of his own, the veteran small forward wasn’t about to let it fly his grasp.
Brewer’s buzzer-defying shots at the end of the first and second quarters weren’t the only highlights of Minnesota’s feel-good, 107-83 drubbing of the Hawks. But they did help prevent Atlanta from snatching the contest’s psychological upper hand with the outcome still in question.
"When you hit a buzzer-beater like that," Brewer said, "especially after they just scored, it gives us good momentum."
The lanky leak-out specialist’s 21-foot jumper with 0.4 ticks left gave the Timberwolves a 20-19 lead following a low-scoring, back-and-forth first quarter in which both teams combined to go 18-for-42 from the floor. Brewer’s turnaround conversion as the second-quarter clock expired made it 48-41 Minnesota at halftime and answered Mike Scott’s 3-pointer with 4.1 seconds remaining.
Whatever emotional lift that provided carried over into the third frame, where Minnesota (35-35) turned eight of its season-high-tying 26 forced turnovers into 11 points and an insurmountable lead.
It also exhibited a little fight left in this particular pack of dogs.
"I don’t care what the record is or where we are in the season," said coach Rick Adelman, whose club snapped a three-game losing skid and earned its franchise-record 11th win by 20 or more points this season. "We’re trying to make them believe that we still have work to do."
Burdened by the NBA’s worst defensive field-goal percentage, the Timberwolves have given up plenty of shots similar to the ones Brewer hit Wednesday. Most recently, P.J. Tucker hit a 3 to close the second quarter Sunday and give Phoenix a 73-62 halftime lead.
Eric Bledsoe’s driving layup at the end of the third kept the cushion at 10, and the Suns went on to win 127-120 and dash whatever playoff hopes Minnesota still may have been entertaining.
But 11,632 fans weren’t painfully privy to such disappointment this time.
Minnesota seized control with a 13-6 run that made it 65-53 with 3:22 left in the third and never looked back. Brewer and Kevin Martin led the way with 18 points apiece and were two of seven Timberwolves to chip in eight points or more.
Rookie Gorgui Dieng went 6-for-8 from the floor and pulled down 15 rebounds for his fifth double-double in six starts since filling in for injured Nikola Pekovic. In that span, Dieng is shooting 59.2 percent and averaging 12.7 points and 14 boards per game.
He’s more confident by the game, his coach and teammates said.
"He’s got a little swag to him," Barea said. "He thinks he’s really good, so that’s gonna take him far."
Said Dieng: "I think the more you play, you gonna have a better feeling. . . . You cannot pick that up just from watching the game."
Barea had eight points and eight assists following a one-game absence due to a sprained left foot. He entered at the first quarter’s 5:26 mark after Ricky Rubio tried to take a charge from Scott but was called for a blocking foul.
Rubio’s lip was split open in the process, causing him to receive 15 stitches in the locker room. As he left the court bleeding, he kicked a chair on the Timberwolves bench in both pain and frustration.
"I was upset about the call, but I was in so much pain," said Rubio, who on Feb. 12 received five stitches in his chin after taking an elbow to the face against Denver. "I had to kick something before I punch somebody."
Said Adelman: "That was a real offensive foul."
But the wizard-like passer that drew pregame comparisons to Pete Maravich from his coach came back to finish with 10 assists.
All-Star Kevin Love was relatively quiet with 14 points and 12 rebounds. But with the bench scoring 38 points and Minnesota holding current Eastern Conference eighth seed Atlanta (31-39) to 37.8 percent shooting, he didn’t need to be all that loud.
Scott led the Hawks with a measly 15 points. It was a polar opposite of the teams’ first meeting Feb. 1, when Atlanta had the services of Gustavo Ayon and Kyle Korver — both out Wednesday — and outlasted the Timberwolves 120-113.
That night, Korver made a trio of free throws at the end of the second quarter to put the Hawks up 54-48.
It doesn’t matter much with Minnesota trailing eighth-place Phoenix by seven games for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot. The Timberwolves are back at .500 for the 19th time this season — paradoxically remarkable given their amount of blowout victories.
But at least, Love said, they haven’t quit trying to amass them yet.
"It goes to show you that we’re down, but not out," said Love, who tallied his league-leading 56th double-double this season. "I think it wasn’t just me, but everybody getting back in good spirits."
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