A clutch overtime performance in the Timberwolves’ season opener and his teammates’ all-around aptitude Friday largely overshadowed a slow start to Kevin Martin’s time in Minnesota.
But even after his new shooting guard shot 33.3 percent and looked mostly out of sync through two games, coach Rick Adelman wasn’t concerned.
“I’m not worried about his shooting,” Adelman said Saturday shortly before the team boarded a plane for New York. “It’ll come. He just has to relax.”
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The wise, well-tenured head man strikes again.
Settling into Adelman’s offense — with which he’s mighty familiar after two previous stints under the 23rd-year coach — Martin was everything the Timberwolves signed him to be in a 109-100 victory over the Knicks. The free-agent signee hit all five of his 3-point attempts and went 8-for-12 from the floor for 30 points.
Thanks to Martin’s offensive primacy, an equally impressive night from Kevin Love and a fourth-quarter gut check, Minnesota opened a season 3-0 for just the second time in franchise history. Fittingly enough, the milestone came on the 25th anniversary of the club’s inaugural game.
“This was a good test for us,” Martin said.
The organization’s current figurehead helped Martin’s best night in a Timberwolves uniform so far stand up. Love scored a game-high 34 points — 12 on 15 tries from the foul stripe — and pulled down 15 boards for his third straight double-double since returning this year from a hand injury that cost him almost all of last season.
He and Martin — “the two Kevins,” as they’re starting to be known — were instrumental in holding off a pesky New York (1-2) bunch.
Playing before 19,812 fans in the renovated Madison Square Garden, the home team climbed back from a 23-point hole to trail just 100-98; Iman Shumpert’s 3 with 4:49 to go capped a 19-7 fourth-quarter run. But the Timberwolves defense focused on bottling up defending league scoring champion Carmelo Anthony and held New York to just two points the rest of the way.
“We’ve got to learn how we’re gonna win games down the stretch,” Adelman said. “Their pressure, we succumbed to that a little bit. We just had to slow down.”
The Knicks drew a technical for basket interference after Shumpert’s trey, and Martin connected on the foul shot. Then he stepped back and drilled his final 3 from the left wing to make it 104-98 with 4:31 remaining.
Love banked home a leaner at the 3:19 mark that proved the final arrow and drew a five from film director Spike Lee on Love’s way back down the floor.
“That was just the way I drew it up,” Adelman cracked.
Martin scored 23 points in his Timberwolves debut — seven in overtime against Orlando — but shot 6-of-19. He went 4-for-11 in their blowout victory against Oklahoma City on Friday.
Like his coach, Martin said it was only a matter of time before he found a groove.
“That’s one thing I never had to worry about, was making shots,” said Martin, who shot 42.6 percent from 3 coming off the bench for the Thunder last season. “I knew it was gonna come, but tonight, teammates trusted in my shot, gave me the ball, and fortunately they went in.”
Martin’s newfound rhythm aided a third straight first-quarter bonanza.
He went 4-for-4 from the field en route to 11 first-quarter points. His 3 with 3:50 to go, Kevin Love’s 13 points and the overall synchronicity of Minnesota’s high-powered offense aided a 21-4 run to end the period.
The Timberwolves led, 40-19, entering the second and have scored 34 or more points in the first quarter every time out so far.
Anthony (22 points) blew past Dante Cunningham on a couple occasions, and Andrea Bargnani connected on a triple to help New York crawl back within 13 in the second. Metta World Peace’s 3 with 2.2 seconds left made it 64-49 at halftime.
The Knicks matched Minnesota point-for-point (29 apiece) in the third before mounting their fourth-quarter rally. Martin’s back-to-back 3s helped keep them at bay, though.
The Timberwolves wrap up their first road trip of the season with a 6 p.m. matchup Monday at Cleveland.