MINNEAPOLIS — When the Houston Rockets came to Minneapolis on Jan. 23 and delivered the Timberwolves their most devastating loss of the year, something seemed different, off.
The Timberwolves didn’t look like themselves. They gave up and succumbed to their largest margin of defeat this season, 15 points.
It was a fluke. It was an aberration. At least, that’s what everyone hoped.
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So when the Rockets’ former coach and his young team took the court in Houston on Monday, there was something extra to prove. It wasn’t just Adelman’s return; it was also his chance to show that the Timberwolves are more than the team they appeared to be just a week ago.
And they proved it.
They hammered it home — that this team is different, even a threat — with 120 points and six steals, with 40 rebounds and just three missed free throws. In its 120-108 win, the team shot 58.1 percent, a far cry from its struggles the night before against Los Angeles. It was a different team from the previous week, from the previous night, even.
The catalyst of that change was without a doubt Michael Beasley, the small forward who spent much of January out with an injured foot. In his first two games back, Beasley eased into his role, coming off the bench for seven points against San Antonio and 18 against the Lakers. That increase in production continued Monday, when he tied a franchise record for most points off the bench, with 34.
“I’m just trusting in my shot,” Beasley said. “That’s kind of been my problem so far this season, just been babying a lot of shots, trying to aim at the basket. I came out here, I trusted my shot.”
At the half, a panting Beasley said he was shooting the ball without thinking, and perhaps that’s the key to success for the often-streaky small forward. After scoring 24 points in the Timberwolves’ season opener, Beasley’s production declined, and he’s been derided throughout his career for a lack of consistency. Those criticisms can get inside a player’s head, and Beasley’s injury may have provided him with a fresh start to the year.
“I thought he was really active, and he was attacking,” Adelman said of Beasley. “We’re trying to figure out how to use him right now, and if he’s active, he’s really hard to guard . . . He was really patient tonight. He took what was there, and when it wasn’t there he gave it to somebody else.”
That willingness to share the ball was crucial in the team scoring a season-high 120 points. In the third quarter alone, the Timberwolves scored 42 points — the most the team has ever scored in the third quarter and one point less than the franchise record for points in any quarter — which was just three less than it scored in the first half of Sunday’s game. Kevin Love had 29 points, and Ricky Rubio was just two rebounds short of a triple-double, finishing with 18 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds.
Rubio’s big game was a perfect example of the effect a dynamic point guard can have on the team. He and Beasley seemed to feed off each other’s energy all night, and Rubio seemed as satisfied as he’s been all season after the game.
“It’s great,” Rubio said of his night Monday. “It’s a good feeling because that’s what a point guard has to do, try to help your teammate. You have to envelop all your teammates and try to win.”
Adelman too stressed that sense of feeding off teammates. He said that players on his team need to make plays for one another, and much of that hinges on the offensive power of Love and Beasley. For the first time since December 26, both were explosive on Monday night, and the high score showed just how much the team is capable of when both are operating at their full potential.
“It just showed that we can be a pretty darn good team if we can play the way we’re capable of,” Adelman said.
And so as the clock ran down to zero, the Timberwolves weren’t hustling toward a basket or diving for a last-second foul. For all the excitement of the win, it ended with just a circular dribble, as Martell Webster held the ball near midcourt until the buzzer. It was far from exciting, but it made a statement. Not every game will be so easy, but wins also don’t have to be as hard as the Timberwolves have sometimes made them this season.