Wolves’ reserves fuel comeback win against 76ers

MINNEAPOLIS — Two sidesteps to the left, a swing and a follow-through accompanied by a primal scream laced with both frustration and relief.

Kevin Love’s reaction after one of Robbie Hummel’s gargantuan fourth-quarter knock-downs said it all.

It probably shouldn’t have been necessary, the Timberwolves’ Hummel-powered, fourth-quarter surge that allowed them to escape the Target Center with a 106-99 win against shorthanded and slumping Philadelphia. But Minnesota’s short, inconsistent bench has been looking for a reason to celebrate, and Hummel provided at least five of them in the final frame.

“It was a release of a lot of emotions that dragged on from the first half,” Love said of his celebration. “I was very happy for him and happy for the team. … It showed that the second unit can step up and can score. I guess, in a way, this was definitely a character-builder for us.”

A 25-foot 3-pointer that sparked a decisive 12-2 run. A long two that gave the Timberwolves the lead for good with 8:27 to go. A rebound and alert outlet that led to Dante Cunningham’s crowd-engaging, up-and-under lay-in moments later. A soft 15-foot jumper that kept Minnesota’s cushion down the stretch. And another 3 inside the final minute that left no doubt.

All from a rookie who played 48 seconds the first three periods and hadn’t seen the floor for more than 12 ½ minutes in a single game since Nov. 22.

Before his team’s second win in a row, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman lamented his bench’s continued lack of execution. It still wasn’t there all of Wednesday evening — Minnesota’s reserves were outscored by their opponent for the 19th time in 22 games this season — but, at long last, someone not named Love, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic or Corey Brewer turned a game’s course.

“When you get an opportunity like that, you get put in, obviously Coach is looking for a little spark off the bench,” said Hummel, who finished with 10 points and three rebounds. “When you can erase a lead … the momentum’s going in our favor, it’s kind of like a boulder rolling down a hill. It’s coming.”

The Timberwolves sure needed some.

After falling behind by 19 to an under-construction team missing starting point guard Michael Carter-Williams that’s now lost 12 of its past 14, Minnesota (11-11) found a way to claw back in its largest home resurgence since rallying from 21 down against New York in 2010. Love notched his historic 31-point, 31-rebound performance that evening, while Wednesday’s comeback was a bit more subtle.

Love certainly played a part this time, recording his fifth 25-point (he had 26), 15-rebound, five-assist outing. No other NBA player has authored such a work this season.

Pekovic was instrumental, too. The center scored 20 points on 9-of-15 shooting, pulled down 10 boards and had eight fourth-quarter points that helped the Timberwolves outscore Philadelphia (7-16) 58-38 in the second half.

Rubio scored a season-high 21 points and contributed seven assists.

But Minnesota’s top trio helped dig a deep hole. For the first time all season, the Timberwolves’ bench dug them out.

“We need the guys off the bench, especially when the starters come in and don’t give us that much of the start of the game and you need to turn the thing around,” said Adelman, whose second unit ranks 28th in the NBA in scoring. “You can give them some rope, but after a while, we’ve got to wake up.”

Hummel, Cunningham (eight points), J.J.Barea, Luc Mbah a Moute and Alexey Shved played the first 2:50 of the second quarter, and Martin was the only starter on the floor when Minnesota took its initial and lasting lead on Hummel’s first triple. A lineup of Pekovic, Barea, Mbah a Moute, Shved and Cunningham held Philadelphia scoreless for the first 4 minutes, 48 seconds of the second quarter, which allowed the starters to in turn cut the deficit to 13 by halftime.

When Adelman rotated in his No. 1s to finish out the contest, Hummel remained on the floor in place of Martin, who shot 1-for-9 and scored a season-low five points. Without Hummel’s contributions, the Timberwolves may not have salvaged victory in front of 13,450 fans.

“He’s a perfect example that, when opportunity knocks, you’ve just got to be ready and take advantage of it,” Love said of Hummel, a 2012 second-round draft pick who spent last season in Spain and battled knee injuries all throughout college at Purdue. “He does that.”

Minnesota came in 1-5 on the back end of consecutive-night pairs of games. After defeating Detroit on the road Tuesday, the Timberwolves completed just their seventh 2-0 back-to-back in the past five seasons.

That wasn’t looking like much of a possibility after 12 minutes.

“The first quarter was awful,” Adelman said.

Evan Turner’s 10 points headed up a transition-driven, 20-3 76ers run that had them up 39-20 entering the second. Philadelphia outscored Minnesota 15-1 on the fast break and held a 15-7 rebounding edge.

In a complete trend reversal for the NBA’s highest-scoring first-quarter squad, The Timberwolves missed six of their first seven shots.

But the Timberwolves, who hadn’t overcome a deficit of more than five previously this year, outscored Philadelphia 86-60 over the final three frames.

That allowed them to survive a two-game break from a taxing November-December slate of Western Conference powers that resumes Friday at San Antonio.

And it was Hummel, of all people, who finished the job.

“That’s what a big, winning team does,” Rubio said. “One night, it’s one guy; one night, it’s the other, and everybody has to be ready.”

Follow Phil Ervin on Twitter