Wolves 104, Hornets 92: We did what?

Zach Harper —  February 8, 2011 — Leave a comment

I don’t quite know how to say this.

The Wolves didn’t blow a double-digit lead.

I know that sounds crazy but hear me out.

The Wolves turned the ball over nine times in the first quarter against the Hornets. Through a lot of missed shots by the Hornets, Minnesota left the first 12 minutes with a tie game. They played the 4th best defensive team in the NBA to a draw after nearly putting up double-digit turnovers in the first quarter.

Then the Wolves came out firing mortars from long-range in the second quarter. Anthony Tolliver led an impressive 3-point shooting display by hitting four 3-pointers of his own as the team knocked down 7/11 from beyond the arc. The Wolves built up a 14-point lead by smoke, mirrors and grenades.

The second half of this game is the obvious stage for the Wolves blowing a double-digit lead. You almost expect them to begin their usual crumble of turning the ball over, settling for contested long jumpers, missing free throws and giving up key offensive rebounds. A couple of peculiar coaching plays here and there down the stretch and the Wolves go home with another moral victory against a good team.

In this game, the team decided to go with a plot twist. They had already played extremely sloppy ball in the first quarter and come away with a tie. It was almost as if they had gotten it out of their systems early, lived to tell about it and had it as an experience for late in this game against New Orleans. They kept attacking inside during the third quarter with Kevin Love taking over in the period. Love bullied the Hornets with his strength and just found a way to get good scoring opportunities.

But most importantly, the predictable runs by the Hornets happened and summarily thwarted by the Wolves, which was a fun new game I wasn’t really used to watching. The Hornets used a 14-2 run early in the third quarter to get back in this game. Chris Paul was going on a rampage when he realized he had Jonny Flynn checking him and set up teammates for scores, trips to the free throw line and even scored some himself.

Hornets cut the lead to seven and it seemed like the same ole story was about to be told again. Then over the next seven minutes of the third quarter, Kevin Love decided to take over the game. He lived in the paint and at the free throw line by battling for the ball, getting good position and putting himself in the proper situations to score He scored all 11 of his third quarter points during this stretch to push the lead back to 12 going into the fourth quarter.

Then a weird thing happened.

The Wolves decided to go on their own run before the Hornets could make it interesting again.

Beasley and Telfair pushed the Wolves to a 9-0 run early in the fourth to make this a 21-point game with less than eight minutes to go. And after that, it was this weird sense of panic and confidence. It’s damn near impossible to blow a 20-point lead with just eight minutes left but at the same time, you sort of fear the worst when it comes to the Wolves collapsing.

Hornets went on a quick 8-0 run that was followed by a one-possession each shootout between Wes Johnson and Willie Green. From then on, the Wolves just found a way to maintain a consistent buffer between them and the Hornets.

It’s not like this turns the Wolves into a playoff contender by any means. I’ve had the feeling all season long that if they weren’t going to be a playoff team (which they aren’t obviously) then I want them to be competitive and learn how to win games without actually doing it to preserve their lottery chances. Every once in a while, you need games like this for the greater good.

A win on the road against a tough defensive team that you just dropped an offensive rating of 115.6 is a good notch on the bedpost for this young team. It shows them there is a way to protect big leads, even on the road against better teams.

After rapid-fire shooting at their own feet in the first quarter with their turnovers, they didn’t seem to shoot much at their own wheels the rest of the game. Kevin Love dominated the second and third quarters in posting a 27-17 game for the night. After nine turnovers in the first 12 minutes, they had just six turnovers the rest of the game. They didn’t miss a free throw in the entire game (25/25).

The Wolves survived this game without two starters (Darko and Luke) and received solid enough performances from the replacements (Pek and Flynn). Despite the free throw shooting, it didn’t take a perfect game for the Wolves to beat a playoff team away from the Target Center. It just took figuring out how to stop shooting themselves in the collective foot.

And they protected a double-digit lead, as weird as that sounds.

Zach Harper

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