About a half hour prior to Wednesday night’s game against Cleveland, assistant coach Terry Porter informed Robbie Hummel that he’d be making his first career start. “My heart instantly started beating a lot faster,” Hummel commented after the game, reflecting on the experience. “The butterflies (set in)… I knew the scouting report, but I went back to my iPad, because, now I really needed to know the scouting report.” Hummel handled the newfound postgame media attention gracefully — almost as well as he handled his minutes on the floor with the first unit.
With Kevin Martin sitting out due to flu-like symptoms, Hummel stepped in at small forward, Corey Brewer slid down to shooting guard, and the Timberwolves annihilated the slumping Cavaliers, carrying a lead of 20-to-30 points from the 2nd quarter through the end of the game. “(Hummel) does all the little things you don’t notice,” said head coach, Rick Adelman. “He’s always in the right spot defending, helping out, he rebounds the ball. He’s just kind of a glue guy. I had a lot of confidence he was going to do well.”
If Hummel was the glue, he held together four fantastic performances around him. Kevin Love tallied 33 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists, Ricky Rubio racked up 16 points and 16 assists, Nikola Pekovic hit 5-of-7 shots, and Corey Brewer played his finest game of what’s been a stellar start to the season, finishing with 27 points, including a 5-for-5 mark from beyond the arc. Hummel was good on both ends of the court; he fit into the offense seamlessly, made smart passes, helped with interior defense, and fired away when he had open looks (he connected on 2-of-4 three pointers and 4-of-6 shots overall). Without the dynamic Martin, the Timberwolves didn’t miss a beat.
One thing Martin’s absence led to was more Rubio ball-handling, which had something to do with the point guard accumulating so many assists. Without Love and Martin’s two-man game on the perimeter, the Wolves had to look elsewhere for offensive production — and they responded by moving the ball extremely well, swinging the extra pass and getting teammates open looks. They revved the engine in the first quarter, in which Ricky assisted on 11 of the Wolves’ 13 made field goals, and never downshifted until the bench guys took over in the fourth; entering the final period, the Wolves were shooting 65% from the field. It was an offensive masterpiece.
One interesting development on that end of the floor was the team’s insistence on feeding the ball inside to Love and Pekovic, who overcame a few early miscues to have a solid night (10 points, 7 rebounds in 19 minutes). Once Minnesota had repeated success dumping it inside, Cleveland’s defense began to collapse on the post, freeing up shots on the perimeter. One particularly photogenic example was this play, from early in the 2nd quarter:
Pek’s passing out of the post was a welcome addition to an already potent offensive arsenal. That Minnesota refused to let up, despite the big lead, was an encouraging sign. The Wolves kept their foot on the gas pedal throughout the third quarter and stymied any hope the Cavaliers had of clawing their way back into the game. The starters played nearly the entire period, pushing the lead to 36 (108-72) at one point. Players passed up good shots for great ones, and the ball movement and hustle never stopped…
… until the fourth quarter, that is. The bench players didn’t enter the game when they usually do (end of first, beginning of the second quarter), with Adelman preferring instead to keep his starters on the floor to put the game out of reach, affording the Timberwolves the opportunity to rest them the entire final period. A.J. Price, Alexey Shved, Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng were a combined 2-of-14 from the floor, for 7 points. The Wolves scored just 16 points with that bunch on the court, with Derrick Williams as their fifth (and most effective) man. There were possessions when — literally — no one moved for ten seconds. Fans began to yell at Shabazz to shoot, and he was happy to oblige, the kind of absurdist basketball theater only blowouts can provide.
Defensively, it was hard to tell if the Timberwolves played well or if Cleveland is just a dumpster fire on that end of the floor. Does that mean both are true? Possibly. The Cavaliers settled for a lot of jump shots, and other than a few moments of individual brilliance from Kyrie Irving (who thankfully returned from a scary bump to the head early in the 2nd period), they did nothing particularly well. Heck, they were barely mediocre. If the standard for bad NBA offense is “long twos early in the shot clock,” Cleveland achieved it. Anthony Bennett (3-for-11 from the field) looked lost, sad, and out of shape. Their best looks were Anderson Verejao midrange jumpers — a fine auxiliary shot, but not the staple of a successful NBA offense.
Adelman commented on the Wolves’ own hot shooting at the podium after the game, but cautioned against allowing his team to become overconfident. “We’re going to run into games where we don’t shoot well. And those are the games we have to rely on each other, on both ends of the floor.” What we learned from this game is that the list of reliable Timberwolves players may have grown by one; it’s possible for Robbie Hummel to fill in with the first unit and hold his own.
Trusting your teammates results in a strong bond, the byproduct of any glue guy, which is what Rick Adelman believes he has in Hummel. And on a night where the game was over by the middle of the second quarter, it’s important that the team discovered something they can fall back on, down the road, when the battle’s a bit tighter.