Wolves 110, Celtics 98: Good point guard play can make games fun

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It’s always fun in the Target Center when the Timberwolves play well.

Even considering the 7 wins the Wolves had coming into tonight, you have to pick and choose which of those wins can be considered “good” wins. When you factor in the Wolves’ 10-game home losing streak coming into tonight, it makes the sample size that much smaller.

A big part the team’s struggles has been with injury, perhaps most due to the severe ankle injury suffered by Ricky Rubio in early November. Rubio didn’t make his return tonight, but there were a couple new(-ish) faces that did make their returns to the Target Center, one of whom from injury. In a lot of ways, these faces may have made the difference in the fun levels of tonight’s game.

After missing significant time with a broken wrist, Kevin Martin came off the bench tonight to drop a team-high 21 points, most of which came in classic Kevin Martin fashion. In other words, he played well off the ball, took lots of off-balanced shots, made some of them, and drew some cheap fouls in the process.

If you don’t know what I mean, here’s my favorite example of the night:

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After the game, Flip Saunders called Kevin Martin a “go-to option” late in games. He said between K-Mart, Wiggins, and Pekovic, the Wolves finally have options down the stretch of games, and are now able to start running some sets down the stretch, rather than just feeding the rookie, Wiggins, and hoping for the best.

But, again, two guys made appearances tonight. The second name is less known, but what he brought tonight may be a bigger deal.

The new-but-not-new Wolf, former 52nd overall pick Lorenzo Brown made his Timberwolves regular season debut in a fun way. With Rubio and Mo Williams both out tonight, Brown instantly became the Wolves’ lone starting point guard on the active roster. He had very little time to prepare for his first game with the Wolves, but you would have thought he’d been with the team all year by the way he played tonight.

But here’s the thing: it wasn’t just Brown playing well at the point tonight. Both he and Zach LaVine finished with excellent performances, making rotations for Flip Saunders tougher to manage (for the first time in a long time), in a good way.

Lorenzo Brown’s first half debut was so good, in fact, it kept starter Zach LaVine on the bench for 3 or 4 minutes longer than what was likely planned. Then, LaVine’s 3rd quarter output was probably his best as a point guard to date. But then in the 4th, once Brown had finally subbed in for him, steady team play forced Saunders to keep LoBro in to close the game out.

Also, on a somewhat related note, this was fun:

Brown and LaVine combined for 28 points, 5 rebounds, and 8 assists on 10/15 shooting. All (or at least most) of this was done on Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley, two of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders.

Their collective performance at the point, like it should, got the rest of the team in a groove. I haven’t even mentioned Gorgui Dieng’s awesome activity, Nikola Pekovic’s strong offensive post performance, or Andrew Wiggins’ great fourth quarter. Because when lots of players play well, it’s tough to mention everything that happens.

Good point guard play had been missing for so long, the effects of it happening for the entire team could be found all over the floor. It makes the prospect of getting Ricky Rubio back that much more exciting.

Basketball is fun when good players play. More specifically, it’s fun when good players play well. Tonight, with some new-but-not-new faces added to the lineup, the Target Center was a fun place to be. The Timberwolves played well. And it started with the point guards.

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