Wolves 112, Pistons 101: Keep on Truckin’


Ain’t nothin’ holdin’ me back nothin’
I’ll keep right on, right on truckin
Ain’t nothin’ holdin’ me back nothin’
I’ll keep right on, right on truckin

– Eddie Kendricks, Keep on Truckin

Steph Curry and Kevin Durant launching heat check threes like trebuchets of fire is fun to watch. LeBron James and Russell Westbrook barrelling towards the rim on fastbreaks, unstoppable freight trains of power and agility, is fun to watch. Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo catching impossible lobs with go-go-gadget arms is fun to watch. Rudy Gobert and DeAndre Jordan meandering over from the weakside, lurking, before springing up to swat away a shot attempt with authority is fun to watch. Kyrie Irving and Chris Paul putting the ball on a string and tripping up helpless defenders is fun to watch.

I don’t know how much fun the casual fan has watching Nikola Pekovic play, but hell if it isn’t fun for me. He’s not any of those guys above; he’s a below the basket center who is going to feed you a steady diet of seal, turn, catch, post move, shovel or hook shot. I imagine as a competitor, there’d have to be something satisfying about everyone on the floor knowing exactly what you’re going to do and physically imposing your will to do it anyway.

It doesn’t work every night, but it usually does against Detroit, whom Pekovic dominates. He’s never lost to the Pistons (10-0 in his career). Over his past seven meetings with them, he’s averaged 20 points and 9 rebounds on 53% shooting, getting to the line more than 7 times per game. Last night, he poured in a game high 29 points on 9-of-16 shooting and 11-of-12 free throws. Andre Drummond is 6’10, 270 and long, but Pek utilizes great footwork and fundamentally sound post moves to remain effective against him. When Pekovic is matched up with Greg Monroe (6’11, 250), he just flat out bullies him around.

See for yourself:

If you watch the video, you’ll see there’s a whole lot of frustration on the faces of the Detroit front line, who had no answers for Pek. He was singlehandedly responsible for four of Greg Monroe’s fouls, one of Andre Drummond’s and two technicals (one from Monroe, one from Stan Van Gundy).

Led in part by their center, the Wolves jumped out to a 32-24 first quarter lead behind an 18-4 edge in points in the paint. The second quarter belonged to Kevin Martin, who put up 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting to help keep the Wolves’ lead at 8. In the third, Minnesota jumped out to a 19 point lead and were up by 14 when Pekovic checked out at the 4:56 mark. By the time he came back in, the lead was down to 8.

Detroit closed the gap all the way to 4 early in the final quarter before Andrew Wiggins made the play of the game. Grabbing this offensive rebound and knocking down the subsequent three pushed the Wolves’ lead back to 7:

Pek finished with 15 points in the final quarter alone, hitting 4-of-7 shots and 7-of-8 free throw attempts. As a team, the Timberwolves hit 29-of-34 free throws – due in large part to Detroit’s curious strategy of prolonging the game by fouling even when it was way out of reach. (Note: I was watching the game, but went to grab some dinner when it became evident that things were well in hand. On the way to the restaurant, I tuned into WCCO Radio to catch the great Alan Horton, who responded to Detroit’s final intentional foul (when they were down by 11 with 22 seconds to go) with something like “Awww, come ON, guys. Seriously?” Made me chuckle. Alan Horton is the best.)

A few other odds and ends from this one:

– Everyone other than Lorenzo Brown (who only played 1:31) recorded both an offensive rebound and an assist. I don’t know why I think it’s interesting, but I do, and this is my recap, so I included it, because I do what I want.

– This was probably the best game Anthony Bennett has played in awhile. His stat line (2 points, 5 rebounds, an assist and a turnover in 16 minutes) doesn’t tell the whole story. He grabbed some important rebounds (Jim Peterson would’ve called them ‘man rebounds’) while Detroit was rallying in the second half. He also had bypassed a long two in favor of putting it on the deck and finishing with a lefty flush at the rim:

– This was probably the best game Zach LaVine has played in awhile. Unlike Bennett, LaVine’s line (10 points on 5-of-6 shooting, 3 rebounds, 3 assists in 18 minutes) pretty much tells the whole story.

– Thad Young, who entered the game averaging 17/7/3 on 49% shooting over his past 8 games, kept his run of solid play going, finishing with 16 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. He also hit both of his free throws against the Pistons. Over his past 9 contests, Young is hitting 91% of his free throws, a big jump from the 60% he was prior.  Both his rebounding and free throw rates have increased dramatically over the past two weeks, a welcome sign of aggressiveness from the Wolves’ power forward.

– Oh, yeah, Andrew Wiggins. Yeah, he attacked the rim (got to the line 7 times) and finished with 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Had that huge shot, too. Yeah, that Wiggins, man, he’s pretty good.

– Gorgui Dieng (2 points, 3 turnovers and 4 fouls in 15 minutes) was not so good.

– Both Ricky Rubio and Shabazz Muhammad ought to be back tomorrow night for the Wolves, who take on the Atlanta Hawks at home.

– Three wins in a row? Here’s to hoping the Timberwolves can keep on truckin’.

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