Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic claims he hasn't cried since he was a little boy, but that doesn't mean the big fellow with the bed of skulls tattooed on his biceps can't emotionally express himself at the appropriate times.
One such time came Friday night at Target Center, when teammate Chase Budinger's last-second layup beat Indiana 96-94 at Target Center.
In a game the Wolves seemingly had won at least twice before, Budinger burst free down the free-throw lane on a set play intended to feature Andrei Kirilenko's shooting and instead converted Kirilenko's aware, improvisational pass into the winning layup.
The shot made the Wolves a Northwest Division-leading 4-1 in this first week of the season -- and saved Pekovic.
Ten seconds earlier, Pekovic missed a layup that just might have finished off a Pacers team that refused to go quietly, not until after George Hill's rainbow three-pointer tied the score with 3.8 seconds left and set the stage for Budinger to rescue himself, the Wolves and his big Montenegrin teammate.
Afterward, somebody asked Pekovic if he gave Budinger a big hug at game's conclusion.
"No," he said. "Two big hugs."
The Wolves are three games over .500 for the first time since they were 20-17 midway through the 2006-07 season, when Dwane Casey coached and Kevin Garnett played. It took them 11 games last season to win four times.
They did so Friday just as their list of wounded and missing grew to four players. They started the night without backup point guard J.J. Barea and his sprained foot, as well as injured stars Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. They then lost starting shooting guard Brandon Roy for the second half after he banged the same knee he hit last week.
"The plane won't be very full tonight," coach Rick Adelman said of a flight to Chicago for Saturday's game included Roy but not Barea.
Shorthanded to say the least, the Wolves once again persevered.
"We're a very resilient, very deep team and that's what you see," Budinger said.
Budinger replaced Roy among the starters to begin the second half. He scored a team-high 18 points that included the aforementioned winning layup, and an unadvised foul that Hill turned into a three-point play just when the Wolves led by six with 39 seconds left.
Power forwards Derrick Williams and Dante Cunningham provided tag-team performances filling Love's position, with Williams scoring 11 of his 15 points in the first half and Cunningham again delivering the energy that built a nine-point, fourth-quarter lead.
And rookie Alexey Shved fulfilled Adelman's pregame promise that he would keep Shved at the shooting-guard spot despite Barea's absence, even if Shved played like a point guard much of the night by making plays with the ball consistently in his hands, to the tune of seven assists. He also scored eight of his 11 points in the fourth quarter, including consecutive baskets that turned a tied game into a 90-86 lead with 2:24 left.
"It doesn't matter, where I need to play, where Coach need to put me," Shved said. "I play point guard, I play shooting guard. It doesn't matter. Yeah, everybody like to have the ball in his hands, for sure. I like to play for the team, give passes. If I see somebody open, for sure I pass."