LOS ANGELES – Kevin Martin possessed nearly 28 million reasons to leave 60- victory Oklahoma City for the Timberwolves last summer, even though he had lost more games than he’d won in Sacramento and Houston each of the previous six seasons.
Well, 28 million reasons plus one.
At age 30, he thought he was good enough to still be an NBA starting shooting guard after he spent last season coming off the Thunder’s bench.
He also thought he still had enough game left in him to be a featured player after that 2012 trade moved James Harden to the Rockets and sent Martin to Oklahoma City, uniting him with stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
“I knew I had a lot still left in me,” he said.
When he became an unrestricted free agent in July, the Wolves offered a four-year deal at nearly $7 million while the luxury-tax threatened Thunder only offered a relative pittance. The Wolves also offered a chance to play with blossoming stars Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, a two-man duo that, unlike Oklahoma City, still allowed the possibility for a starring, scoring role.
“It’s fun being back with this kind of caliber player,” Martin said, referring to some of the early seasons in his career when he didn’t have much talent around him. “It wasn’t just me trying to go to a bad team and put up numbers like I did earlier in my career. I saw the potential in this team, what they were missing. I just felt like it was a perfect fit.”
Two Wolves scored 30 points each in the same game 15 times in the franchise’s first 24 seasons. Here in the 25th anniversary season, they’ve now done it twice in five days, with Martin and Kevin Love each scoring 30 or more in victories Sunday at Madison Square Garden and Friday over Dallas at Target Center.
Love wowed with a 32-point, 15-rebound, eight-assist performance in which he was aimed at his first career triple-double after only 10 minutes. Martin played with the same scoring efficiency that has defined his career, even with that unorthodox shooting motion: 10-for-19 from the field, including 3-for-5 on threes, and 9-for-10 from the free-throw line.
In his first six games with the Wolves, Martin is 10th in the NBA in scoring with a 23.3 ppg average and is shooting 56.7 percent (17-for-30) from three-point range.
He matched Love’s 32 points by scoring 23 of them in the second half, including 12 in the fourth quarter alone. When the Mavericks knocked an 11-point, third-quarter deficit down to only three points in the final four minutes, Love and Martin responded by scoring the game’s next seven points to push their lead to 112-102 with 52 seconds left.
“The defense is not able to focus on one guy,” Martin said of a two-man game with Love that repelled the Mavericks. “I got used to playing by myself, where I was the only guy who could do that. Playing with Kevin [Durant] and Russell — guys who can score 30 in their sleep also — I wasn’t going to go to another team without a superstar. That’s what I have in Kevin Love.”
On Friday, the Wolves called timeout after Dallas got within three points and called for a two-man game featuring their two scoring stars. Love told Martin to get him the ball, set a screen on Dirk Nowitzki and he’d do the rest. Martin did as told and Love did as he said, stepping back and hitting a three-pointer that started the pivotal 7-0 burst.
“Me and K-Love challenge each other, that’s one thing I like about our relationship,” Martin said. “We challenge each other a lot. He wanted me to do that and I said, ‘Well, what are you going to do with it?’ He said, ‘Just give me the ball.’ We push each other. I like that.”