For the first time in a month, both center Nikola Pekovic and forward Andrei Kirilenko were healthy enough to be back in the Timberwolves lineup Sunday against New Orleans at Target Center.
And, for much of the first 47 minutes of the game, they struggled. They looked rusty, they looked a step slow. Quite often they looked tired.
But then, of course, they won the game.
In a 97-95, come-from-behind victory over a feisty bunch of Hornets, Pekovic’s offensive rebound and his two free throws gave the Wolves a one-point lead with 14.5 seconds left. And then Kirilenko sealed it with two blocks in the closing seconds.
“I guess I was saving it for the final 14 seconds,” Kirilenko joked.
It was, frankly, an improbable win, one that would have been impossible if not for Derrick Williams’ career-high 28 points. The Wolves were out-rebounded 41-27, with that total being their lowest of the season. The Hornets outscored the Wolves 58-46 in the paint and 20-10 on second-chance points. The Wolves struggled to slow Hornets center Robin Lopez (20 points, 11 rebounds) inside and Greivis Vasquez (24 points, five assists, seven rebounds) everywhere else.
But all that mattered was the final minute.
The Hornets took a 95-91 lead on two free throws by Vasquez with 1:12 left , before Minnesota scored the game’s final six points.
At the other end Ricky Rubio (16 points on 7-for-11 shooting) drove, scored and was fouled. The three-point play with 48.7 seconds cut the Hornets lead to one.
Eric Gordon missed at the other end. Then, with the seconds ticking away, Williams drove the lane, appeared to be fouled, and missed the shot. But Pekovic bulled his way to the rebound, was fouled and made both free throws.
“I was trying to do what I’ve done all season,” said Pekovic, who had 13 points and six rebounds. “Just get the board. I was just trying to get to the ball.”
And then it was all Kirilenko. Gordon drove the middle, but his shot was blocked by Kirilenko, who was fouled and made one of two free throws. Then, as time expired, Kirilenko jumped high to block Roger Mason’s shot.
Wolves coach Rick Adelman had planned for this. Minding Kirilenko’s minutes, he had subbed him out with 5:44 left, subbing him back in for Pekovic with 14. 5 seconds left.
“When you feel the game is on the line, when you need a couple stops, you get into that mode where you don’t feel the pain, you don’t feel anything,” said Kirilenko, who admitted to feeling a step slow all night. “You just concentrate on the ball.”
It was an important win for the Wolves, even if it didn’t mean much in the standings. Losing at home to the team with the worst winning percentage in the Western Conference would have been a blow.
Nobody was going to let that happen. Williams, aggressive all day, scored eight of his 28 in the fourth quarter.
“I felt like tonight I could pick and choose my spots,” Williams said. “If I’m going to drive, I’m going to, and if I’m open, I’m going to shoot it. I really feel like I’m getting a lot of my confidence back. ”
Rubio and Luke Ridnour (10 points) combined for 26 points, 12 assists and three steals. Rubio even had two blocks. But in the end, it was Pekovic and Kirilenko. “Andrei’s block was unbelievable, actually both of them,” Adelman said. “Just a good win.”