A Timberwolves team that started the season searching for one player who could win games in the final moments now is discovering after Friday’s 116-108 victory over Dallas and a 4-2 season start that it just might have two.
Two Wolves players had scored 30 points in the same game 15 times in the franchise’s first 24 seasons. Now, here in the 25th anniversary season, they’ve had two guys do it twice within five days.
On Friday at Target Center, two-time All Star Kevin Love and newcomer Kevin Martin reprised Sunday’s dueling 30-point performances at Madison Square Garden by doing it again, this time with a pair of 32-point evenings that pushed away the Mavericks in the final three minutes when it always matters most.
Love was aimed at his first career triple-double — one he never did quite reach — after a nine-point, nine-rebound, six-assist first quarter during which he played quarterback with his long outlet passes and Corey Brewer played wide receiver and the Wolves built an early 10-point lead that they soon gave back. Love finished with 32 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists.
“He makes the best passes I ever saw,” said Brewer, who scored 13 of his 17 points in the first quarter. “I just go catch ’em and lay ’em in.”
Martin scored 23 of his 32 points in the second half and 12 in the fourth quarter when the Mavericks cut an 11-point, third-quarter deficit to just three points with 3:34 left before Love and Martin scored the next seven points to push Dallas away for good.
“It helps, helps your offense, helps you look a lot better,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said in the understatement of the night. “If you don’t have somebody to go to to finish the game, you’re going to have a hard time.”
Dallas’ 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki has been that guy for his team for most of the last 15 seasons with that one-legged, fadeaway shot that Adelman reminded Friday you can’t teach or stop. On Friday, however, the Wolves limited him to 14 points on just 11 field-goal attempts, only four after halftime.
This time, Love and Martin in tandem delivered the shots Dallas could not defend. Love’s step-back three-pointer out of a timeout with 2:12 left made it 108-102 after the Mavericks got within three points. And his fadeaway jumper a minute later that made it an eight-point game evoked Nowitzki’s trademark shot, only Love shot it on two feet.
Martin followed with a 17-foot turnaround jumper 20 seconds later, and the Wolves proved for the fourth time in their first six outings that they’re learning to finish games.
“Those are the moments where you can have a 30-and-50 season compared to a 50-and-30 season,” Martin said, “because a lot of games come down to the last three minutes.”
Love asserted himself during that timeout after the Mavs pulled within three points, telling Martin to just get him the ball with a bounce pass and the shot by setting a screen on Nowitzki in a two-man game the Wolves are starting to rely upon.
“We’re jelling out there,” Love said. “He knows when to pick his spots. He’s a guy who plays great down the stretch in the fourth quarter. He’s a shot-taker and a shot-maker for us. I know he’s going to be doing that all season.”
Love had a double-double and seven assists by halftime, with one more assist in the second half. He said he never focused on that first triple-double.
“No, no, I knew I was the ball and had a few assists, especially in that first quarter,” he said, a grin coming to his face. “I really hadn’t paid attention to it other than Corey missing a couple damn layups.”