DALLAS – Too little, too late now to believe they will still play as May approaches for the first time in a decade, the Timberwolves must find their own playoffs wherever and whenever they can, such as Wednesday night’s tumultuous 123-122 overtime victory at Dallas.
Leading by 22 points in the second quarter and by 12 with fewer than five minutes remaining in regulation time, the Wolves also trailed by five points 68 seconds into overtime and still beat a Mavericks team that is one of teams they are foremost pursuing -- however distantly – for one of the Western Conference’s final playoff spots.
Starting point guard Ricky Rubio delivered his third career triple-double – and his second this season – with a 22-point, 15-assist, 10-rebound game, the likes of which haven’t been reached statistically on a Wolves team since a guy named Terrell Brandon did so in 2001.
Kevin Love provided the game-winning shot with 17.1 seconds left in overtime, manufacturing it basically out of thin air before he bothered Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki enough so that the future Hall of Famer failed to answer with a winner of his own just before the final buzzer.
“Our poor play at the beginning of the game is the reason it came down the way it did,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “Shame on us.”
The Wolves remain 5.5 games behind both Dallas and Memphis for the West’s final two playoff spot with just 16 games left, but they tasted a bit of May in a game that swung wildly – and loudly inside American Airlines Center – from victory to loss and back again.
Afterward, usually understated Wolves coach Rick Adelman called it one of his team’s best performances this season “by far.”
“This was like a playoff game for us, trying to get this one,” Adelman said. “That’s how we have to be. We want to finish the season on a good note, no matter what happens. We want to play hard and show we’re a better team at the end of the year than we were at the start. That’s the way we have to play. We have to play with this type of attitude the rest of the way. Whatever wins we can get and see where we are.”
That kind of attitude started with a good feeling Rubio said he had in warm-ups, one he took right into the game with an aggressive beginning. He pushed the ball at every turn against Spanish national teammate and aging Mavericks guard Jose Calderon and he pushed the Wolves to a 37-point first quarter and a 50-28 lead early in the second quarter that didn’t last.
“Ricky was terrific all night,” Adelman said. “I told him his triple-double doesn’t count because it took him 49 minutes to do it.”
Adelman’s time-keeping was slightly off: Rubio grabbed his 10th rebound – and that third career triple-double – with 1:49 still left in regulation time when the Mavericks finally missed a three-pointer after Monta Ellis was in the middle of making three threes in two minutes to shoot his team back into the game, and then some.
“I had it before, but I didn’t want to say nothing to the Coach, you know?” Rubio said with a smile afterward.
Rubio had four steals, too.
“We couldn’t contain Ricky,” Dallas forward Shawn Marion said. “Ricky did anything and everything he wanted to do out there. He almost had a quadruple-double out there. He put on a helluva show and we couldn’t stop him. And then when we did get control of it, by that time it was too late.”
The Mavericks made a game of it at least twice, with runs of 22-5 in the second quarter that got them within as few as three points and then a 16-2 late in the fourth quarter thanks to Ellis’ three threes that took them from 12 points behind into a 113-111 lead with 1:28 left.
But the Wolves rescued themselves both in those final seconds of regulation and again in overtime, thanks both to a two-man game they worked repeatedly involving Love and Rubio and to an ironman performance by little-used rookie Robbie Hummel, who played the entire fourth quarter and all of overtime when Adelman mostly chose a smaller lineup that spread the floor.
“I haven’t really felt that since, well, I guess Spain,” said Hummel, who played his first pro season overseas a year ago. “It’s a little bit bigger on the NBA stage. It felt good to be on that again and felt good to play in a situation like that.”
Adelman went small the rest of the way after Wolves rookie center and temporary starter Gorgui Dieng picked up his fourth foul late in the third quarter after he had already recorded his second double-double game – 10 points, 11 rebounds – in as many career starts.
Hummel played the game’s final 17 minutes because Adelman feels he needs a third power forward behind Love and Dante Cunningham while centers Nikola Pekovic and Ronny Turiaf both remain out and because he wanted Hummel’s perimeter shooting threat to spread the defense when the Mavericks double-teamed Love in the post with the game on the line.
“He helps us so much because he spreads the court, he forces them to adjust because he’s on the floor,” Adelman said about Hummel. “He plays hard and sometimes he’s overmatched, but I thought he was the best chance tonight in the overtime and the fourth quarter.”
Hummel had the chance to win the game outright, but his three-pointer from the left corner rimmed around and came out with fewer than three seconds in regulation after he had already made two fourth-quarter threes.
“I thought it was in,” Hummel said.
So, too, did Rubio.
“I was under the basket and I thought the basketball was going in,” Rubio said. “But the rim didn’t like it.”
Love passed up a three-point shot and moved the ball along to Hummel for that final shot, just as he had done moments earlier when he moved the ball along to Kevin Martin for an open shot.
Both players missed, but Love said both times he made the right play.
“Just trusted my teammate that he’d make the shot,” Love said. “I’ll take that from those guys every time.”
Love delivered the winner himself in overtime, the last of his six points in those final minutes after the Mavericks twice led by five points early in overtime.
Nowitzki’s step-back jumper on a night when he shot just 11-for-27 gave the Mavericks a 122-121 lead with 33.9 seconds left in overtime. But the Wolves went right to their power-forward star next possession and Love faked defenders into the air when the Dallas defense collapsed on him before he made a floating 11-foot jumper with 17 seconds left.
Love did the same when he faked a three-point shot, got Vince Carter in the air and forced contact that fouled Carter out of the game with 2:16 left in overtime. Love made all three free throws to tie the game and continue a closing 8-2 Wolves’ run that ended the game.
Love’s shot with 17 seconds remaining became the winner when Nowitzki missed just before the final buzzer and Corey Brewer held tight the rebound as time expired.
“I just wanted to get the ball into his hands,” Adelman said. “I think eventually he’s going to be able to do a lot of things that Dirk does when the gets the ball at the free-throw line.”
The victory put the Wolves two games over .500 – at 34-32 – for the first time since they were 8-6 after beating Brooklyn on Nov. 22.
They have much more work to do if the season’s final month becomes anything more than their early version of the playoffs.
“There’s a lot riding on these games,” Love said. “We’re just fighting trying to get every win we can. Tonight was a fun game for us.”