The Timberwolves practiced the play that saved them from disaster in Wednesday’s season-opening 120-115 overtime victory over Orlando at Target Center the day before, without nearly as much success.
They drilled on a sequence designed to free Kevin Love for a quick three-pointer, using Nikola Pekovic and Corey Brewer to set screens that enable Love to pop open free behind the arc just as Ricky Rubio’s inbounds pass arrives.
On Tuesday, they failed.
“Open guy, but the shot didn’t go in,” Rubio said. “We did practice those plays and it didn’t work very well. But it worked in the game. That’s what counts.”
On Wednesday night, when almost all hope was lost, the Wolves ran the same play, and this time Love made the shot with 10.1 seconds left in regulation, forcing an overtime in which they pulled away and enabling them to win a game they simply could not afford to lose.
They led by 17 in the second quarter and by five midway through the fourth quarter against the young Magic, playing its second game on the NBA season’s second day. But they found themselves trailing 103-100 with 12.5 seconds left in regulation after the Magic had scored four unanswered points.
Suddenly, the Wolves were 12 seconds away from going 0-1 to start a season that began two hours earlier with such optimism, with games against Oklahoma City, New York and Cleveland up next.
So Wolves coach Rick Adelman called a timeout and instructed his players to run that same play they couldn’t finish on Tuesday.
“He shoots that thing long distance about as good as anybody,” Adelman said. “When he gets squared up, there’s a real good chance he’s going to make it.”
Afterward, Love said that, even at such a dire moment, he had no doubt, even if probably everyone in an announced audience of 17,988 did.
“I personally believed we’d win the whole time,” said Love, who delivered a 31-point, 17-rebound performance that often seemed ho-hum. “I told guys with two, three minutes left, just keep playing through it. It’s going to be a learning experience for us. But we’re going to win this game. They all agreed.”
Even down three points, with time nearly gone and a Wolves offense that hummed through the first half and then stagnated in the third quarter when the ball stopped moving and his players resorted to what Adelman later called “hero shots?”
“I got to believe that,” Love said. “I still thought that the whole time. As a team we didn’t let this rattle us. … I was very happy for the whole team; the power of positive thinking.”
When Love’s shot swished, he raised his arms to the rafters, just like he when he made a similar three that beat the Clippers in Los Angeles at the buzzer in January 2012, just like he did when he made another three that forced overtime in an unforgettable two-overtime game at Oklahoma City two months later.
From there, Orlando veteran Arron Afflalo’s 16-foot jumper with a second left in regulation missed after he had scored 24 of his 28 points in the second half alone. In overtime, the Wolves prevailed, thanks to Martin’s seven points after he had started the game shooting 4-for-17 and thanks to Love’s nifty shuffle pass to Pekovic for a layup that closed a 10-4 start in OT’s first three minutes.
But without Love’s overtime-forcing shot …
“That’s the man,” Brewer said. “We got our All-Star. If you’ve got an All-Star, he’s supposed to take the last shots. That’s just how you draw it up. Normally, it doesn’t happen like that.”