MEMPHIS – With the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year seated on the opponent’s bench in a big man’s suit, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman’s 40 years of professional experience told him to get the ball to center Nikola Pekovic during the final minutes of Sunday’s 101-93 victory at Memphis.
Even when he was yelling at his team not to do so.
The Wolves ended an 11-game losing streak to the Grizzlies and won at FedEx Forum for the first time since January 2009 on Sunday after Pekovic scored the Wolves’ final six points in the final 2:08 to preserve a victory in which they once led by 19 points in the second quarter.
Included was a closing layup before which Adelman shouted to J.J. Barea to protect the ball, but he rewarded Pekovic for running the floor with a pass for a layup that served as final punctuation with 26 seconds left.
“Those two points were important to finish the game,” Pekovic said. “So I just ran. I was hoping he’d see me. It was end of the game, so I was kind of exhausted.”
Two nights earlier, the Wolves found no other answers in San Antonio when the Spurs clamped down on star Kevin Love late on a 42-point night and produced a victory after they trailed by nine points entering the third quarter.
On Sunday, the Grizzlies chopped that big first-half deficit down to just a bucket in the fourth quarter when the opposition defense again focused on Love at every turn.
This time others, namely Pekovic, responded to push the Wolves back to .500 at 12-12.
While Memphis starting center Marc Gasol missed his 10th consecutive game because of a sprained knee ligament, Pekovic came back into the game with five personal fouls and just 2:26 left and put away a Grizzlies team that until then refused to go quietly into the good night.
The Wolves got the ball to Pekovic twice down low and he drew fouls each time and created four free throws, sinking all four. Then he capped a finishing 6-1 run over the final two-plus minutes by barreling down the floor while Adelman yelled at Barea in the open court to pull the ball back.
“Oh yeah, you hear him,” Barea said with a smile after playing nearly the entire fourth quarter while Adelman sat who he called a “hurting” Kevin Martin.
“But if you have a secure play, you go for it.”
Adelman said he just didn’t want a turnover at that point of the game, not after his team had come so far in 48 hours showing it had learned what to do when the opponent tries to take Love out of the game.
On Sunday, Love scored 25 of his 30 points through three quarters before defensive stopper Tayshaun Prince buckled down on him in the fourth quarter.
“We’re not instinctively ready to know what to do if they front Kevin,” Adelman said.
“All you’ve got to do is move the ball. If they want to do that, that leaves Pek inside. So we wanted to try to take advantage of that.”
On Friday, both Pekovic and Ricky Rubio missed crucial shots during the Spurs’ closing 12-2 run. On Sunday, Pekovic’s hard work redeemed shots he couldn’t believe he missed Friday and delivered the Wolves their first victory in Memphis since Love’s rookie season.
Pekovic scored 12 of his 19 points in Sunday’s fourth quarter, when Adelman played Barea and Rubio together for the final 7½ minutes after he decided to keep Martin out of the game because of a hurting knee.
“If you ask me, I couldn’t tell you how I missed,” said Pekovic, who had never won in Memphis. “Sometimes it’s more difficult to miss than score, but sometimes it just happens. You can’t explain it.
‘‘I was really determined tonight to get the guys win the game, to score. Kevin, he’ll do his job every night. The other guys, we need to step up and do our jobs to win the game.”