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Wolves Ricky Rubio made a behind the back pass to Nikola Pekovic during the first half at the Target Center in Minneapolis Saturday, January 18, 2014. ] (KYNDELL HARKNESS/STAR TRIBUNE) kyndell.harkness@startribune.com

KYNDELL HARKNESS • kyndell.harkness@startribune.com,

Wolves get strong defense, much-needed blowout win over Utah

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD
  • Star Tribune
  • January 19, 2014 - 12:28 AM

 

The Wolves certainly needed this.

After three consecutive losses, a laugher. A beat-down. A home-court blowout of Utah on Saturday night in a game that might not have been pretty, but sure was the kind of pressure-release the Wolves were looking for, and got, in a 98-72 victory at Target Center over a Utah team that just couldn’t shoot straight.

Credit at least a good bit of that to perhaps the Wolves’ best defensive performance of the season.

“I could tell, in warmups when I came out, that this was a different energy level,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “I could see it in the body language.’’

Talking on defense and moving the ball on offense, the Wolves (19-20) got their ninth victory of 20 points or more this season. But this one felt a little different.

Ultimately the Wolves shot 43.4 percent, and got wonderful performances from center Nikola Pekovic (27 points, 14 rebounds), Kevin Love (18-13), Kevin Martin (20 points) and Ricky Rubio (nine assists, eight rebounds).

But the Wolves weren’t particularly sharp offensively, at least early. But, on defense, they were on from the start.

“We just locked in at the beginning, which has kind of been lacking in the last few games,” Love said. “They didn’t shoot well. Both teams were on the back end of a back-to-back. But we were happy with the way we played. Defensively, we were a lot better.’’

A litany of numbers support this. The Jazz (14-28), which shot 23.2 percent through three quarters, finished 21-for-72 (28.8 percent), the lowest shooting percentage in Jazz franchise history and the second-lowest by an opponent in Wolves history.

Up by nine after a quarter, the Wolves put this game away with a 28-9 second quarter, led by Martin’s 11 points and featuring 2-for-19 shooting by the Jazz.

The lead grew to 28 by halftime, ballooned to 36 near the end of the third quarter. During the fourth quarter the starters relaxed on the bench, cheering on the reserves, rejoicing when Gorgui Dieng, celebrating his birthday, threw down a fourth-quarter dunk.

“The whole team was focused on this game,” said Pekovic, who shot 12-for-17. “We really needed this. Everybody needs moments like this, games like this.’’

Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin had a slightly different view. “We missed shots,” he said. “We knew, from the beginning, we didn’t have any pep to us. Give them credit, they were an aggressive team tonight.”

That edge in energy can be seen in a 50-18 edge in points in the paint, an 18-6 edge in second-chance points, a 19-4 edge on the fast break.

“We brought a different energy,” Rubio said. “We talked, especially the big guys, Kevin and Pek. And that changed everything. We were on the same page on defense.’’

Utah’s 23 first-half points were the fewest in a first half by a Wolves opponent. Ever. And the second-lowest in any half. Alec Burks scored 18 points to lead the Jazz, who didn’t have another player finish in double figures. The 72 points Utah scored was a season-low by a Wolves opponent.

And these two teams get a rematch, in Salt Lake City, on Tuesday.

Can the Wolves finally bottle a game like this and take it with them on the road?

“The best thing we can do is keep communicating,” Love said. “The more we communicate the better off we are.’’

Said Adelman: “This is the way we have to play. We know the next one — same team, at their place — with be tough. We have to come out with the same energy.”

© 2014 Star Tribune