Corey Brewer looks the same. He can still dive head-first through a chain-link fence without scratching anything but ears and toes, and he still plays defense like a caffeinated TSA agent conducting a patdown.
What was different for Brewer in the first game of his second career as a Timberwolf was that when he touched the ball, it went in the basket more often than it bounced off his leg.
On opening night at Target Center, Kevin Love played like the star the Wolves need him to be, and Brewer played like the veteran role player they signed him to be.
Brewer made a go-ahead tap-in late in regulation. With the score tied and time running out, he stopped Orlando gunner Aaron Afflalo 1-on-1 to send the game to overtime.
He made another go-ahead bucket in overtime, and grabbed the game’s last rebound, spiking the ball at the end of a 120-115 victory over the Magic.
“He was terrific,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “He really covered the court. He really streaks out there.”
Well, Brewer doesn’t exactly cover the court. There are swizzle sticks that cast bigger shadows. He does know his role, one reason Adelman finally settled on Brewer instead of a more gifted youngster to start at the small forward position.
Brewer is a defensive player on a unit that includes four offensive-minded players, and he’s a sprinter who can benefit from Love’s uncanny outlet passes and Ricky Rubio’s aggressiveness.
“[Kevin] and Ricky throwing outlet passes?” Brewer said. “I’m going to get a lot of layups this year.”
Brewer finished with 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting. He had three rebounds, two assists, three steals and three turnovers. His plus-minus rating of plus-six was second on the Wolves only to Love’s plus-nine.
“If you watch me play, I shoot corner threes, and I get layups,” Brewer said. “I don’t take bad shots. We’ve got too many offensive weapons to take bad shots.”
Brewer barely touched the ball for the first seven minutes of the game. Then he scored on a three-pointer and a twisting layup on consecutive possessions.
Late in the second quarter, Brewer saw Love grab a rebound, and took off. Love’s long pass was deflected. Brewer gathered it in by the free-throw line, drove hard, made the layup and drew the foul. His three-point play gave him 10 first-half points.
“That’s the type of player I am,” Brewer said. “I learned playing in Denver the last few years to get ’em quick. Get ’em when you can get ’em. Because you know there were a lot of offensive weapons over there, too.”
The Timberwolves took Brewer with the seventh pick in the 2007 draft. He was the wrong choice for a franchise in desperate need of refined talent. Brewer won two national titles with Florida by playing with energy. The Wolves had dealt with so many problem players that they overvalued Brewer’s positive character traits, including work ethic, hustle and a history of winning.
Brewer did not play to the level of a No. 7 pick. He wound up with the Dallas Mavericks, where he won a title despite not playing in the clinching game.
In Denver, playing for George Karl, he put his intensity to use. In Karl’s Formula One system, he was allowed to take three-pointers and push the pace. His career points-per-game average remains under 10, but he scored 12.1 per game last season with the Nuggets.
“This is a different feel than the last time,” Brewer said. “Last time, we were rebuilding. Losing, basically. I feel like this team is going to be a winner.”
Orlando’s best chance to win came at the end of regulation. Afflalo, who scored 28 points, got the ball on the right wing. Rubio feinted in, then left Brewer alone. Brewer stood his ground, then leaped, pushing his fingertips toward Afflalo’s eyes as the shot fell short.
“I love that,” Brewer said. “That’s why I get paid. That’s why they brought me back. I’ve got to play defense. I’ve got to get stops. All that matters is that one stop.’’