The Wolves' sixth victory in seven January starts was a grind until the end, but with the ideal outcome.
Twenty-four hours earlier in Memphis, the Timberwolves had made the game their own in the first 12 minutes, hitting the Grizzlies so hard in the opening quarter that the next three barely mattered.
Against the New Jersey Nets on Saturday night at Target Center, they held a mirror to that one.
Outscoring the Nets 37-21 across the final 12 minutes, the Wolves were able, finally, to put their stamp on a game that repeatedly eluded them over the first three periods and win, 109-98.
It was an especially risky way to go, on the second night of back-to-back games, relying on late heroics. New Jersey was the better-rested team, yet Minnesota was the one that cleaned up its performance at both ends when it mattered most.
The Wolves took better care of the ball -- 18 turnovers through three quarters, only one in the first 7½ minutes of the fourth -- and then did some smarter, sharper things with it. They passed well inside and shot even better, hitting 11 of 16 in the quarter and going 15-of-15 from the foul line.
Defensively, they bothered the Nets enough to allow no baskets over a span of 6½ minutes. New Jersey missed eight of its first 11 shots in the fourth and, in one stretch, was 1-for-8 with six turnovers.
Kevin Garnett matched his season high with 32 points, with 14 rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots. Three other starters scored in double figures, and rookie Randy Foye went head-to-head with point guard extraordinaire Jason Kidd down the stretch and didn't wilt. In fact, in that pivotal final quarter, Foye had eight points, three assists and no turnovers to Kidd's seven, two and two.
The result? The Wolves (19-16) won for the ninth time in their past 12 games, split the season series with the Nets (16-20) and improved to 12-6 at home. Of their seven games in January (they are 6-1); the first six were decided by six points or fewer. This one, despite the final margin, was dicey until way late.
"If that's what we've got to do to win them, then so be it," said Garnett, who grabbed the 10,000th rebound of his career early in the third quarter, becoming the 32nd player in NBA history to reach that milestone.
"We're not predicting on how we're going to win," he said. "That means, if it comes down to one of those bar fights or grind-it-out, 48-plus minutes type of games, if that's what we've got to do to win, that's what we've got to do."
Protecting the lead wasn't nearly as difficult as getting it. The Wolves managed to tie it twice early in the second quarter, once early in the third and twice more early in the fourth, but struggled for a lead; they hadn't had one since 7-5 in the game's first two minutes. Down 77-72 as the final period began, they scored the first five points, then played catch-up again to pull even at 81-81 on a fast-break dunk by Garnett.
Only this time, Minnesota kept going, eventually outscoring the Nets 18-4 over a stretch of 5:47 to lead by 10. The Nets had gone cold and clueless for too long, with Foye giving as good as he got from Kidd.
"No talking, just playing," the Wolves rookie said. "He stripped me at the beginning and I got him once at the end. He looked at me and the look was saying, 'Good D.' I'm not going to back down. Either you're going to score on me or you're not. I'm going to play as hard as I can."
Steve Aschburner email@example.com
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