The Wolves danced off the Target Center court and into the All-Star break by once again reaching .500 with an improbable victory.
If the Timberwolves' unimaginable 100-98 comeback victory over Utah on Wednesday night indeed is a roadmap to the playoffs, then come April they will get there with the move that Rick Adelman has spent a Hall of Fame career diagramming, the backdoor cut.
The Wolves danced off the Target Center court and into the All-Star break by once again reaching .500 (17-17) and matching, in only 34 games, the 17 victories they had all last year.
And they did so by grasping a game they had no business winning, rallying from 18 points behind in the second quarter and from 16 points behind in the final 10 minutes to win on Luke Ridnour's desperate, running, floater in the lane at the final buzzer.
"I can't get to the rim, so that's my other option," Ridnour said, referring to a shot he has hoisted all his life. "Being a little guy, you have to find other ways."
And so he did Wednesday, ending a 33-15 flourish on a night when his team, too, found other ways.
On Monday, Ridnour's potential tying layup rolled off the rim late in overtime and the Wolves lost at Denver to a depleted Nuggets team by a bucket.
On Wednesday, Ridnour's 8-foot runner won a game in which Adelman had to improvise after Utah's big-man tandem of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson absolutely pummeled the Wolves all night, outscoring Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic 42-25 and trouncing the home team in points in the paint 58-30.
"I was trying," Adelman said. "I don't know if there was anything I didn't try."
Ultimately, he decided upon the unconventional in the second game of a pair against divisional opponents that Adelman called exactly the kind they must win if they intend to reach the playoffs:
After finding no answers the first three quarters, he turned to a small lineup that featured Love, little-used rookie Derrick Williams, Martell Webster and a Ridnour-J.J. Barea backcourt combo that left Ricky Rubio watching for the first time this season when the game really was on the line.
"We had different people give energy and a lift and you end up getting an unbelievable win, a win I don't think anybody expected the way we played this game," Adelman said.
Moving Williams onto Millsap limited him to only four fourth-quarter points after the 6-8 Jazz forward had scored 21 in the first three. It also enabled Williams to stay on the floor for the entire quarter, playing time he fruitfully used to provide a three-point play and a pair of free throws in the final minute that tied the game and then gave the Wolves their first lead since the game's opening basket.
"Hustle points," Williams called them. "Coach told me my job this season is to be the hustle man. As long as I defend and rebound, I'll stay in the game a little longer. I like to be put in those clutch situations. I'm more comfortable. I know what I can do. I know all the capabilities that I have."
His defense on Millsap and his rebounding helped hold the Jazz without a field goal for six minutes down the stretch. Barea's energy and shooting -- three three-pointers in the fourth quarter alone, a career-high-tying five for the night -- enabled the Wolves to score 36 fourth-quarter points after they had reached only 15 in the first and 22 in the second.
"We started getting stops, the ball started going in, the fans got into it," Barea said, describing how his team flipped the switch from a night in which an announced audience of 18,776 fans first booed and then joyously bellowed for the home team. "It was awesome."
After Jefferson's jumper over Love tied the score at 98-98 and seven seconds remaining, Adelman drew up a play for Barea during a timeout. When the Jazz trapped him with two players hard, Barea found Ridnour open, and Ridnour did the rest.
"It wasn't exactly the play we drew up," Williams said, "but I've seen Luke shoot that shot every day."
That shot sends Williams, Love and Rubio to Orlando while their teammates scatter across the country for four days of rest. It also leaves hope Wednesday's victory will prove meaningful come April.
"I hope so, I really do," Adelman said. "See where we go from here. It says a lot about our team. You come back after we were down the whole game, especially after we just lost a tough game in Denver, and they didn't quit. That's the great thing."
|Seattle - LP: C. Furbush||8||FINAL|
|Cleveland - WP: J. Smith||10|
|Tampa Bay - LP: J. Lueke||5||FINAL|
|Toronto - WP: R. Dickey||7|
|NY Yankees - WP: D. Robertson||6||FINAL|
|Baltimore - LP: P. Strop||4|
|Cincinnati - WP: J. Cueto||4||FINAL|
|NY Mets - LP: S. Marcum||3|
|Philadelphia - LP: C. Hamels||1||FINAL|
|Miami - WP: A. Sanabia||5|
|Minnesota - LP: K. Correia||1||FINAL|
|Atlanta - WP: J. Teheran||5|
|Oakland - WP: B. Colon||9||FINAL|
|Texas - LP: J. Lindblom||2|
|Los Angeles - WP: C. Kershaw||3||FINAL|
|Milwaukee - LP: Y. Gallardo||1|
|Boston - LP: J. Lester||4||FINAL|
|Chicago WSox - WP: D. Axelrod||6|
|Kansas City - LP: J. Guthrie||5||FINAL|
|Houston - WP: D. Keuchel||6|
|Arizona - WP: P. Corbin||5||FINAL|
|Colorado - LP: J. Garland||1|
|St. Louis - LP: S. Miller||2||FINAL|
|San Diego - WP: J. Marquis||4|
|Washington - LP: Z. Duke||0||FINAL|
|San Francisco - WP: R. Vogelsong||8|