SACRAMENTO, calif. – Timberwolves forward Chase Budinger returned Thursday night after four months away with a three-pointer made and a big smile in a 101-98 loss at Sacramento, but neither of those two things were quite enough.
Budinger’s 17-plus minutes played and nine points scored on 3-for-7 shooting included one three-pointer — the only one in his team’s 1-for-19 night — as the Kings recovered from a 12-point, first-half deficit to win their third consecutive home game.
The Kings had beaten the Bulls and the Clippers at Sleep Train Arena and on Thursday completed the trifecta, thanks to a game-changing 13-2 fourth-quarter run when Tyreke Evans attacked the basket at will.
Evans scored 11 of his 21 points in a fourth quarter when the Wolves led by a point with 9:44 left, trailed by 10 with 5:32 left and still had a chance to tie the score at the final buzzer when Dante Cunningham’s desperation three-pointer went wide right.
“We gave them too many spurts, too many easy opportunities, too many easy baskets,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said.
Budinger warmed up Thursday evening and then declared himself ready to play for the first time since he tore the lateral meniscus in his left knee during a game at Chicago the second weekend in November.
Budinger played 17½ minutes backing up starter Andrei Kirilenko at small forward.
“A lot better than what I expected,” Budinger said afterward. “I was still a little nervous attacking the basket and I got tired legs there, especially in the second half. But all in all, the knee felt good out there. I felt my wind was pretty good, more my legs just getting tired out there. You saw that with me shooting an airball.”
Good thing Budinger came back when he did. Without him, they wouldn’t have made a three-pointer. Sacramento made six of 18.
“I know it, another night,” Adelman said. “We just can’t make shots when we need to, and we lose a three-point game.”
Adelman alternated Kirilenko and Budinger in six-minute stretches because both players are recovering from injuries.
“We’ve got the perfect storm,” he said. “So we just keep alternating back and forth until somebody tells me they’re at their limit.”
For Budinger, that meant exactly 17 minutes and 30 seconds total.
“I thought he did fine, looked like he was moving well,” Adelman said. “Hopefully, we’ll get through this first game and we’ll move on from there. I just wanted to see how he was going to do. The first half he got tired and needed to come out. The second half I was just watching him. I played him until I thought I needed to get him out. Maybe we could have used him more at the end.”
Adelman is hoping Budinger’s legs and three-point shot come back right away, particularly since the Wolves are headed toward an NBA record for bad three-point shooting the way they’ve been going this season.
“He better,” Adelman said before the game. “We’re going to set some type of record for futility in that area. I’ll let him shoot whatever he wants to shoot from the three-point area because I know he’s going to make it.”