AUBURN HILLS, MICH. – With a hurting heart and rested legs, Kevin Love got back to the game of basketball Tuesday at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Nine days after he had last played, six days after his maternal grandmother, Carol Lee Craig, died and one day after his first practice back with his teammates, Love hit the floor and played with an intensity that swept through the whole team.
Love scored 26 points and had 16 rebounds and seven assists as the Wolves beat up on the Detroit Pistons 121-94.
The whole time, Love played like the basketball court was a refuge.
“It’s really a holy place for me,” said Love said. “It has been my whole life. Any time I’ve had some sort of adversity, the best way to get back is to get on the court. It was great to get back out there. I was with my family [in Oregon] throughout the weekend. But being around these guys, it’s a family atmosphere too.’’
Frankly, the whole team played an inspired game. After too long with not enough ball movement, the cuts were crisp and the ball moved, one reason why the Wolves had a 28-8 edge from the free throw line, why all five Wolves starters scored in double figures, why even an unbelievable first-quarter shooting exhibition by the Pistons didn’t daunt a Wolves team that ended a two-game losing streak. It was a show of consistent force that had even coach Rick Adelman smiling.
“He was ready to go,” Adelman said of Love, but he might have been talking about the whole team. “He was terrific tonight. He was all over the boards. Seven assists. Just solid all the way through. This was a really solid win for us. We had a lot of energy.”
And it started with Love.
His grandmother lived next door to Love as he grew up. She helped raise him. So he wrote, “RIP Grandma Carol’’ on his sneaker, then walked onto the court and had 12 points, six rebounds and three assists in a first quarter that ended with the Wolves up 33-32.
The second quarter, though, belonged to another Kevin — Martin. The veteran guard scored 12 of his 18 points in the quarter as the Wolves took control of the game.
The Wolves never let up. Detroit came out with a zone to start the third quarter, and the Wolves, led by Love’s seven points, continued building the lead. They pushed their advantage to 19 by the end of the third and by as many as 30 in the fourth as the starters looked on from the bench.
In a matchup of productive frontcourts, Love and Nikola Pekovic combined for 44 points and 21 rebounds compared with 18 and 10 for Detroit’s Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. But this was a team victory. There were 31 assists on 41 baskets and only 13 turnovers.
The team was playing as one.
And, perhaps, for one.
“We wanted to be there for him,” Martin said. “We played this game for him and his family tonight. It’s a difficult time for him. She’s going to be on his mind the whole season. But, as teammates, all we can do is be there for him, show that respect.’’
And Love responded, from the start.
“She never missed a game,” Love said of his grandmother. “Not one Timberwolves game since I’ve been in the league. Whether she’s been there, watching on TV, following it on her phone, she never missed a game. She was my all-time biggest supporter. She’ll always be there with me.’’