The Timberwolves needed rescue from the depths of desperation Wednesday and they received it from an unforeseen place during a 106-99 comeback victory over Philadelphia:
Their underperforming, underused and much-maligned bench.
Hung over probably more emotionally than physically from Tuesday’s lopsided victory at Detroit, the Wolves surrendered 39 first-quarter points and trailed by 19 Wednesday at Target Center to an opponent that had lost seven of its previous eight games.
They were saved by a 58-38 second-half reversal in which rookie reserve Robbie Hummel scored all of his 10 points in the fourth quarter. He also provided the pulse during a 10-0 run that featured his presence and big Nikola Pekovic’s scoring while transforming the game.
The Wolves won on the second night of back-to-back games for only the second time in seven tries this season. They also swept back-to-back games for the first time in a year — Dec. 14-15, 2012 — and seventh time in the past five seasons.
They did so with their bench — lengthened from as few as two some nights this season to four who played nearly 12 minutes or more Wednesday — holding their own and being outscored only 25-24 against the Sixers reserves.
“A lot better than the first, that’s for sure,” Wolves star Kevin Love said when asked about his team’s bench play after he delivered just another 26-point, 15-rebound, five-assist night.
Hummel’s fourth-quarter play — those 10 points set a career high — allowed his team to end the evening in celebration after a first quarter coach Rick Adelman termed “awful.”
The Wolves withstood the 76ers’ 16-0 run that ended the first quarter by getting within 13 points at halftime and within three by third quarter’s end on an evening when they didn’t lead until 8½ minutes remained in the game.
Trailing 86-81 with 10 minutes left, the Wolves started off on a game-changing 10-0 run with four reserves and Pekovic on the floor. Hummel provided two points and a rebound during those four minutes when the Wolves turned that five-point deficit into 93-88 lead with 6:19 left, but he played nearly 11 minutes and scored all of his 10 points, including two three-pointers, in the quarter.
“I’m just used to being out there, my whole basketball career I’ve gotten to play in situations like that,” Hummel said. “Even though it’s the NBA and it’s a different stage, it’s something I’ve been comfortable with my whole life. … No doubt it energizes the team and the crowd when we [bench players] come in and play like that. It gets everyone going. When you can erase a lead like they had tonight, the momentum starts going in our favor.
“It’s like a boulder rolling down a hill. It’s just coming.”
For the first quarter and much of the first half, the Wolves were the ones looking like they’d be bowled over until they righted themselves and, at 11-11, got themselves back to .500 for the season.
The Wolves’ starters opened the second half with a 13-2 run and quickly turned a 13-point game into a three-point one. Their turnabout from the opening quarter might have suggested something was said at halftime.
“It was pretty obvious that you shouldn’t have to say anything,” Adelman said. “I told them you shouldn’t have to say much after the way we started the game. You have to learn a lesson that when you get a nice win last night, it means nothing tonight. You better understand that.”
Apparently, something was said by Adelman.