With just over four minutes left in the Timberwolves’ game Tuesday with the Los Angeles Lakers, Kevin Love went up for a shot in the paint and got hit by Lakers center Robert Sacre.
Love crashed to the floor and stayed there. His first thought: Ouch, my hip. His second thought: Ouch, my head. His third: Get up.
So Love rose, slowly. He worked his way to the bench, rested through a full timeout, walked back out and hit both free throws for two of his 31 points. Minnesota needed nearly every one. With Love and Kevin Martin (32 points) leading the way, the Wolves beat a feisty Lakers team 109-99, beginning a stretch of four games in five nights with a gutty, physical, perhaps harder than it needed to be win.
Led by Love, of course.
On the way to 31 points and 17 rebounds — his seventh 30-15 game this year and the 25th of his career, one more than Kevin Garnett had in a Wolves uniform — Love was knocked to the floor at least three times.
Each time he got up.
“He gets dirty down there,” Martin said. “That’s why we pay him the big bucks. That’s why he’s an All-Star starter.’’
Playing again without injured center Nikola Pekovic, Love played more than 40 minutes, took nearly a hit per minute, and kept ticking. In the process he willed the Wolves past a beat-up Lakers team that, though it got guards Steve Nash and Steve Blake back, was without center Pau Gasol, superstar Kobe Bryant, and without guards Jordan Hill (neck) and forward Jodie Meeks (ankle) for much of the game. Blake played much of the game with a ruptured eardrum.
Against a depleted team, Love continued an amazing streak that has seen him shake off a turned ankle, a banged-up knee and, Tuesday, a banged up everything, culminating in that collision with the Target Center floor that quieted the arena.
“First it was the hip,” he said. “And then I got a real bad whiplash. Haven’t seen the play, but it felt like my head snapped back pretty good, hit the floor. More than anything, what worried me the most was that [head athletic trainer Gregg Farnam] was 2 inches from my face. I feel bad for his wife.”
It’s easy to joke when you’ve scored 163 points in your past five games. And when you’ve won.
J.J. Barea and Corey Brewer each scored 11 points for the Wolves. Ricky Rubio had just four points but 13 assists. But it was Martin and Love who accounted for the bulk of the Wolves offense, and they needed it against a Lakers team that has lost 13 of its past 15 games.
Because the Lakers, down 25 in the second quarter, wouldn’t go away. With Nick Young and Manny Harris coming off the bench to score 24 and 19 points, respectively, and with Nash able to play nearly 25 minutes the Lakers trimmed that 25 point lead to 16 by halftime and to within seven once in the third quarter and again early in the fourth.
Each time the Wolves responded, at a price. Love and Martin both played over 40 minutes with a game Wednesday at Oklahoma City looming. Indeed for Wolves (24-24), who reached .500 yet again, the game mirrored an up and down season. It also showed Love’s toughness again.
“He’s a soldier,” center Ronny Turiaf said of Love.
Said Rubio: “He plays aggressive. That’s why he’s so good. But you have to pay [the price].’’
For Love, it was just another night at the office.
“I”ve taken a physical beating, but you have to expect that,” he said. “You get knocked down, you get back up and you keep going at it.”