Before Wednesday night’s game, Portland coach Terry Stotts declared his team possessed the best power forward in the NBA. Minutes later just down the hallway, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman understandably claimed the same.
And then Wolves star Kevin Love went out and settled the matter for at least one evening in a 120-109 victory over a Trail Blazers team that arrived at Target Center with the league’s best record.
By halftime, Love was already within two assists of his first career triple-double, and by then the Wolves had led by as many as 32 points against an opponent playing on the road for the fourth time in five nights.
Love finished with 29 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists in a performance that trumped Blazers star LaMarcus Aldridge’s 15-point, 14-rebound game and that helped the Wolves withstand not only one, but two or three second-half runs from the visitors, all of which ultimately fell short.
“His coach is supposed to say that about him and my coach is supposed to say that about me,” Love said afterward, referring to Aldridge.
And Wolves forward Corey Brewer had what he had to say after Love provided the pulse for overcoming the Trail Blazers, who fell to 22-5 — a half-game behind Oklahoma City for the NBA’s best mark — after seeing their five-game winning streak end.
“You can check the stats and you’ll see who the best power forward is and we got the ‘W,’ ” Brewer said. “That’s the way I feel about it. Everybody talks about best power forward. By far, night in and night out, Kevin Love is the best power forward in the game: Gets his numbers, passes the ball, should have had a triple-double tonight. That’s what he does. Playing with a guy like that makes the game easy for all of us.”
Of course, both Stotts’ declaration about Aldridge and Adelman’s contention about Love only really work if you consider Miami’s LeBron James a small forward. But let’s not quibble about details …
Love had 17 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in the first half, when he and the Wolves moved the ball with such precision against the road-weary Blazers, who had won in Detroit and Cleveland their past two times out both on winning shots by Damian Lillard in the final second.
Big Nikola Pekovic benefited from Love’s playmaking, which spreads the floor and enabled the Wolves center room to score 30 points, one off his career high. Love’s passing also seemed to fire even Aldridge’s imagination.
“He was looking like George Gervin passing the ball out there,” Aldridge said, perhaps mistaking the San Antonio Spurs’ finger-rolling scoring machine from long ago for a playmaker. “He definitely played great.”
Love never reached that first triple-double, getting only one more assist in a second half when Lillard scored 26 of his 36 points by firing and making shots seemingly from everywhere.
The point guard’s scoring enabled the Blazers to whack that 32-point deficit all the way down to 114-109 with 46 seconds left before Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin made six consecutive free throws to save the victory, one that brought the Wolves back to .500 at 13-13.
“Second half, he don’t really pass the ball,” Pekovic said, laughing while simultaneously busting his teammate’s chops.
The Wolves withstood the Blazers’ fourth-quarter threats thanks in good part to a 72-34 advantage in points in the paint, many of which came from Pekovic’s scoring and ball movement created by the passing of Love, Rubio and others.
Love never got that elusive triple-double, but he took home a victory he called “huge.”
“I hope it does come,” Love said. “I did think I was looking at it right in the face tonight, but it just didn’t happen for me. The guys were saying, ‘Just get one more.’ I said, ‘Let’s get a win, how ’bout that?’ So I’m way more happy with that than anything.”