Even those in the middle of the fray — pushing, shoving, running, competing — knew something special was going on Wednesday night.
At one point J.J. Barea looked up at the scoreboard and was stunned by how many points Kevin Love and Paul George had already scored. For much of the night, but especially in the third quarter, the two All-Star forwards went at it. Shot for shot, point for point.
“Just a great all-star battle,” Corey Brewer said, shaking his head. “Great one-on-one battle. And Kevin Love won.”
So did the Wolves.
With two starters still out with injuries, with the second-best team in the NBA visiting the Target Center, Love outdueled George and the rest of the Pacers, scoring 42 points with 16 rebounds as the Wolves began their stretch run with a 104-91 victory. George had 35 points.
Love’s big night came as speculation about his future continues to dominate the rumor mill. Longtime NBA columnist Peter Vecsey tweeted soon after the game ended that Love had informed the Wolves of his intention to leave after next season. Very quickly Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders, in his own tweet, called the report false.
But, on the court, with 15,000-plus fans watching, it was about the game. And Love and the Wolves put together what most were calling the team’s best victory of the season.
“One of our best of the year with the circumstances and the team we played,” coach Rick Adelman said.
Said Love: “This is one of my favorite wins of the season.”
It was special, from start to finish. The Wolves began the game with impressive energy, delivering a 30-point punch in the mouth to an Indiana team that might have been a bit surprised with Minnesota’s intensity level.
Ricky Rubio set a career high and tied a franchise record with 17 assists. The Wolves, who never trailed, led by as much as 20 points in the second quarter and by 17 in the third.
And this was a team win. Down 10 entering the fourth quarter, Indiana scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to pull within five. But the Wolves bench responded with a 6-0 run. After it was over, Brewer and Barea each had 12 points and Ronny Turiaf had 11 before leaving the game with an injured right knee with 7:15 left in the game.
For the Wolves (26-28) it was a second straight win. And the timing couldn’t be better, with the team on the cusp of falling out of playoff contention and with a season-long five-game road trip looming.
“That was a huge win against one of the best teams in the NBA right now,” Rubio said. “We pushed from the beginning.”
Led, of course, by Love, who battled George from the get-go. Love had 19 points and George 15 at halftime, when the Wolves led by 13.
Each player scored 18 in the third quarter, which ended with the Wolves up 10. But Love won out. He scored five points down the stretch in the fourth as the Wolves kept Indiana at bay. George? He was 0-for-3 in the fourth quarter.
Indiana (41-13) got 12 points from George Hill and 10 from Lance Stephenson.
The Wolves got just the kind of win they needed coming out of the All Star break.
“We played great tonight,” Brewer said. “We play like that every night, I feel we’ll give ourselves a great chance.”