BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Whether leading by 15 points after only six minutes or trailing by six with fewer than five minutes to go, all that ever matters is where you are at the end. On Wednesday in Brooklyn, that inevitable fact made the Timberwolves 98-91 comeback winners.
The Wolves opened a six-game road trip that includes a journey to Mexico City by scoring the final nine points in a game that swung wildly all night and finally was decided by their closing flourish.
A team remade last summer that lost to Chicago in the final second Saturday and battled Memphis, now 4-0, in last week’s season opener is 2-2 in this young season.
“We know what we could be right now, but we know what we are,” guard Kevin Martin said after scoring nine of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter. “We’re a team that stays in the moment.”
By the time the Wolves headed into the good night bound for Orlando, Nikola Pekovic left Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez a dejected mess from a lopsided center matchup, Ricky Rubio demonstrated why the team guaranteed him $55 million last weekend, and rookie Andrew Wiggins received yet another education in his road toward stardom and gave back plenty in return.
Pekovic’s 16-point, 11-rebound night punished Lopez, who only returned to practice Sunday after another setback with a troublesome foot that cost him two of his past three seasons. Pekovic’s low-post scoring and defense powered the Wolves’ 17-2 start, and he delivered the layup and ensuing three-point play that broke a 91-91 tie with 48.6 left.
Pekovic was a plus-34, easily the game’s most influential player.
“I was just trying to do my stuff like I do usually,” Pekovic said of guarding Lopez. “Try to bump him, try to give him a hard time. Everybody knows I’m going to do that. That’s what I do. I can’t shoot threes, that’s for sure.”
Rubio approached a triple-double with a 14-point, 12-assist, eight-rebound game in which he organized his teammates and led them back on a closing 18-5 run. Before that, the team’s second unit went scoreless for more than four minutes and turned a six-point lead after three quarters into a six-point deficit by the time all the starters returned midway through the quarter.
Rubio scored on driving layups and a 21-foot jump shot down that final six-minute stretch and found Thaddeus Young open for a short shot that finally repelled the Nets late.
“That’s what a point guard has to do,” said Rubio, who had four of his 12 assists in the fourth quarter. “I feel comfortable the way I played the last quarter, the whole game I would say. I’m not a big numbers guy, I just try to do my best and try to win the game. At the end I saw a couple plays: I saw Pek, I saw Thad on the pop. It’s what I do. I give the ball to my teammates, and sometimes I score, too, when Pek see me.”
Wiggins scored all of his 17 points — his first double-digit scoring game, so easily a career high this soon — in the first three quarters and then was left out on his own to defend Nets star Joe Johnson down the stretch. Johnson scored 11 of his 22 points in that fourth quarter but appeared to tire at the end, committing a turnover and missing his final two shots in the last 64 seconds.
“It was fun, exciting,” Wiggins said. “He makes you work. There are a lot of things he can do. He’s a scorer. That’s what he’s known for. I just tried to make it difficult for him. … Those are games I like. I made my first shot. That got me going early. On defense, I love challenges. That’s something that excites me, something that I take great pride in.”