The three-pointer fell, the Target Center crowd roared and the Timberwolves bench erupted.
Kevin Martin headed to the bench after a timeout was called with 28.4 seconds left in Monday’s 100-95 victory over Philadelphia. Teammates were jumping and yelling. Kevin Garnet gave him a playful — but intense — shove, yelling who-knows-what in Martin’s ear.
But Martin wasn’t feeling joy.
“It wasn’t celebration time for me,” Martin said. “It was more of a relief.”
The Wolves were up 93-91 on the winless 76ers when Sixers guard T.J. McConnell missed a layup. Ricky Rubio got the rebound. The ball found its way to Andrew Wiggins, who dribbled out of a double-team, then passed to the wide-open Martin, who did what he normally does best: make the shot.
Martin’s basket gave the Wolves a five-point lead to help end their six-game home losing streak to start the season. It provided Martin with at least a brief respite from a difficult shooting slump.
In his 12th season, Martin is a veteran known for his quick release and accurate shot and his consistent scoring. But he was in the midst of what he described as one of the most difficult stretches of his career. In the five games before Monday, he had shot 25 percent and averaged 7.6 points.
A confident player, Martin continued to take extra shots in practice and hope that work would translate into games. Because of Martin’s unorthodox shooting style, interim coach Sam Mitchell and his staff weren’t in a position to offer pointers. Ultimately, Mitchell decided to move Martin into the starting lineup at shooting guard starting Monday.
In the first half — which ended with the Wolves trailing 52-46 — Martin hit one of seven shots, missed his three three-point attempts and scored two points.
But, in the second half, his shooting started to turn around.
Martin took a pass from Rubio and hit a 17-footer four minutes into the third quarter to cap a run in which the Wolves turned that six-point halftime deficit into a four-point lead. Martin hit a finger roll later in the quarter.
The fourth quarter essentially belonged to Wiggins. But Martin added five points down the stretch, capped by that big three-pointer.
Martin was 3-for-4 shooting in the second half. A lot of that is because of playing with a first unit that includes a scoring threat such as Wiggins and a ball distributor like Rubio.
“I think in the first unit I can rely on Ricky a little more, when he’s in his pick-and-rolls, to find a wide-open guy,” Martin said.
Martin compared it to the Los Angeles Clippers, which have a first unit, led by point guard Chris Paul, that really moves the ball. The Clippers’ second unit, led by shooter Jamal Crawford, operates differently. So it is with the Wolves, whose second unit is run by Zach LaVine at the point, more of a scorer at this point than a distributor. Playing on the second unit, Martin had to create his shot more than his preferable catch-and-shoot style.
“In the first unit we do more spacing, we move the ball more,” Martin said. “They both have their strengths.”
Martin hopes the relief he felt Monday will be a turning point.
“Everyone knows how important Kmart is,” Mitchell said. “That was a big shot. … He’s our guy to make shots like that. Sometimes it doesn’t take but one to go in to get him going.”
For Martin, seeing was believing. Asked if he knew that three-pointer was going to fall when it left his hand, he smiled.
“I didn’t know it was going in because of the past couple weeks,” he said. “But once I let it go and looked at the rotation of the ball, I knew that if that one didn’t go in, none of them were going to go in.”