Slowly, finally, the band appears to be getting back together.
Wednesday night at Target Center, Wolves guard Kevin Martin returned to action after missing 34 games because of a fractured right wrist.
“Back off the shelf,” he said.
Back in the game. Martin started fast, struggled for a quarter or so, then came back with 12 fourth-quarter points to finish with 21 in a 110-98 victory over the Boston Celtics that ended a five-game losing streak overall and a 10-game losing streak at home.
Before the game Martin joked that he wouldn’t be tired as long as he was making shots. Funny, he played nearly 30 minutes, including the entire fourth quarter, and he didn’t look too tired when he was in the process of scoring nine consecutive Wolves points midway through the quarter, helping a lead that had shrunk to four grow back to 13.
So he’s back. As is center Nikola Pekovic, who’s been back a week after missing 31 games because of an ankle injury. Coach Flip Saunders said Ricky Rubio could be back next week. And they’re joining a bunch of young players who have spent the last month learning the NBA from the deep end of the pool.
So, perhaps, there is light finally appearing at the end of the tunnel.
“The team we had earlier in the year, we were going to shock a lot of people,” Martin said. “Even with [Kevin Love’s] departure. Unfortunately, we didn’t get that chance at the beginning of the season. But it’s good to see guys come back.’’
Putting a scorer back on the floor was like a tonic. The ball moved, there was balance. All five starters plus Martin and just-signed guard Lorenzo Brown scored in double figures. Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng continue to progress as a team on the floor, with Dieng getting his 12th double-double. Andrew Wiggins, not quite as raw as he was the last time Martin played, scored six of his 12 in the fourth quarter, finding room to move with Martin occupying defenders.
“It takes a lot of pressure off of everybody,” Wiggins said.
This victory was a blend of old and new. Martin sparked the team early. In the third quarter it was youth. Zach LaVine was sublime, making five of six shots for 13 of his 17 points, while Dieng had 11. In the fourth, a blend. Martin with 12, Wiggins with six.
Welcome back, Mr. Martin.
“It’s a confidence level,” Saunders said. “In this league, winning, a lot of it is trust. Kevin can hit shots, he can hit free throws, he can get to the line.’’
Put it all together and it was too much for a tired Boston team finishing a six-game road trip.
So now the Wolves (8-37) have nearly half a season to see how this group can play together with most of the main pieces back.
“We’re good with those guys back,” said Wiggins, who continued to be a go-to guy in the fourth quarter. “It opens things up so much more. They’re vets.’’
Said Saunders: “We’re going to find out our pieces, how they all fit together. Wiggins is going to have to adjust some. Time will tell.’’
But it’s about time. Maybe now fans will see what the ceiling really is for this group.
Before the game, when Saunders was telling his team that Martin would play, Martin essentially said so. His message?
“With me coming back, Ricky coming back, we just finished our training camp,” Martin said. “Now we have to gear up for our regular season.”