AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Late in Sunday’s game between the Timberwolves and Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy, near apoplexy much of the night, stood, yelled and was called for a technical foul.
Now, ostensibly, Van Gundy was arguing a call. But here’s a suggestion: Maybe after seeing Wolves center Nikola Pekovic lay waste to his vaunted and athletic frontcourt, Van Gundy simply snapped.
Here are two things to come out of Minnesota’s 112-101 victory, which gave them their first three-game winning streak since early March of last year:
No Ricky Rubio? No problem, at least for one night. And:
When Pekovic is really rolling, everything becomes easier.
Pekovic scored a season-high 29 points, leading a starting five that, all scoring in double figures, accounted for 98 points.
“He’s a load,” Wolves coach Flip Saunders said.
“We didn’t compete very hard against him,” countered a still-upset Van Gundy.
Perhaps a little of both. Detroit had won three of four entering the game, and the big frontcourt of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe was a big part of that. The boxscore shows that Drummond got his double-double and that Monroe scored 15. But look at the fourth quarter — crunch time — and see that Pekovic outscored those two 15-4.
“The guys were looking for me, fighting for me,” Pekovic said. “It was really good. When they’re calling plays for you, and cutting so well, it makes my job easier.”
It also makes things easier when eight first-quarter points by Pekovic resulted in the Pistons double-teaming him, opening up things for others. Like Kevin Martin, who scored 13 of his 24 points in the second quarter. Or Andrew Wiggins, who scored 18. Thaddeus Young had 16 and Mo Williams had 11 points and nine assists.
The Wolves offense hummed right along until there was 7:22 left in the third quarter and Young’s two free throws gave the Wolves a 19-point lead.
Maybe things were too easy. Maybe the Wolves relaxed. But, over the next 9:38 the Pistons used a 24-9 run to pull within four on Jodie Meeks’ layup with 9:44 left in the game.
Not to worry. Wiggins hit a huge three-pointer. After a Drummond turnover Pekovic scored in the lane. Moments later Pekovic hit a 10-foot jump shot. After a Detroit miss, Pek was fouled and hit one of two free throws and the lead was back to 10.
Moments after that, Van Gundy had seen enough. Technical. Drummond ended the game on the bench, having fouled out.
“Drummond is one of the better defensive centers in the league,” Saunders said. “But he loves to block shots. In order to block shots, he wants to give that big a little space. If you give Pek space, he takes up that space. Before you know it you’re leaning back and you can’t get to that shot.”
With Rubio still not playing in back-to-backs, Saunders opted to rest him and play him Monday against Atlanta. Around the time the Pistons had whittled that lead to four, there might have been some who were wishing he was in the lineup.
But, then, Pekovic and Martin (seven fourth-quarter points) took care of things.
“Coach trusts his veteran players,” Martin said. “We’ve been through a lot. So we know when it’s time to panic and when it’s not time to panic. And you know, panic is something we did not do tonight.”
Thanks, in large part, to Pekovic. Martin claimed it was because Pekovic, coming back from ankle problems, thought he might not play Monday, even though both Saunders and Pekovic said he should go.
“He was just trying to put two games into one tonight to earn his pay,” Martin joked.