MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When the shots weren’t falling for Minnesota in the past, the Timberwolves simply had no chance.
Now Rick Adelman’s crew has suddenly turned into a solid defensive unit, and the Wolves needed to be against the Detroit Pistons.
Kevin Love had 20 points and 17 rebounds and the Timberwolves overcame a dreadful start to the game to slug out a 93-85 victory over the Pistons on Wednesday night.
Anthony Tolliver had 11 points off the bench and shut down Tayshaun Prince in the fourth quarter to help the Timberwolves to their third win in four games. They had 11 steals, scored 23 points off 19 turnovers and held the Pistons to 14 points in the decisive final quarter.
“We’re just a lot tougher than definitely we were last year,” Tolliver said of his Timberwolves, who were the worst defensive team in the league last season. “We just get tougher by the game.”
Prince finished with 29 points, but scored only four in the fourth as the Pistons gave away a 13-point third-quarter lead. The Pistons missed 11 free throws to lose for the ninth time in 10 games.
The Timberwolves trailed by 16 in the second quarter and didn’t hold a lead until there was less than nine minutes to play in the game.
“We can’t keep playing well for 42 minutes and then the last six minutes give the game away,” said Pistons big man Greg Monroe, who had 13 points and 12 boards before fouling out. “As a team, we have to get better and finishing and putting the game away.”
Ricky Rubio had nine points, eight assists, seven rebounds and six steals, making up for 1-for-8 shooting with some stellar playmaking down the stretch. He went around his back on a drive to the basket in the third quarter, then split a double team and found Wayne Ellington for a 3-pointer and an 88-81 lead that essentially put the game away.
Ben Gordon finished with 18 points, but the Pistons shot just 47 percent on free throws after entering the game third in the league at 80 percent.
Love bought 1,000 tickets for fans to this one as part of a promotion to try and keep the attendance at Target Center high against a team that had been drawing the fewest fans on the road in the league. They were treated to an ugly one early.
Both teams were stuck in mud to start the game, but Prince hit six straight shots after an 0-for-5 start to put the Pistons up 16 with just under five minutes to play in the first half.
The Timberwolves, meanwhile, couldn’t buy a basket. Luke Ridnour and Rubio combined to go 1 for 13 in the first half and the Wolves were shooting 23.5 percent for the first 19 minutes.
“We just couldn’t sustain it,” Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said. “We just had breakdowns, not just on the ball, but off the ball, too.”
Brandon Knight scored on a fast break to close an 11-4 spurt at the start of the third quarter that pushed the lead back to 13 points, and Adelman was visibly frustrated with the inability to find a group that clicked.
But they hung in with defense, which is a rarity in these parts. The Wolves gave up 107.7 points a game last season. Through 14 games this season, they’re allowing 92.5.
“It feels good. It’s something that’s been lacking the last few years,” Love said. “In games like this where it’s ugly on the offensive end, we were still able to get the job done.”
Playing for the first time in four games because of a sprained left ankle, J.J. Barea helped shoot the Wolves back into the game, hitting a 3-pointer to give them their first lead at 74-73.
Ellington threw down a dunk and Tolliver scored on a steal and layup and the Wolves were off and running.
“We have to find a way to win. We haven’t yet,” Prince said. “There’s going to be times when we shoot the ball well and the other team responds. We have to understand late in games what we have to do to win.”
Notes: Love had his 14th straight double-double to open the season. … Pistons F Jason Maxiell drew jeers in the third quarter when he air-balled a free throw. He almost air-balled the second as well, but barely caught the front iron. …. Wolves F Michael Beasley missed his seventh straight game with a sprained right foot. … Twins great Tony Oliva attended the game and chatted with Rubio before tipoff.
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