MINNEAPOLIS (AP) —The final seconds ticked down on Rick Adelman’s 1,000th career victory, and a season’s worth of hardship and heartache quickly evaporated. As his players surrounded him to celebrate, the 66-year-old basketball lifer quickly disengaged from the crowd, and everyone in the arena knew where he was headed.
His wife Mary Kay, his partner of four decades, the mother of his six children and the center of his universe, waited sheepishly at the corner of the court. Still head over heels for each other all these years later, the couple embraced. He kissed her once, twice, three times. An unforgettable moment in a painfully disappointing season that most agree can’t end soon enough.
Adelman became the eighth coach in NBA history to win 1,000 games when the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Detroit Pistons 107-101 on Saturday night.
There were impressive performances on the court to make it happen, but what everyone will remember more than anything else was that moment for a curmudgeonly coach who missed 11 games earlier this season to be with Mary Kay while she was treated for seizures.
“She had to be part of it,” Rick Adelman said. “I told her I was going to bring her down. She wasn’t very happy about that. She’s been there all these years. When you go through a job like this and situations and you move and you raise six kids and everything else, if it wasn’t for her I never could have done it. That’s why I’m really glad to do it here.”
Nikola Pekovic had 20 points and 13 rebounds, and J.J. Barea scored 20 points for the Timberwolves, who surrounded their 66-year-old coach when the buzzer sounded. A brief video tribute was played, and a 29-47 season suddenly felt like a playoff run.
“He deserves it,” Ricky Rubio said. “What he did this season, it’s amazing. He stayed with the team. He had some issues, but he gets through those issues and still gets with us. That means a lot. I admire that. I want to say thank you for everything he did for us, staying with us in tough moments. Even when, for him, it was even tougher. That’s leadership. He shows us how to do it.”
Brandon Knight scored 25 points and Rodney Stuckey had 20 points and eight rebounds for the Pistons, who have lost 18 of their last 21 games. They turned the ball over a season-high 24 times, leading to 25 points for Minnesota.
“It’s phenomenal, unbelievable,” Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said of Adelman’s achievement. “I’ll say it for the millionth time, he’s one of the most underrated coaches in this game. He’s a phenomenal teacher. For him to do it at every single stop with the consistency he’s done, he’s a tremendous, tremendous, tremendous coach.”
Adelman is now 1,000-703 in his 22-year career. He joins Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkens, Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, Larry Brown and George Karl in the exclusive club.
“It’s incredible,” Adelman said. “I never, ever expected to be with that group. I’ve had some really special situations. We were able to stay at a couple places a long time, which doesn’t happen in this league very often. Good players involved, good coaches involved, good organizations involved.”
Like many of his 999 previous wins, this one didn’t come easy for Adelman. The Timberwolves opened a 10-point lead early in the second half against a team that was 0-14 on the road against Western Conference teams. But after sitting almost the entire second quarter, Derrick Williams couldn’t find the rhythm he had early and the Pistons reeled off 11 straight points to take the lead.
Rubio missed his first 12 shots from the field, but hit a 17-footer with 54 seconds to play that put the Wolves up 102-99. Luke Ridnour then went 1 for 2 from the line, but Pekovic tapped out the offensive board, and Ridnour sunk two more to seal it.
“It has been really a tough season, so we have to celebrate these special moments even a little bit more,” owner Glen Taylor said.
Adelman likes to say he never thought about getting 1,000 wins. He was just focused on getting one. When he took over for the fired Mike Schuler in Portland in 1989, the Blazers dropped his first four games. Win No. 1 came on Feb. 26, 1989, against Miami, and they continued to pile up through stops in Golden State, Sacramento, Houston and Minnesota over the last two decades.
“This is a very volatile league and for Rick to have endured this long is really a testament to his style,” Timberwolves president David Kahn said. “He has a style that wears very well and easily with players. The highs aren’t too high and the lows aren’t too low and he picks his spots very judiciously. You don’t earn this record without being very, very good at what you do and being very, very capable of relating to people. He hits both marks.”
The Wolves started the season with playoff aspirations, but a litany of injuries — and Adelman’s absence in January to tend to Mary Kay — helped bring that crashing down. He has said he will make a decision on returning next season when he determines how his wife is doing. Her condition has stabilized, but doctors are still trying to find the right combinations of medication.
She wouldn’t have been able to make the trip out west that begins on Tuesday, so there was a big sense of urgency to get this one.
“It was extremely special, especially because she was here,” Wolves assistant David Adelman said. “She deserved to be there. Going on the road, it’s just different. It’s cool to do it here.”
NOTES: Rubio was given a warning by the NBA for flopping when he tried to draw a charge against Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant last week. … Pistons PG Jose Calderon returned to the lineup after missing the previous game with a sore right arm. He had six points. … It was the second time this year Stuckey has scored at least 20 in back-to-back games.
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