The Toronto Raptors were in position to surpass their win total of last season in Minneapolis against a Timberwolves team fighting for its playoff life. With the welcome return to form of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, and second unit help from an unexpected source, the Raps were able to fend off the high-scoring Wolves to rack up win #35.
In the absence of Patrick Patterson (out for at least a week with an injured elbow), the Raps needed to get some serious help at the backup power forward spot. Ladies & Gentlemen, I give you Steve Novak, formerly a resident of the end of the bench. The master of the quick release drained 5 of 6 long balls for his best outing as a Rap. Steve can’t provide much apart from 3-point shooting, but when those are splashing, he’s invaluable. Minny actually scored more field goals than Toronto (41-37), but our team hit twice as many 3s (14-7).
Our starters needed to battle theirs to a standstill to have a chance, and they came through. No one is going to ever confuse Amir Johnson with prolific scorer and rebounder Kevin Love, but Amir held his own. Despite being outscored by man-mountain Nikola Pekovic, Jonas Valanciunas had an effective game, scoring 4 points and pulling down 9 often-contested rebounds. He received support from Chuck (Stumpy) Hayes, who stood his ground against the bigger Wolves and didn’t allow them in the paint. Terrence Ross started the game on fire, but sat much of Q2 for reasons known only to Dwane Casey (and he isn’t sharing). Our young swingman scored 15 and defended at a high level, though he did foul out. Kyle was all over the stat sheet, racking up a triple-double of 20 points, 11 assists and 12 rebounds. His opposite number, ferocious defender Ricky Rubio, was in Kyle’s grill all night, but he kept his cool. In fact it was Rubio who was T-ed up for complaining about his sixth foul.
The second quarter was an extreme example of that tiresome cliche about how NBA games are decided by runs. First the Raps went a little crazy, draining everything they fired up, to turn a 3-point deficit into a 13-point lead. Then as quickly as you turn off a faucet, a series of Raps’ shots hit everything but net, the T’Wolves pushed the ball inside to their giant centre, and they were off on a 17-2 run of their own. Toronto regained its offensive footing sufficiently to slip ahead by a point at intermission.
In Q3 the Raps continued to receive balanced scoring, and pushed their lead to 7. The Wolves kept nipping at the Raps’ heels all through the fourth quarter, but timely 3-balls from Lowry and DD (who scored a team-high 25) meant the visitors never lost the lead.
Minnesota received a routine double-double of 26 & 11 from Love, who leads the league in d-d’s. Corey Brewer was a major ball hawk, out-stealing the entire Raps team with 6. Amir will get a scolding during film review today, as too many of his careless passes were tipped or stolen. He did contribute 15 points.
Toronto flew to Brooklyn for a critical matchup tonight against the surging Nets.