The Minnesota Timberwolves beat the New Orleans Hornets under the rim tonight, 113-102, their dominance in the paint overshadowing the Hornets’ 53 percent shooting and a career performance by guard Austin Rivers.
Nikola Pekovic led Minnesota with a career high 31 points, all but one of his shots from in the key. Pekovic bullied the Hornets defense into allowing him to shoot 14-18 from the field, and the rest of the Timberwolves followed suit, with 70 of their points scored from down-low. Minnesota also scored 24 second-chance points as they out-rebounded the Hornets 40-30.
New Orleans fought with Minnesota throughout the first two quarters, led by Rivers, who started at guard and scored a career-high 27 points (his previous high was 15 points on Dec. 7 against Memphis). Rivers assaulted the T-Wolves in the first two quarters, shooting almost perfect: 6-7 from the field (3-3 from the arc), and 4-4 at the line, and leading the charge to tie it up 50-50 going into halftime.
The Hornets came out of the half with more energy than they have been showing of late in the third quarter, but were still outscored in the period, heading into the fourth on the wrong side of 82-73.
They were never able to catch up. Rivers’ last shot, a 25-foot three-pointer with 48.6 seconds left in the game, pushed the Hornets past the century mark for the first time in six games, but it wasn’t enough to claim victory.
All of the Timberwolves’ starters scored in double digits. Andrei Kirilenko scored 21 points, including a straight-up overpowering of Hornets’ center Robin Lopez late in the 4th. The 6’9” forward drove directly into the Hornets’ 7’0” center. They both went up, but the smaller Kirilenko proved to be too strong, completing the lay-up despite Lopez and getting the foul.
“They attacked us and we played a passive style of basketball. [Nikola] Pekovic was dominant. He just dominated all of our bigs tonight.” said Hornets Head Coach Monty Williams after the game. “Our defense is not even close to what we are used to around here, and that is a reflection of me and my coaching. I need to do a better job and get in there and figure out which guys are going to fight for this organization; that is not something that we are seeing on a consistent basis.”
“It’s a long season. We have a lot of work ahead of us. These road trips are a time to learn and grow,” said the Hornets’ Ryan Anderson after the game. “If we can get some wins on the road and bring it back home, that would be huge for us. It’s a long season and we’ve got to work to get better. That’s what I want is for us to get better. It’s difficult when you don’t have all your guys, but we just have to fight through it.”
New Orleans, now 5-17, head out on a four game road trip before returning to the Hive on Dec. 22 to face the Indiana Pacers.
Rivers wasn’t the only Hornets player to achieve a career-best tonight. Greivis Vasquez passed out a career-high 17 assists, the first New Orleans player since Chris Paul to record over 15 assists in a game.
The Hornets were without Jason Smith tonight. The forward suffered a shoulder sprain when he blocked Kevin Durant’s full steam dunk attempt on Wednesday night. He has averaged 8 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1 block per game so far this season.
The Timberwolves were in turn without guard Ricky Rubio, who is expected to return tomorrow night against the Dallas Mavericks. Rubio averaged 10.6 points, 8.2 assists and 4.2 rebounds before he suffered an ACL/LCL injury at the end of last season.
Ryan Anderson after the game:
Austin Rivers after the game: