The Atlanta Hawks have Al Horford, Josh Smith, and Zaza Pachulia. The Minnesota Timberwolves have Nikola Pekovic, Dante Cunningham, and Greg Stiemsma as they get by without big man Kevin Love. Advantage: Hawks.
Tonight the Timberwolves were without head coach Rick Adelman, who missed the game for personal reasons. Ricky Rubio continues to come off the bench as a concession to his balky knee and finicky back. Advantage: Hawks.
Even with the Hawks mired in a miniature slump after a hot start to their season, all signs pointed to a tall task for the Timberwolves in tonight's match-up. They are already searching for ways to replace Love's offensive production; they were forced to do that without their savvy head coach at the helm. Yet they found a way. With assistant coach Terry Porter on the sidelines and Pekovic looking dominant among the higher profile big men on the Hawks, the Timberwolves snagged a significant 108-103 victory.
Pekovic keyed the offensive attack with 25 points; he chipped in 18 rebounds for a Love-esque line in the box score. Andrei Kirilenko stepped up in the scoring department with 21 points, while also adding 6 rebounds and 5 assists (including the 2,000th assist of his career). Derrick Williams showed continued growth with an efficient 17 points off the bench, including a 3-for-5 night from beyond the arc.
Perhaps the most important take away from tonight's game is this: Ricky Rubio looked like Ricky Rubio. On both ends of the floor he slashed with a certainty similar to what he displayed upon his arrival on the NBA scene last season. He logged 8 assists and an impressive +10 mark on the night. Rubio is still easing his way into the starting lineup, but for now the 'Wolves will happily take that production off the bench.
Rubio and fellow young star Alexey Shved (7 assists to go with 17 points) led the Timberwolves to a night of balanced offense and excellent ball movement, as evidenced by their 29 team assists and season-low 10 turnovers.
This game looked like a mismatch in a number of ways. Once again the Timberwolves showed some serious grit and the ability to win as a team. They will need to perform at that high level again tomorrow night as they head to Oklahoma City to complete a difficult back-to-back against the first place Thunder.