MINNEAPOLIS – Kevin Love had just outmuscled two New York Knicks for the last of his 31 rebounds in the game and there was a stoppage. He turned to the crowd and beckoned fans to their feet, and they eagerly obliged, roaring their approval.
At that moment, it appeared that Love accomplished a seemingly impossible feat — putting the Minnesota Timberwolves back in the national spotlight, and back in the good graces of a fan base that has been disillusioned by years of failure.
Love's 31-point, 31-rebound performance grabbed headlines across the country, made the lowly Wolves a hot topic on national sports shows and invigorated their downtrodden fans.
"It definitely feels good," Love said Saturday, one day after becoming the first NBA player since Moses Malone in 1982 to have a 30-30 game. "There was a point where Target Center, the whole crowd was better than I've seen it the last couple years. That was a good moment. A lot of things happened for us and it was a collective effort and they were cheering us on."
The numbers were astounding any way you looked at them. Love outrebounded the entire Knicks team 22-17 in the second half to help erase a 21-point third-quarter deficit in Minnesota's 112-103 win. His 31 rebounds were the most in a game since Charles Barkley had 33 in 1996 and are three more than Chris Bosh, one-third of the Heat's celebrated All-Star trio, has had all month.
Even a day later, Love still hadn't fully grasped what he accomplished.
"No, not really," he said. "I guess for me I felt like I could always do it. I got there and I can definitely do it again. It's something I'll look back on and be like, 'Wow, I got a 30 and 30.' It's pretty unbelievable."
After the game, Love already had more than 70 text messages on his phone congratulating him, and word quickly spread through the NBA about his big night. LeBron James, Manu Ginobili and Rudy Gay were among the many stars to congratulate Love on Twitter.
"I got a question for y'all," Gay tweeted, "other than K. Love who else do you think is capable of that performance?"
Just looking at him, Love might be one of the last players you would think could do it. He stands 6-foot-9 on his best day and would have a hard time jumping over a roll of quarters. But unlike rebounding monsters like Malone, Dwight Howard or Kevin Garnett, Love doesn't rely on pure athleticism to separate him from the pack.
It's all about angles, instincts and positioning for Love, and no one is doing it better than he is right now. In two games this week, against the Lakers and Knicks, Love combined to score 54 points and grab 55 rebounds. He now leads the NBA with 14.6 rebounds a game.
"I don't know if I've ever seen those kinds of numbers before," Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis said after the game Friday night. "I've been in the league for 30 years and I don't think I've seen those kind of numbers."
The overpowering Malone's 38-point, 32-rebound effort against Seattle was the last time it happened, more than six years before Love was even born.
"The 31 alone, in either category, is impressive, and when you get two of them in one game, that's just an amazing night," Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers said before Saturday night's game against Memphis. "You don't see many nights like that — ever."
Since taking over as coach before last season, Rambis has been demanding of Love, and has occasionally been criticized for not giving him enough playing time. The two clashed last season when Rambis started using Love in a sixth-man role, but the coach has not relented in pushing his 22-year-old star to earn his time by putting forth consistent effort.
"Kevin, when he plays that hard and he's that focused and that determined, you can have games of super-high quality," Rambis said.
The Timberwolves (3-7) have won two in a row and gave the defending champion Lakers all they could handle in a five-point loss in Los Angeles on Tuesday, giving them a sense of momentum heading into a matinee game at Atlanta on Sunday.
Friday night was the youngest team in the league's best game yet, with rookie Wes Johnson contributing 15 points and three blocks and Michael Beasley pouring in 35 points to support Love in what Minnesota hopes is a sign this young core is starting to assert itself.
"It's pretty, right?" Beasley said with a smile. "It felt good, especially when you don't have to worry about rebounds. Kevin Love got 24 rebounds in 10 minutes. It's crazy, man."