MINNEAPOLIS – Kevin Love scored 12 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, including a pair of free throws with 0.1 seconds, to lead the Minnesota Timberwolves to a 92-91 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night.
With the Target Center crowd standing and roaring, Love drove to the basket with his head down and tempted Andre Iguodala to reach in and try to swipe the ball away. The whistle sounded, Love walked to the line and calmly swished both shots. He also had 15 rebounds after starting the game 3 for 16 from the floor.
Ricky Rubio had a career-high 22 points to go with six rebounds and five assists. His backup, J.J. Barea, added 14 points to help offset another strong game by Jrue Holiday of the Sixers. Holiday had 20 points on 10-for-20 shooting, plus five rebounds and three steals.
Neither team led by more than one over the final 6½ minutes. Love, who had only six points at halftime, drained a 3-pointer down the stretch and hit a 21-footer with less than a minute to go to push the Wolves to a 90-89 lead.
Thaddeus Young answered on the other end for the Sixers with a jumper from the wing, and Love missed a 3-pointer.
Lou Williams, who got it going in the second half after Philadelphia's leading scorer attempted only three shots before the break, tried a crossover step-back jumper from the top of the key with Martell Webster in his face that rimmed out. Love grabbed the rebound with less than 4 seconds left, setting up the final possession.
Nikola Pekovic had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Timberwolves (16-16), who notched their third three-game winning streak of the season to move back to the .500 mark. They play at Denver on Monday night, starting a stretch of 16 out of 23 games on the road. Coach Rick Adelman shortened his rotation to eight again, and the Pekovic-Love starting lineup improved to 6-3 on the season.
Sixers coach Doug Collins spoke about how "exceptionally proud" he's been of his team during this difficult month on the schedule, encouraging the players to keep the positive energy they created earlier in the season despite four losses in their previous six games.
Still in command of the Atlantic Division, the Sixers (20-12) played seven of their past nine games against some of the toughest teams in the NBA, including a loss on Friday night to defending champion Dallas. This is their first three-game losing streak of the season.
Collins has been pushing Holiday to assert himself more offensively rather than being so focused on getting all his teammates involved, and the third-year point guard tried to do that, taking 10 shots in the first half. It looked as if Rubio, who is fast becoming one of the NBA's premiere pass-first point guards, was listening in on the other team's pep talk judging by the first half.
He had a scorer's mentality over the first 24 minutes for sure, helping the Wolves dig out of an 18-7 deficit early with a tying 3-pointer late in the first quarter. He also reached the free throw line six times, making all six.
The floppy-haired rookie went back to distribution mode after halftime, assisting on each of Minnesota's first four baskets and setting up Pekovic inside for a potential fifth, but the big guy got fouled.
With Love and Pekovic playing together now in the post, the Wolves are even more of a handful for anyone to keep away from rebounds, putbacks and soft hook shots around the basket. They spent much of the third quarter attacking inside and parading to the foul line, but they were unable to build any more than a brief one or two-point lead against the Sixers and their rugged, active defense.
Philadelphia leads the league with an average of less than 88 points allowed per game.
NOTES: The last time Rubio scored 20-plus points in a game was when he was a 17-year-old playing for the DKV Joventut club in Spain, 4½ years ago. ... Williams had averaged nearly 19 points over his last seven games. He finished with 13. ... Pekovic grabbed five or more offensive rebounds for the fifth straight game, matching Minnesota's franchise record set by Love in December 2009. ... The three Timberwolves rookies were hazed with new backpacks at their stalls in the locker room before the game. Rubio's was purple with a picture of teen pop star Justin Bieber; Malcolm Lee's was pink featuring the "Hello Kitty" cartoon; and Derrick Williams had a pink depiction of Disney princesses. Adelman said he hadn't heard about the prank but immediately suggested veteran Brad Miller as the culprit.