With only three wins in their first 24 games, Walker never really had a chance to let it loose. He finally unveiled his trademark juke in the second quarter against Indiana on Friday night, and it spurred the young Wolves to an improbable comeback victory.
Playing on a gimpy ankle, Walker made six 3-pointers and scored 23 points to help the lowly Timberwolves erase a 21-point deficit in their 131-118 win over the Pacers on Friday.
“Just trying to get guys motivated,” Walker said when he shimmied after hitting a 3-pointer to give the Wolves a 57-52 lead. “I don’t want our season to go down the tubes. There’s still a lot of games left.”
Al Jefferson scored 15 of his 29 points in the third quarter and added 13 rebounds and Sebastian Telfair had 27 points and 11 assists in all 48 minutes for the Timberwolves, who snapped a six-game losing streak and won just their fourth game of the season.
“That really got us going,” Telfair said of Walker’s shimmy. “‘Toine means so much to this team.”
Mike Dunleavy had 30 points and six rebounds for the Pacers, who led by as many as 21 points in the first half before Walker ignited the Wolves.
“Antoine played great tonight,” Pacers coach Jim O’Brien said. “And when he does, he makes the rest of that team a lot better.”
After an ugly loss to Golden State on Wednesday, Minnesota coach Randy Wittman questioned his team’s heart and perseverance, saying he was “begging” for leaders to emerge on a young team with the worst record in the league.
The headline to an A1 story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Friday asked: “The Worst Team Ever?” and Wittman lamented his team’s inability to “take a punch.”
Then the Wolves took a haymaker from the Pacers in the first 14 minutes.
Indiana shot 75 percent in the first quarter to take a 40-20 lead, and Jefferson had to leave 2 minutes into the second to get stitches in his lip after an inadvertant elbow from Jermaine O’Neal.
“Indiana couldn’t have hit us any harder than they hit us at the start of the game,” Wittman said. “And we responded.”
With Telfair’s playground-style drives to the basket and Walker’s sharp shooting, Minnesota got back in it.
The 12-year veteran’s fourth 3-pointer of the half was a 26-footer from the elbow that capped a staggering 30-7 run. Walker shimmied just after the ball swished through the net, bringing the crowd to its feet and giving the Wolves a 57-52 lead.
“That’s ‘Toine’s thing, man,” Gerald Green said. “That really got us going. I think the way ‘Toine played, he just gave us a lot of energy.”
After allowing a season-high 40 points in the first quarter, the Wolves scored a season-high 40 in the second, and they didn’t stop there.
The third quarter has been one of Minnesota’s biggest road blocks this season. On Wednesday night, they led Golden State by eight points at halftime, but were outscored 37-17 in the third period and lost by 13.
Jefferson wouldn’t allow a similar collapse this time.
He scored Minnesota’s first eight points of the period and Green added 12 points to increase the lead.
“That’s growth,” Wittman said proudly.
The Pacers, who were looking for their first four-game winning streak since February of 2006, simply couldn’t sustain their torrid start.
“It’s unusual to be up 20 in one quarter and then have them run away with it,” Dunleavy said. “It was a weird game.”
Kareem Rush had 14 points, but O’Neal managed just eight points and five rebounds in a momentum-stopping loss.
“Other than the first quarter, we still got some decent looks, but no fast breaks,” O’Brien said. “They played good transition D and they weren’t missing much so it made it tougher to push the ball.”
Pacers C David Harrison did not make the trip (back spasms). … Wolves second-round pick Chris Richard got the first start of his career and had six rebounds in 18 minutes. … Wolves guards Rashad McCants and Marko Jaric missed the game with the flu. … Jamaal Tinsley returned for the Pacers after missing Wednesday night’s game with a bruised thigh. He had eight points and 10 assists.