Timberwolves 108, Hawks 103

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

MINNEAPOLIS -- A healing hip injury couldn't stop Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic from delivering a career-high 18 rebounds in Tuesday's 108-103 victory over Atlanta.
Hawks forward Josh Smith's freaky athleticism and shot-blocking couldn't stop Pekovic from delivering the last two of his 25 points that kept the Hawks from coming all the way from a 17-point, second-quarter deficit after they pulled within a single point in the final 77 seconds.
Smith was called for goaltending on Pekovic's short jump hook with 52.3 seconds left, a call that gave the Wolves a 104-101 lead from which the Hawks never recovered.
Wolves forward Dante Cunningham made sure of that.
Cunningham pushed Atlanta away once again when it answered Pekovic's final points with an Al Horford basket that made it 104-103 with 37 seconds left.
Cunningham's 18-foot shot from the left wing with 15 seconds left made Minnesota's lead three points and then he stole the ball on Atlanta's in-bounds pass after a timeout to ensure victory.
The Wolves moved back above .500 -- at 16-15 -- even though they played without coach Rick Adelman, who missed the game for what the team called a personal matter while top assistant Terry Porter took over.
The victory ended the Wolves' 11-game losing streak to the Hawks dating to 2006.
The Hawks lost their third consecutive game and four of their last five after they had won four in a row before then to build a 19-9 record
The Wolves played for the second time since two-time All Star Kevin Love discovered he has broken again the same right shooting hand he injured in October and for the first time with Ricky Rubio back on the floor since just after Christmas.
Love will return on Wednesday to the same New York City hand specialist he saw when he broke his hand in October and will learn if he needs surgery to heal an injury that will keep him out for a number of weeks.
The Wolves led by as many as 17 points in the second quarter and still were ahead by 14 in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter, but the Hawks got themselves back in the game with an 13-5 run.
The Hawks once got within six points one time and within four another time but Wolves forward Andrei Kirilenko responded each time with a rare 3-pointer that kept Atlanta away until they got within 102-102 with 1:07 left in the game.
That's when Pekovic answered by posting up to the right basket and shoveling a short jump hook on which Hawks forward Josh Smith was called for goaltending.
Rubio hadn't played since a Dec. 26 game against Houston because of back spasms he said were a result of playing on a healing knee without the benefit of a training camp.
On Tuesday, he came off the bench and immediately changed everything even though he didn't attempt a shot and didn't score a point until late in the third quarter. By then, he already had seven assists and was in double-digits in plus-minus rating.
The Wolves were leading 20-15 when he entered the game in the first quarter and they were ahead 49-34 when he left 11 minutes later midway through the second quarter.
The Wolves entered the game as the league's worst three-point shooting team and made five of eight of them in the first half alone, three of those produced when Rubio penetrated and created wide-open looks twice for Williams and once for Russian rookie Alexey Shved.
Shved bounced back from a 1-for-11 shooting night in Saturday's loss to Portland with an all-around efficient game that included 15 points on 6-for-15 shooting as well as seven assists and two rebounds.
Pekovic had a double-double -- 12 points and 10 rebounds -- by halftime after he had left Saturday's game in the third quarter because of a strained hip and never returned that night.
Notes: Adelman missed Monday's practice and Tuesday's game because of what the team called personal reasons that are believed to involve an illness in his family. Porter coached the second game last season, at Milwaukee, while Adelman attended a family funeral. ...The Wolves waived forward Lazar Hayward on Sunday, six days after they signed him as a free agent, and then re-signed him to a 10-day contract Tuesday after he cleared waivers. The moves prevent his contract from becoming guaranteed for the rest of the season at Monday's deadline. ... Atlanta entered the game fourth in the NBA in assists at 23.3 per game. The Hawks failed to reach 20 in a game just four times this season. ... Wolves forward Andrei Kirilenko recorded his 2,000th career assist two minutes into the game. He is one steal shy of 1,000 for his career. ... Pekovic had 10 points and eight rebounds by the end of the first quarter. "He has really developed," Hawks coach Larry Drew said before the game. "The more I see this guy, the more I really, really like him. He knows how to throw his body around, and he doesn't have a lot of elevation in the lane, but he understands angles." ... Former Wolves forward Anthony Tolliver returned to Target Center for the first time since signing with Atlanta as a free agent in September. He played the previous two seasons with the Wolves.

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