PHOENIX — With Ricky Rubio back home tweeting daily pictures chronicling his knee rehab, the Timberwolves on Monday began a seven-game, 13-day road trip that could define their season with a determined 127-124 victory at Phoenix.
Well, one down, six to go.
Implored by coach Rick Adelman to deliver everything they lacked in Saturday’s home loss to New Orleans, the Wolves played with persistence and passion, building a six-point halftime lead, giving it all away to trail by five points in the third quarter and then rallying to beat a Suns team that was 5-1 since the All-Star break.
And, of course, they did it all without Rubio.
And, of course, they did it with two-time All-Star Kevin Love, who made five three-pointers and scored 23 of his 30 points after halftime.
They also did with help from Nikola Pekovic, Wayne Ellington, Michael Beasley, Luke Ridnour, Derrick Williams and, well, the list could go on.
Pekovic scored 24 points, six off his career high and all in the first three quarters. Beasley and Ellington each contributed 15 off the bench, Beasley in a mere 16 minutes and Ellington in 35 minutes.
“We’ve got a good chance here,” Ridnour said before the game. “We’re going to miss Ricky. That’s obvious. He was a huge part of what we’re doing now. Now everybody has to step up. Not just one guy, everyone on the team.”
They made the most of that chance by surpassing their previous season high of 122 points and outscoring the Suns in a shootout.
Love started the game and played with a sore back to which he had a pair of ice bags strapped when he left the team’s morning shootaround, saying he looked forward to two rare days of rest on Tuesday and Wednesday as he departed.
If he was hurting, he sure didn’t show it, especially not late in a game.
Until Monday, the Suns had overcome double-digit deficits in five consecutive home games.
Trailing 107-105 with seven minutes still left in the game, former Timberwolf Sebastian Telfair launched an arcing three-pointer in one instant that appeared to pass through the arena’s rafters and then got run over by Williams in the next, turning the foul into a rare four-point play and a two-point Suns lead.
Then he stole the ball on the ensuing inbounds play and scored a layup that suddenly gave the Suns a 109-105 lead with 6:34 left.
Good night, right?
Williams stole the ball at midcourt and went in alone for a slam dunk that was followed by an Ellington three-pointer for a 112-111 lead.
When the Suns regained a one-point lead with two minutes to play, Ridnour answered with a basket, then Love got to the free-throw line for a pair of throws for a 123-120 lead with 32.8 seconds remaining.
The Suns never caught up after that.
Pekovic’s set screens and then rolled strong to the basket all night, converting an array of passes from Ridnour and others into a series of banked layups.
Beasley scored all of his 15 points before halftime, and did it in little more than 11 minutes with a 6-for-7 shooting exhibition. He only played just six minutes after intermission because of a sore toe.
Their trip proceeds with stops in Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Oakland, San Antonio and Oklahoma City.