Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves is the best power forward in basketball. In three games this month, he is averaging 34.7 points and 12.3 boards per contest, and the Timberwolves are 3-1 in the four games he has played in since the All-Star break.
After facing the Clippers back in Los Angeles almost a week ago, Love knew what his team was in for:
It was a physical game, kinda what we expected. We beat them twice on their home court and they wanted to come out and get a win against us. So we knew what type of game it was going to be and as the game went on it got more and more physical.
The game got off to a running start, with the Wolves jumping out to a big lead early. The Clippers like to run and gun, but head coach Rick Adelman game-planned for this, and the Wolves ended up winning the fast-break margin 22-9.
Blake Griffin had 26 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, but he was much more ineffective than that stat line shows. Love owned Griffin, not allowing him to operate around the block much, instead forcing him to the perimeter and into 12-15 foot jumpers. While Griffin can hit them, he is much better when his head is around the rim.
Chris Paul was held to 18 points on just 5-of-14 from the field. He was also held to five assists.
The Timberwolves-Clippers rivalry is new, but fierce. All three games between the two teams have been close and physical. Both teams rely on their All-Star point guard/power forward combos to do most of their damage.
The difference in the two teams so far has been bench play. The Wolves have one of the best benches in the NBA, and they have been the difference thus far.
This game was close down the stretch, with the Clippers getting within three points with under five seconds to go. Coach Rick Adelman emphatically told his players during the game's final timeout not to foul anyone. Chris Paul got open on the wing, and launched a three. Minnesota's rookie Derrick Williams came out to contest and his momentum was a bit too much, forcing the official to blow the whistle.
The look Adelman gave to his rookie was priceless.
CP3 stepped to the line and calmly sank the first two free throws, pulling the Clippers within one point at 95-94. Paul missed the third, Ricky Rubio got the rebound and was immediately fouled with under two seconds to go. Rubio missed both free throws, and the Clippers launched a prayer that wasn't answered.
Blake Griffin and Kenyon Martin were both assessed technical fouls in the game's final minutes, and that ultimately cost them the game.
The Timberwolves have won seven of their last 10 games, and are starting to form an identity.
If the bench players can continue playing well, and limit costly turnovers (Martell Webster gave the ball back to LA with five seconds to go allowing CP3 the opportunity to tie the game), they will be the team no top seed wants to face in the first round of the playoffs.
They are very young, but very scary for a top-tier team in a series.