DALLAS — Desperate to remain relevant in the Western Conference playoff hunt, the Minnesota Timberwolves hung on for dear life in a 123-122 overtime victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center.
Wolves forward Kevin Love finished with a game-high 35 points and hit the game-winner with 17.1 seconds left, stepping between two defenders and swishing a one-handed wrister.
Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, who had 27 points, gave Dallas the one-point lead on the previous possession, but his fadeaway from the top of the circle in the final seconds failed to go down, allowing Minnesota to escape with the win.
“We will take the win, whether it is in regulation or overtime,” Love said.
Minnesota guard Ricky Rubio finished with a triple-double: 22 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists. He made two free throws at the end of regulation to tie the score at 113 and force overtime.
“I was feeling good in the warm-ups, so I said why not be aggressive in the game?” Rubio said. “We knew that Dallas was having problems when you push the ball and play in the open court. That is the way we like to play, so we did it early.
“It was a big game against a tough team who is fighting for the playoffs, too. We want to try to catch up to them.”
The Timberwolves (34-32) are 5 1/2 games behind the Mavericks and the Memphis Grizzlies, who are tied for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference. The Grizzlies won earlier in the night against the Utah Jazz, so a Timberwolves victory was mandatory with 16 games left in the season.
It certainly wasn’t easy. Minnesota blew a 22-point, second-quarter lead in the span of five minutes, rebuilt the advantage to 13 points with seven minutes to go in the game and still couldn’t close it out.
Dallas, with guard Monta Ellis scoring 12 consecutive points in the final 3:20, including three 3-pointers, led 113-111 before Rubio’s tying foul shots.
The Mavericks took a 120-115 lead in opening minutes of the extra period, but as has been the story all season, they couldn’t hold the lead. Dallas guard Vince Carter fouled Love in three 3-point territory, and Love made all three free throws to forge a 120-120 tie before his final heroics.
“Well, we fouled a 3-point shooter, which is something we’ve done a lot of times this year,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s something that’s being called a lot more in the league, and we’ve tried to discipline ourselves to not do it. In that situation, Love is very good at seducing you into jumping and then he jumps in and makes the ref blow the whistle. He made a smart play. That was a huge play, too. There was a lot them.”
Dallas (41-28) saw its three-game winning streak snapped as it dropped to 1-1 on its current franchise-record, eight-game homestand.
It was a wild game between two teams that can score and aren’t exactly known for their defense. Minnesota bolted out to a 37-24 lead after the first quarter and extended it 50-28 at the 8:07 mark of the second quarter.
Just five minutes later, the Wolves’ cushion was reduced to 55-52. Minnesota led 66-59 at the half and then spent the entire second half protecting a lead that would swell and then shrink and then swell.
“Plays in overtime, you can go through those all you want, but we’re trying to be a team that can win in the playoffs, not just eke in,” Carlisle said. “Playing a first quarter like that on your home court in a game this meaningful is a bad sign for us right now. We’ve got to turn it around, and we’ve got another team coming in here Friday that’s been murder for us because of the matchups.”
Dallas next faces the Denver Nuggets, a team that is 3-0 against the Mavericks this season.
Minnesota got 19 points from guard Kevin Martin and 15 points off the bench from guard J.J. Barea. For Dallas, Ellis finished with 22 points after a cold first three quarters. Forward Shawn Marion had 16 points, Carter scored 14 and guard Devin Harris had 13.
NOTES: Timberwolves C Nikola Pekovic missed his second consecutive game with a sore right ankle, the same injury that forced him to miss 13 games earlier this season. He is also expected to miss Thursday’s game at Houston. … Minnesota won three of four games against Dallas this season. The Timberwolves last won three games against the Mavericks in a single season in 1996-97. … Mavericks G Vince Carter surpassed Vlade Divac for 50th place on the all-time games played, participating in the 1,135th of his career. … Carter made three 3-point baskets to pass Rashard Lewis (1,776) for seventh place on the all-time list. … Mavs F Shawn Marion made two steals to move ahead of Ron Harper (1,715) for 18th place on the league’s all-time list. Marion is also closing in on 17th place, occupied by Magic Johnson (1,724).
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