So coach Rick Adelman turned to Alexey Shved, the unflappable Russian rookie who is quickly emerging as the team's closer. Just as he did for Russia in the Olympics, the versatile guard came through to save the Timberwolves.
Shved scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter and Love overcame a nasty stomach bug to collect 15 points and 14 rebounds in Minnesota's 95-85 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night.
"That guy has no filter out there, he just plays," Love said of Shved. "He seems like such a shy guy, but when he gets out there, it's a whole different person."
Shved hit three of his four shots in the final quarter, grabbed two steals and had two key assists to help the Timberwolves to a much-needed victory heading into a three-day break.
Nikola Pekovic had 14 points and tied a career high with 16 rebounds, and JJ Barea added 15 points and five assists for the Wolves, who are getting star guard Rubio back at practice this weekend for the first time since he tore an ACL last March.
"I only had two fouls tonight. I think that's what I'm most impressed with," Sanders quipped. "I was able to stay in the game and help my team."
Brandon Jennings had 18 points and six boards for the Bucks, who lost backup point guard Beno Udrih to an injured right ankle in the fourth quarter. X-rays were negative and the team said he will be re-evaluated on Saturday.
"We had some issues on the defensive end," coach Scott Skiles said. "But overall we had a bunch of good looks. Had some layups, some shots in the paint and they just didn't go down for us. Then we just slowly fell behind."
The Bucks shot 36.6 percent, including 5 for 18 on 3-pointers, in losing for the fifth time in six games.
Love was a game-time decision, but was almost forced to gut it out given the Wolves' long list of injuries. He missed 13 of his first 17 shots and was clearly laboring throughout the game. He was able to dig deep enough for a key putback during an 11-0 run in the fourth quarter that put Minnesota in control for good, and Shved really did the rest.
After the Wolves managed just 11 points in a dreadful third quarter, Shved scored the team's first seven points of the fourth. He also hit Luke Ridnour with a beautiful cross-court feed for a jumper and drilled a deep 3 with the shot clock winding down that put the game out of reach with 1:15 to play.
"He was really terrific," Adelman said.
That's high praise from a coach who has a reputation for being tough on young players, but Shved has earned Adelman's trust. He has been every bit the playmaker he was in leading the Russians to the bronze medal in London, and Adelman is leaning on him more and more to get the Wolves through this onslaught of injuries, a string that continued on Friday night.
"I'm a rookie, but my partners help me," Shved said. "Coach believes in me and that's very important to me."
Andrei Kirilenko missed his second straight game with back spasms while guard Malcolm Lee was out with a sore left groin. Lee was thrust into the starting rotation the past eight games due to injuries to Roy and Budinger.
J.J. Barea started in Lee's place, but the Wolves were able to stack up a little better against the smaller Bucks backcourt of Monta Ellis and Jennings. The super-quick duo has struggled in the efficiency department for much of the season, and that again was the case in Minnesota. Ellis was 8 for 22 while Jennings went 6 for 19.
Ellis had 18 points and John Henson had 10 points and seven boards.
"I think as a unit it doesn't matter who takes the shots, we just have to keep playing through whatever," Jennings said. "You see a lot of heads go down when guys are missing shots, but it's still 48 minutes so you still have to play through the whole game no matter what's going on."
Udrih had to be helped off the court after getting tangled with Love on a drive to the basket with 8 minutes left. Joel Przybilla had to shoot the free throws for him and went 0 for 2, much to the delight of a home crowd that has booed him ever since he left the University of Minnesota early 13 years ago. ... Ridnour scored 16 points for Minnesota. ... The Timberwolves held a moment of silence for Sasha McHale, the 23-year-old daughter of former Wolves coach and executive and current Rockets coach Kevin McHale. A funeral for Sasha was held this week after she died of complications from Lupus.
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