Bobcats 89, Timberwolves 87
Tie game, clock winding down, ball in his hands. It's been a while since Kemba Walker has been in that situation.
When he finally found himself there with the Charlotte Bobcats, the super-slick guard dipped into his UConn bag of tricks. Just like Villanova, Texas, Pitt and most other college teams he vanquished, the Minnesota Timberwolves had no chance.
Walker's jumper with 0.7 seconds left lifted the Bobcats to an 89-87 victory over the Timberwolves on Wednesday night, giving Charlotte its first three-game winning streak in nearly 20 months.
Walker finished with 22 points, five assists and four rebounds, and his 19-footer over the out-stretched arm of Alexey Shved before the young Bobcats mobbed him in the backcourt to celebrate a victory that was so difficult to come by last season.
''Tonight, you can say that,'' Walker said when asked if it felt like he was back in Storrs, Conn. ''It felt like one of those days. I had a lot of game winners in my college career. It definitely felt like one of those days.''
Andrei Kirilenko had 26 points and 12 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who used a 16-2 run to tie the game with 12.3 seconds left.
The Wolves were without six of their top seven players: Kevin Love (broken right hand), Ricky Rubio (left knee), Chase Budinger (left knee), Nikola Pekovic (left ankle), JJ Barea (left foot) and Brandon Roy (right knee). They were relegated to high-priced assistant coaches on Wednesday night, and their encouragement wasn't enough to help a plucky group of role players scratch together another win.
''Down the stretch it was like, `What are we going to do?''' coach Rick Adelman said. ''Who are we going to go to?''
The Bobcats looked like they would cruise to the win when they led 85-71 with about four minutes to go.
But Minnesota's dormant defense came alive in the last four minutes and Kirilenko's layup trimmed it to 85-81 with just more than two minutes to play. Bobcats guard Reggie Williams then got a technical foul with 38.9 seconds left for calling timeout when they had none remaining, and Luke Ridnour knocked down the free throw to make it 87-86.
Derrick Williams made one of two free throws to tie it before Walker went with a lightning-quick stutter step to create a sliver of daylight between him and Shved. The ball swished through, just as it did so many times for him as a Husky.
Ridnour had 16 points and 10 assists and Shved scored 13 for the Timberwolves, who shot just 38 percent and missed 17 free throws.
''He hit a tough shot,'' Ridnour said. ''That one stings.''
It was a good lesson for the young Bobcats, who certainly can't be blamed for not knowing how to close games out.
The Bobcats slogged through a 7-59 season last year, the worst winning percentage in NBA history. They lost 23 in a row to close last season and never put two wins together. But new coach Mike Dunlap has infused the baby-faced roster with some confidence and the freedom to get out on the break and run and gun.
''It's because the guys have bought the message and they've worked hard on the wood,'' Dunlap said. ''We've had some long practices and we've heard some squawking on that. Hopefully the volume gets turned down on that a little bit because they can see the benefit.''
They shot 54 percent in the first half, using their young legs to overcome playing the second night of a back-to-back and take control of the game. Charlotte blocked 12 shots, making life extremely difficult for Williams (3 for 12), Greg Stiemsma (0 for 6) and Malcolm Lee (3 for 12) near the basket.
''It's a lot better learning in a win, I can tell you that much,'' Walker said. ''But it's very important. There's going to be more games when we have that same situation. We've got to learn to take care of the basketball, make the right plays when we're up big.''
NOTES: Bobcats G Ben Gordon missed the game for personal reasons. ... Love is scheduled to have an X-ray on his hand on Tuesday to see if he can start increasing his workload. He is expected to be back by the first week in December at the latest. ... Tyrus Thomas had 10 points and three blocks for Charlotte.