Timberwolves 116, Pacers 109
In a flash, the 3-point chucking Indiana Pacers whittled Minnesota's 15-point lead down to one and Kevin Love had seen this before.
``We thought it was going to happen again,'' Love said. ``They pushed us and they went on their run.''
This time, however, after so many losses, the Timberwolves finally figured out how to close out a game.
Al Jefferson had 25 points and 12 rebounds, and the Timberwolves spoiled Danny Granger's surprise return with a 116-109 victory over the Pacers on Friday night.
Love had 18 points and 13 rebounds, and Ryan Gomes added 15 points and eight rebounds for the Timberwolves (8-29), who snapped a five-game losing streak.
``We were able to sustain it,'' Love said. ``We had big rebounding and got big stops at the end and that won us the game.''
The Timberwolves pounded the Pacers on the glass, outrebounding them 56-36 and holding a 45-17 advantage in free throw attempts. They made 33 free throws to Indiana's 13, helping to offset the Pacers' 3-point shooting.
Granger scored 19 points in his return from a 16-game absence because of a heel injury and the Pacers made 16 of their 32 3-pointers. But the All-Star missed an open look at a 3 that would have tied it with about 15 seconds to play and the Pacers lost their eighth straight road game.
``The discrepancy in foul shots and rebounds are the things that obviously killed us,'' Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said.
Troy Murphy also returned after missing four games with a sprained ankle. He scored 21 points and Mike Dunleavy added 18.
The Timberwolves, who have struggled all season coming out of halftime, took control in the third quarter with a 17-0 run. Jonny Flynn was the facilitator, hitting a jumper and a 3, and organizing the offense the way coach Kurt Rambis has been asking him to do.
Flynn's two free throws gave the Wolves an 84-69 lead with 4:30 to go in the third quarter, but the Pacers' 3-point shooting kept them in the game.
Dunleavy made one from the top early in the fourth period to cut the lead to 92-88 and the Pacers got as close as 98-97 with 7 minutes to go. But the Wolves didn't falter this time, overpowering the Pacers on the boards to hold them off.
``I was proud of what the guys did and I was happy how they came out of the locker room (at halftime),'' Rambis said. ``That's a huge step for them. I hope it continues.''
Granger was a surprise starter, one day after O'Brien ruled him out for both weekend games against the Timberwolves and Thunder.
Granger had not played since Dec. 5, when plantar fasciitis in his right heel flared up again. The Pacers went 5-11 in his absence, with O'Brien saying that they were ``dramatically different'' without their All-Star and the reigning winner of the NBA Most Improved Player award.
``It's not all there yet,'' said Granger, who was 7 for 19 from the floor and 3 for 10 on 3s. ``It will take at least a handful of games for me to get my rhythm back and get in the flow of things. It wasn't bad. I didn't shoot it well and my legs weren't all there, but I guess that's expected.''
While Granger was understandably rusty after the long layoff, Murphy was sharp right from the start. The big forward scored the first eight points of the game for the Pacers and hit his first five 3-pointers of the night.
But Murphy managed just two points and was 0 for 4 from the field in the second half.
O'Brien said before the game that he planned to limit Granger's minutes because of his prolonged absence, likening it to a preseason strategy by playing him in short stints to test his conditioning.
But Granger ended up playing 31 minutes, pretty close to his average of 36 minutes a game before the injury.
``This is the longest (layoff) I've had since I've been playing,'' Granger said. ``So it's difficult because I want to play so bad, sometimes I get ahead of myself and they have to pull me back. But for the most part I think I'm ready. It's just a matter of getting in the flow of things.''
NOTES: Flynn had 18 points and no turnovers. ... The Pacers haven't won on the road since Dec. 12 at Washington. ... Timberwolves F/C Ryan Hollins missed his second straight game with an upper respiratory infection. Rambis said he likely would not make the trip to Chicago. ... Jefferson had his 71st game with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds since joining the Wolves in 2007. Only Dwight Howard (91) and Tim Duncan (73) have more in that span.