Dante Cunningham's final basket and late steal gave the Wolves a little breathing room against Atlanta.
Updated: January 9, 2013 - 11:25 AM
The Atlanta Hawks had gone to Al Horford only moments before and he delivered, banking a 10-foot shot over Wolves forward Dante Cunningham.
So, with 15.9 seconds left, the Wolves leading by three and the Hawks about to in-bound the ball in the half-court, Cunningham made a calculated gamble: The Hawks were going to try it again.
"They were going to go back to Horford and see what happened," he said.
This happened: Cunningham, anticipating Josh Smith's in-bounds throw to Horford, intercepted the pass. That led to a final Hawks foul, which resulted in two icing-on-the-cake free throws by Luke Ridnour and a 108-103 Wolves victory at Target Center on Tuesday night.
Look at the boxscore and there are all kinds of big numbers. Center Nikola Pekovic picked up the slack left by Kevin Love's hand injury, scoring 25 points with a career-high 18 rebounds. Andrei Kirilenko (21 points) hit two enormous three-pointers down the stretch as a 14-point Wolves' lead entering the final quarter began to shrivel.
Five Wolves players scored in double figures as the NBA's worst three-point-shooting team outshot one of the NBA's best from behind the arc, hitting eight of 15 three-pointers. Ricky Rubio returned after missing four games because of back spasms, getting eight assists and four steals in 18-plus minutes.
But here are a couple of little ones: Cunningham played nearly 27 minutes, scored only six points and had five rebounds. But he was the Wolves' main man in the closing seconds at both ends of the floor.
With 36.6 seconds left, Horford (19 points) scored to cut the Wolves' lead to 104-103. At the other end, the Wolves did what they did all night -- moved the ball wonderfully. Finally Alexey Shved (15 points, seven assists) found Cunningham all alone, and he canned a 21-foot jumper.
That and his steal made Cunningham the last in a rather long line of heroes that allowed the Wolves -- playing without Love and coach Rick Adelman, who was away for personal reasons -- to get an important victory before a difficult four-game road trip.
"[Cunningham] was huge on offense, then he came back and made a great steal on defense," said Terry Porter, who took on head coaching duties with Adelman away and might again be on the same hot seat in Oklahoma City on Wednesday. "He stood out."
He wasn't alone.
The Hawks might have started slow, but finished strong. Down 14 points with 12 minutes to go, Lou Williams scored nine of his 21 points and Horford had six in the fourth quarter as Atlanta whittled down the Wolves' lead.
But it never went away completely. When Horford scored with 6:15 left to cut the lead to four, Kirilenko hit two threes in an 8-1 run that pushed the lead back to 11 at 100-89 with 4:15 left. Down the stretch, Ridnour and then Pekovic hit key baskets with the Hawks finding their long-range shooting eye.
And then it was Cunningham's time. He was 3-for-8 before he took his final shot, but there was never any doubt.
"It was the only shot that felt good coming off my hands tonight," he said.
And then there was the steal. It was reminiscent of the steal he made to help seal a victory over Phoenix on Dec. 29.
And it is the steal, rather than the basket, that Cunningham will remember.
"By far the steal is the best part," he said. "Just to seal the game, and to know that was it. Defense is where I put my statement."
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