The excuses were there, waiting.
Kevin Love was sick with the flu, a game-time decision. He played, but he wasn't himself. Andrei Kirilenko was out, again, with a bad back, and Malcolm Lee joined him with a sore groin.
So when yet another second-half lead appeared ready to drain away on Friday night at Target Center, it all started to look like a repeat of recent history. It wasn't.
The Wolves, who saw a 13-point lead early in the third quarter dwindle to one early in the fourth, held on. With backup guard Alexey Shved leading the way, the Wolves used an 11-0 run to take control for good in a 95-85 victory over Milwaukee.
It was a change of pace in a few ways. A Wolves backcourt that had been victimized of late played good defense against Milwaukee's guard tandem of Brandon Lee and Monta Ellis. They combined for 36 points but needed 41 shots to do it.
The Wolves had a season-high 56 rebounds, 16 on offense.
And then there was Shved. He is a rookie in name only, a 23-year-old with a wealth of international experience and an Olympic bronze medal earned with Russia. The Wolves' lead had dwindled to one with 9:51 left in the game when Shved sparked an 11-0 run.
He intercepted a pass and went the length of the court to score. Moments later he hit one of two fourth-quarter three-pointers. Love tipped in Dante Cunningham's miss, then Shved fed Cunningham for a jumper. When Luke Ridnour scored from the baseline with 4:50 left, the Wolves were up by 12 and in control to stay.
"He was terrific," coach Rick Adelman said of Shved, who hit four of six three-pointers, had five assists and two steals. "[He] really found people and made an unbelievable pass to Luke in the corner. He just handled the ball. He has been in big games, and you can see that."
Shved and some tough defense helped the Wolves end a three-game losing streak at home while winning for the second time in three games overall. Ridnour also had 16 points. J.J. Barea had 15 points and five assists. Love and Nikola Pekovic combined for 29 points and 30 rebounds.
That was more than enough to make up for the triple-double turned in by Bucks forward Larry Sanders, who had 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks as Milwaukee lost for the fifth time in six games.
The Wolves' defense was there from the start. With the Wolves defending the pick-and-roll well, the Bucks shot 34-for-93 (36.6 percent). It was that defense that allowed the Wolves to go through a six-minutes-plus stretch without a field goal in an 11-point third quarter and never lose their lead.
And when the points were absolutely needed, Shved stepped in.
"He was great," said Love, who battled the flu all day. "Different players on different nights are going to step up. Tonight it was Alexey."
Said Barea: "He's one of those guys, he has the same face, down 20, up 20, game tied. He'll always play the same way."
Shved has scored 33 points on 10-for-19 shooting (7-for-12 on three-pointers) the past two games. Overall this season, he has scored 84 of his 156 points (53.8 percent) in the fourth quarter.
"I'm a rookie, but my [teammates] help me," Shved said. "I have played a lot of time. The coaches believe in me. That's very important."
RUBIO'S READY ... AND WAITING
He's cleared to practice, but when he will return to game action remains a big question. C6