NEW YORK – The last time the Timberwolves started the season 3-0, Chauncey Billups and Terrell Brandon played in their backcourt and Ricky Rubio was 11 years old.
That also was the only time in franchise history, until Sunday’s 109-100 withstanding of the New York Knicks at sold-out, celebrity-soaked Madison Square Garden on Sunday night. And it made them now 2-for-25 years.
Rick Adelman’s teams have started the season with three consecutive victories seven times in his career, so the Wolves coach barely shrugged when such a so-called achievement was mentioned to him.
“I’d rather see it 4-0,” Adelman said dryly.
Kevin Love’s teams, however, have started his previous five seasons 5-10, only one time winning more games than they have lost in the opening three games.
“I mean, it’s cool,” he said. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the way we wanted to start out.”
Both men, though, caution that it’s early. But the Wolves have started a season of such expectations by eking out an opening-night victory over Orlando, thumping Oklahoma City two nights later and, on Sunday, holding off Carmelo Anthony and a Knicks team that chopped a 23-point, second-quarter deficit down to just a bucket with 4 minutes, 49 seconds left.
They did so just as Adelman envisions his humming offense will operate, with its two Kevins — the aforementioned Love and 10-year NBA veteran Martin — scoring together down the stretch. With Love scoring 34 and Martin going 5-for-5 on three pointers and scoring 30, they combined for 64 points, the 16th time two Wolves have scored 30 or more in a game.
The Wolves led 93-73 in the third quarter’s final minute but just 100-98 after Iman Shumpert’s three-pointer ended a 25-7 run right about when a festive weekend-night crowd that included Christian Slater, Kristen Wiig, John McEnroe, Miguel Cabrera and Magic Johnson seemed ready to will the home team to victory.
Love and Martin silenced them by scoring the game’s next six points that made it 106-98 barely a minute later. Martin scored the first four, including a clutch three-pointer — created, Adelman pointed out afterward, by Corey Brewer’s hard cut that drew the defense away just enough — that quickly gave the Wolves a four-point lead.
Then Love scored on a convoluted sequence that ended when he banked in a desperate shot, a play Adelman called “just the way” he drew it up.
“Yeah,” Love said. “He told me he wanted to rip through, knock down Carmelo, pump fake, [Pablo] Prigoni would come, I’d have to switch up the shot and bank it. That’s the way we drew it, and that’s the way it happened.”
And with defense that stopped the Knicks four consecutive times after Shumpert got them so close and that again held down another superstar just enough. Anthony delivered 22 points and 17 rebounds, but he shot only 2-for-10 when Brewer guarded him and hit only eight of 21 shots in all.
The last time two Wolves scored 30 each at Madison Square Garden, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell did it in December 2003.
“One thing I’ve never had to worry about is make shots, I knew it was coming,” said Martin, who went 10-for-30 in the first two games but was 9-for-12 on Sunday. “This is such a fun team to play on. Nobody’s trying to lead the league in scoring. Everybody has the big picture in mind, getting to the playoffs.”