Please proceed at your own risk - there are spoilers ahead.
The Timberwolves are an über-talented team that hasn't lived up to this season's expectations; they won't make the playoffs. But that hasn't stopped them from winning consecutive games against teams that are jockeying for post-season positioning. On Wednesday, the Memphis Grizzlies fell before Minnesota's jealous wrath.
Today, it was the Heat, in double-overtime, no less.
Miami was - once again - without the services of Dwyane Wade and Greg Oden. Starting in their place were Toney Douglas and Udonis Haslem.
At least Ray Allen was back, after missing over a week of action to recover from a flu strain that forced him to the hospital for dehydration.
The first quarter was pretty free-wheeling, and Minnesota seemed to be dictating the pace, even if they were down early. The Wolves are great offensively (fourth-best in the league) and point guard Ricky Rubio is a big part of it. A terrible shooter, his height, length and slick passing are, if nothing else, fun to watch. Likewise, Kevin Love is a heck of a player - stuck in the frozen tundra of Minnesota, he rarely gets national television coverage. But, despite defense that is generously labeled "atrocious," he's a great rebounder and shooter, a nice touch around the basket and from behind the line.
Rookie Gorgui Deng is all the rage in the Wolves' Den and it's not hard to see why. Raw but athletic, his rebounding and blocked shots made up for the absence of center Nikola Pekovic. Deng had 9 of Minnesota's first 17 points and finished the game with 15.
A 9-2 run to start the second quarter put Minnesota up by two and zombie-Ray Allen was awful (at first) off the bench, picking up three quick fouls. But James Jones filled in nicely and helped Miami build a 13-2 run to put the Heat up by 10. The Wolves once again answered and the half ended tied with both teams tied at 52.
The game slipped away from Miami in the third quarter, and Rubio's passing was definitely the difference maker. The Heat were listless and dull, staring open-mouthed as the Spaniard drove the lane and found open teammates around the basket. Minnesota built a 9-point lead before LeBron James led the charge with six straight points. Just as momentum seemed to be shifting, a crucial play stopped Miami's flow.
Allen and James double-teamed Chase Budinger, stole the ball and as Ray streaked downcourt ahead of everyone else, James was fouled by Budinger. James seemed to have some words for referee Ken Mauer and was assessed a technical foul. What should have been called a clear-path foul instead turned into a Kevin Love free throw and a Minnesota lead that increased to six.
Budinger was a killer all night; missing 30+ games to injury may have been one of the biggest factors for Minnesota's disappointing season. But he made up for it tonight, finishing with 24 points (including 5-of-7 three-pointers). Along with Heat-nemesis J.J. Barea (formerly of the ::ptui:: Dallas Mavericks), their scoring helped keep Minnesota ahead in the fourth. That is until Ray awoke from his coma to hit consecutive three-pointers and tie the game.
The fourth ended with Mario Chalmers missing a free throw and a Love shot from long-range rolling in and out of the basket and the game tied at 97.
The Heat and T-Wolves traded baskets for what I think were 14 lead changes in only five minutes. A Haslem layup, followed by a Love three-pointer. LeBron laid it in and then Rubio answered. Back and forth it went, until a Love hook shot from about 12 feet put Minnesota up 1. Then, with 14 seconds left, Chalmers was fouled by Corey Brewer and, once again, missed 1-of-2 free throws. Another shot at the buzzer rimmed out for Love as time expired and the game now tied at 109.
Double overtime, baby.
By this point, I couldn't really feel my face any longer and breathing was labored. It got harder to keep track of the lead changes but I do remember Love hitting a long shot to put Minnesota up 2, and then free throws by James (missing 1-of-2) and Barea (hitting both, damn him) put Miami down 3. And then Chris Bosh connected from beyond the arc on a play drawn up during a time out. It was perfectly executed and Bosh, whose shot has struggled somewhat, calmly sank the shot with nothing but net.
Now tied at 121, a triple-overtime (baby) seemed inevitable. But the refs called a highly-dubious foul on Norris Cole, claiming he hit an off-balance Brewer as he attempted to hit some kind of falling-away, twisted sort-of-backwards layup. Regardless, contact was minimal but a foul was called. Brewer hit 1-of-2 and the Heat had just over a second to inbound the ball and take the lead.
A fade-away jump shot from Allen missed the mark as time expired and the game was over.
The Heat (with the Pacers' loss) keeps possession of the Eastern Conference's top seed. They move on to play the New York Knicks in a nationally-televised game on ABC that starts at 1 p.m.The good news is that - despite the Knicks somehow competing for a playoff spot - the "South Beach" factor is sure to impact their level of play. Expect a really hungover Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith to shoot early, often and badly. Because Knicks.
If you're going to the game, try to be there on time. If not, check in with Hot Hot Hoops during the broadcast and regularly for all of your Heat updates.