Greg Stiemsma, bench pick up the slack

Published 12:03 pm Saturday, November 3, 2012

(AP) — A couple of revelations surfaced about the Timberwolves in their regular-season opener Friday night, Nov. 2, against the Sacramento Kings at Target Center:

First, the Wolves’ bench appears to be as good as advertised. And second, the team might have a backup center after all when Nikola Pekovic needs a rest.

On a night when the Wolves made only 13 shots from the floor in the second half and were just 2 of 17 from three-point range, the two revelations trumped the negatives in a 92-80 win in front of a sellout crowd of 19,356

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Led by J.J. Barea’s game-high 21 points and five assists off the bench, the Wolves outscored Sacramento’s reserves 46-28. But it was backup center Greg Stiemsma who might have delivered the most eye-opening performance.

Virtually forgotten in the Wolves’ efforts to compensate for the injured Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, Stiemsma did his own public relations work with an impressive nine points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots in 16 minutes.

“That’s my job … to come in and block shots, get rebounds and let guys know I’m there,” Stiemsma said. “We don’t lose a whole lot when we go to our bench.”

That could be a profound statement by Stiemsma, one of eight new players on the Wolves’ roster. As Love and Rubio sat behind the team bench dressed in suits, the play of the reserves had to be comforting for the team’s two marquee players.

Imagine the outcry if Sacramento’s 31-9 spurt over the second and third quarters had led to a Kings win. Most of that alarming run came against the Wolves’ starting lineup of Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko, Luke Ridnour, Derrick Williams and Pekovic.

Coach Rick Adelman went as long as he could with the unit before Sacramento took a 61-56 lead late in the third quarter on back-to-back three pointers by Tyreke Evans and Isaiah Thomas.

Adelman then turned to Barea, Dante Cunningham and Chase Budinger and the game turned around moments later. Kirilenko fed a lob pass to Cunningham for a slam dunk, giving the Wolves a 62-61 lead with 3:38 left in the third, and they never trailed again.

“I thought J.J. was terrific,” Adelman said. “He came in and attacked the basket. Greg was really good, too. He was very active. It was a solid win. It was a win that showed us what we can do.”

In spite of the shooting troubles, the Wolves’ defense, sparked by an aggressive bench, limited the Kings to 15 points in the fourth quarter. The Wolves picked up where they left off in their seven-game exhibition season when they led the NBA in scoring defense (80.9).

Stiemsma had a lot to do with that, particularly in the fourth quarter, with blocked shots on Kings guard Marcus Thornton and center DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins attempted a baseline move when Stiemsma rejected him.

“I get fired up when I get blocks,” Stiemsma said. “It makes guys think about you the next time they want to come in there.”

On the Kings’ next possession, Stiemsma came up with a loose ball that resulted in a fast-break layup for Budinger.