Now that they are on their first three-game winning streak in almost two years, Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves are enjoying the ride.
Love hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer after Ricky Rubio's tying 3 with 20 seconds to play, lifting the Timberwolves to a pulsating 101-98 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night.
The Timberwolves, coming off consecutive home wins over Sacramento and Detroit, have won three straight for the first time since a four-game stretch from Jan. 29 to Feb. 6, 2010. After that, they lost 29 of their final 31 games.
"In the last two games we've missed a ton of shots, but our defense has picked up and we've executed down the stretch and we've given ourselves a chance to win," Love said. "So if we can continue to do that, eventually our offense will pick up and we'll be able to win a lot of ballgames."
Darko Milicic had 22 points and seven rebounds for Minnesota before fouling out with 1:01 left, and Love had 17 points and 14 rebounds.
Rubio, Minnesota's rookie point guard, missed his first 10 field goal attempts before draining a clutch 3 from in front of the Clippers' bench. He finished with nine points, six assists, six rebounds and three steals.
"He is unflappable. He missed every shot, and then he makes a big 3 to tie it," coach Rick Adelman said. "The thing I like about him is that he's a competitor. He doesn't back down from anybody and he keeps an even keel. He doesn't get too high or too low. He just plays. He's been very good all year. He's played in the fourth quarter of every game, even when he wasn't starting.
"He's got a real gift. He's a great passer in the open court and he's just a smart player. You've got to give him rope and let him go because he's got that ability. And because of him, we've really kind of changed and simplified things we've done just to put the ball in his hands. He's been better than I thought he was going to be."
Chauncey Billups missed a driving layup against Rubio coming out of a timeout, and Love got the rebound before Minnesota called a timeout with 1.5 seconds on the clock.
"Coach set up a great play for us. How I was that open, I don't really know, but I got a good look at it and I hit it," Love said. "I tried to hold up my hands as soon as I shot it, because it felt great when it left my hands. I knew it was in. For us to do that, especially out here in L.A., it's a big deal. The Clippers are a good team, and we just want to catch up and try to get back to .500."
Love's shot snapped the Clippers' seven-game home winning streak.
"I got triple-screened and he made the shot," Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said. "He's a great player and he's going to make shots. I have to try to keep a hand in his face and make it tough on him. We didn't finish the game like we were supposed to. We let them hang around, and we got beat."
Mo Williams scored 21 of his 25 points off the bench in the first half for the Clippers before getting ejected midway through the fourth quarter. Blake Griffin had 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Billups finished with 20 points after getting into early foul trouble. Point guard Chris Paul missed his fourth straight game because of a left hamstring strain.
Williams received his second technical foul with 6:21 remaining, after he was called for fouling Rubio on a drive to the basket as Rubio lost his footing.
"I felt like it was a questionable call," Williams said. "I didn't say anything. I just reacted to it - not in the direction of the referee, but towards our bench. I was surprised the technical was called, and it was at a crucial point in the game."
The Timberwolves closed to 91-90 with 4:37 remaining after four consecutive free throws by Rubio. Billups responded with a 3-pointer and two free throws for a 98-94 Clippers lead.
Clippers forward Caron Butler, who shot a career-worst 1 for 12 on Wednesday night in a 91-89 win over Dallas after hyperextending his right knee the previous night at Utah, did not play against the Timberwolves.
"Obviously, they were a different team tonight because they didn't have Chris or Caron," Love said. "It was a big break for us when Mo got ejected because he was really on a roll."
Michael Beasley missed his eighth straight game for the Timberwolves due to a sprained right foot. Reserve guard JJ Barea was back in Minnesota nursing a sprained ankle that also will keep him out of Saturday night's game at Utah. Center Brad Miller and guard Martell Webster, both of whom resumed practice this week, also didn't dress.
The Timberwolves, whose only other lead came after Milicic's game-opening basket, opened the third quarter with a 12-1 run that sliced an 11-point deficit to 62-60.
Notes: Billups overtook Peja Stojakovic for fourth place in career 3-pointers (1,762). Ahead of him are Ray Allen, Reggie Miller and Jason Kidd. ... An MRI taken Thursday on Butler's knee revealed no structural damage. It was the same knee he had surgery on last January, which sidelined him for the rest of the season, but coach Vinny Del Negro said this injury was not related. ... Adelman's teams are 61-20 against the Clippers, his best mark against any club.