LOS ANGELES – During his first few seasons in the league, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love said Friday, he didn’t feel comfortable shooting potential winning shots.
He was coming off the bench most of the time. His range didn’t stretch nearly as far as it does now. Players like Al Jefferson, Randy Foye and Jonny Flynn often had the green light to shoot over him.
But, oh, does he feel comfortable now. With 1.5 seconds to play Friday against the Los Angeles Clippers, the fourth-year forward was the guy Minnesota coach Rick Adelman wanted taking the final shot in what was a tense game with the score tied.
And, sealed off from long-armed Clippers center DeAndre Jordan by screens from Wayne Ellington and Ricky Rubio, an unguarded Love caught the inbounds pass from Luke Ridnour well beyond the 3-point line and calmly knocked down a 27-footer to win the game, 101-98.
“I got a good pass and a good screen and I had an open look,” Love said. “It felt great when it left my hands.
“I knew it was in.”
The shot completed a mammoth comeback for Minnesota, which trailed by 12 just nine minutes earlier. Led by Rubio, the rookie point guard, the Wolves broke off a 13-2 run to come within one point and then tied it up on a Rubio 3-pointer with 20 seconds to go.
When the Clippers’ Chauncey Billups missed a layup on the ensuing possession, Adelman called timeout and diagrammed a way to get Love the ball.
He had drawn up a similar play for Brad Miller in a similar situation during his days in Sacramento and thought back to it when he processed the circumstances.
“It was the same kind of shot,” Adelman said afterward. “Usually, big guys won’t get out there.
“And Kevin has great range, as you saw.”
Love didn’t have great range for most of the night. Before the shot, he was just 4-for-15 from the field and hadn’t scored at all in the fourth quarter. But he was confident he could make the shot if the play transpired as designed.
“If you’re not playing particularly well, you still step up down the stretch,” Love said after Friday’s game. “You don’t let it bother you. You have poise and you make the big shot when it counts.”
Love finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds in 36 minutes. The point total was his second-lowest of the season; the rebounds were below his season average.
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said he thought his team “actually did a pretty good job on him.”
“He’s a great player,” said Love’s counterpart on the Clippers, superstar Blake Griffin. “He’s gonna make shots and gonna get to the free-throw line. I just tried to keep my hand in his face and make it tough on him.”
Love and Griffin rarely went head-to-head Friday. Jordan, the NBA’s leading shot-blocker, was tasked with defending Love for most of the night while Griffin drew Darko Milicic, who blew up for a 22-point game.
Love hit a couple of similar shots to Friday’s in his one season at UCLA. But, until Friday, he hadn’t hit a shot of that caliber -- in that situation -- in his three-plus years in the league.
That didn’t affect his confidence, though. He said after the game he was so confident it was going in that he put his hands up before the ball even went through the basket.
“I’ve had a lot of looks at game winners by now in my career,” Love said. “Probably a handful or a couple handful.
“I don’t think I’ve ever hit a big one like that, especially at the buzzer.”