MILWAUKEE — Rookie Jon Leuer converted a three-point play with 1:17 left, helping the Milwaukee Bucks hold off the Minnesota Timberwolves for a 98-95 victory in their home opener Tuesday night.
Brandon Jennings scored 24 points and Stephen Jackson added 16 for the Bucks, who were playing without forward Drew Gooden because of a suspension and several other key players because of injuries.
Kevin Love had 31 points and 20 rebounds for the Timberwolves, whose late rally came up just short.
Minnesota was without coach Rick Adelman, who was attending funeral services for his mother-in-law. Assistant Terry Porter, a former head coach in Milwaukee, filled in for Adelman.
Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio had six points and four assists in 27-plus minutes. Rubio had six assists in his NBA debut on Monday, making a handful of spectacular passes in transition.
Milwaukee led by 10 after a pair of free throws by Jennings, but Luke Ridnour hit a long jumper and Michael Beasley hit a 3-pointer to cut the Bucks’ lead to 94-89 with just under three minutes left.
Andrew Bogut fouled out with 2:08 left, sending Love to the line. He hit one of two free throws to cut the lead to four. After a miss by Jennings, Beasley hit a jumper to cut the lead to two with 1:42 left.
Leuer took a pass from Jennings and went up strong to the basket. The ball went in as Leuer was fouled, and the second-round pick out of Wisconsin hit the free throw to complete the three-point play and put the Bucks up 97-92 with 1:17 left.
Free throws helped the Timberwolves cut the lead to 98-95, and they had the bal with 7.2 seconds left. But Love missed a 3-pointer and Leuer grabbed the rebound.
Already leading by 12 at halftime, Milwaukee went on a 15-7 run to start the second half.
Jackson hit a 3-pointer, Mike Dunleavy picked up a loose ball on the other end and fired a long outlet pass to Jennings, who made an acrobatic layup in transition to give the Bucks a 20-point lead with just under seven minutes left in the third quarter.
Milwaukee then hit a cold shooting stretch near the end of the third quarter, allowing Minnesota to cut the lead to 79-68 going into the fourth quarter. It was far less of a third-quarter lull than the Bucks had in Monday’s season opener at Charlotte, when they led at halftime but scored only 14 points in the third quarter and wound up losing 96-95.
Love made a living at the free throw line against a depleted Bucks defense in the first quarter, drawing whistle after whistle and forcing Bucks coach Scott Skiles to keep rotating through frontcourt players getting in foul trouble.
Love shot 15 free throws in the first quarter alone, hitting 13 and drawing the ire of Skiles, who was called for a technical foul with 1:22 left in the quarter after yet another call went Love’s way.
Love’s trips to the line slowed down after that, and the Bucks ended the second quarter with an 18-6 run to take a 60-48 lead into halftime.
The Bucks came into Tuesday’s game short-handed in the frontcourt and expecting a handful from the Timberwolves.
Gooden was suspended for Tuesday night’s game after committing a flagrant foul in the Bucks’ season-opening loss at Charlotte on Monday night. Beyond that, Bucks defensive stopper Luc Richard Mbah a Moute remained sidelined by tendinitis in his right knee, while Carlos Delfino (sprained right wrist) and first-round rookie Tobias Harris (dehyrdation) also sat out Tuesday’s game.