If the Minnesota Timberwolves (8-19) are going to scale the NBA standings, they are going to have to beat teams like the 8-20 Phoenix Suns.
The Wolves picked up the win Monday night behind the efforts of their three best players. Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 28 points and 15 rebounds, his eighth consecutive double-double, Andrew Wiggins scored 26 points, scoring 18 in the second half and Zach LaVine finished with 23 points, his fourth consecutive 20-plus point performance.
“Well, that was one of the things we were talking about was, ‘just finish it,'” said head coach Tom Thibodeau. “Finishing our defense, finishing our spacing and finishing the game. We’re still having lulls, but we have to be a 48-minute team, and the 4th quarter is different, we have to treat it differently. We have to understand the intensity of a 4th quarter.”
Towns, Wiggins and LaVine certainly did. Wiggins and LaVine both hit contested shots down the stretch, and Towns rebounded his own miss and scored in traffic all in the final minutes of the game to put the Suns away for good.
“Yeah, great, great, great multiple-effort play. And that’s will and determination, and oftentimes that’s the difference right there between winning and losing,” said Thibodeau. “A small difference between winning and losing, but we have to put as many of those plays as possible in our favor.”
The Wolves did not fold down the stretch. Although they were outscored in the third quarter (again) 33-29, they avoided the catastrophic mistakes that plagued them earlier in the season, which often were the result of hero ball and moving away from the defensive scheme.
“The ball movement is good,” said Thibodeau. “The trust has to be there, and oftentimes if a play is called for somebody, it’s not their shot — it’s their responsibility to make the play. And I think right now those three guys are getting a lot of attention, and we have to learn how to stay connected and play off of that. And it should mean easy offense for everybody.”
While Ricky Rubio only had eight points, he finished with 10 assists and had many highlight reel passes that do not show up in the box score. When asked if Rubio was adjusting to his system, or whether Thibodeau made adjustments for him, the coach said it’s hard to tell.
“That’s a chicken and the egg, I guess,” he said. “He played a great game; he really did. His vision is special. Decision-making. He got us running the floor, so Ricky’s been a good player in this league for a long time, so there’s always gonna be ups and downs.”
For more from Thibodeau’s presser, click the link below:
Gorgui Dieng, who finished with 10 points and nine rebounds, appeared happy that his team didn’t break from the defensive schemes and moved the ball down the stretch.
Towns said that he doesn’t know the exact definition of a multiple-effort play, but that he’ll nod and agree with Thibodeau no matter what he says.
Rubio says that he’s getting more comfortable in Thibodeau’s system. “I’m learning the system, I’m learning a new way to play,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I’ve got to play my game. I feel more comfortable now, and I try to lead this team with the experience that I have to close out games.”
As for Wiggins, he expressed surprise that the Wolves had not won at home in over a month and said that he hears Thibodeau talk about multiple-effort plays all the time. “Heard it multiple times,” he said. “Always wants us to give that first effort, second effort, third effort, fourth effort — keep going. That was a big play that [Towns had].”