This was one they needed.
After a bad stretch defensively spanning four games, the Timberwolves looked more like a playoff-bound team Sunday against the Phoenix Suns.
The Wolves starters made up 103 of the 119 points scored Sunday; a necessary number when looking at the plus-minus of the bench corps.
In fairness, the Timberwolves’ bench was missing vital pieces, with Nemanja Bjelica and Jeff Teague missing their second straight game with injuries. The 7-14 Suns were also without a key piece, in their case, it was their main piece. Devin Booker, one of the only reliable scorers left on the roster, was out with an toe injury.
In Booker-esque fashion, Sunday was a game the Wolves took control of when they started hitting their 3-pointers, especially in the second half. Early in the game, the Suns had made more 3s than the Wolves had taken. By the end of the contest, the Wolves made enough deep balls to make it a competitive battle in that regard.
“I thought the activity at the beginning of the game was very good,” Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau. “Obviously, the concern is the consistency, to be able to do it throughout the game. I want to take a look at the film. I thought there were a lot of good things.”
It was a consistently good performance from Karl-Anthony Towns, who had his third 30-point performance of the season. This one felt a bit different, though, as his eye-test production appeared to make a bigger impact on the game than previous big-number performances. His physicality down low with Tyson Chandler was impressive, and the team’s insistence on getting him the ball when matched up with the inferior Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss was just as nice.
“I’m just doing whatever I’ve got to do for my teammates,” Towns said in the locker room after the game. “I try to go out there and execute as best as possible. Whether it is shoot 30-plus shots or five shots, I’ve got to go out there and execute at a high level.”
It was the “Timberbulls” that started the game out strong for Towns and the rest of the team. Butler and Taj Gibson had a combined 20 points in the first half, making way for the Wolves to bust out to an early lead. In the second quarter, the bench allowed the Suns to re-enter the game. Bad point guard defense from Aaron Brooks often caused Gorgui Dieng to over-help, which would leave his man – 3-point marksman Dragan Bender – open to his own devices. Bender had two first-half 3s, and the Suns only trailed by five at halftime.
In the second half, Andrew Wiggins got out of his immediate 2-7 shooting slump, as well as his longer-term 3-point shooting slump. He came into the game shooting under 29 percent from deep, but made his first four 3s of the night, finishing 4-5 from the 3-point land.
“It was going to fall eventually,” Wiggins said. “It was just before I didn’t make it and now I’m making it. Hopefully, I can stay like
Wiggins wasn’t the only one hitting, either.
Teague being sidelined for his second straight game gave Tyus Jones another chance to showcase what he can do with more minutes. He made his first ever NBA start Sunday, and wowed the Target Center with a calm, calculated two-way performance. Not only did he drop seven assists and seven steals in the game, he made all this happen while committing zero turnovers.
As for the start itself, Jones didn’t seem to feel much of a difference.
“Not too much. It depends on how much you look into it,” Jones said when asked if it felt different being a starter. “You’re in the game quicker. Little different playing with the starters off the gate, rather than a few a few minutes into it.”
With Jones getting his numbers as a member of the starters, the Timberwolves didn’t get much help from the bench at all. Shabazz Muhammad and Jamal Crawford, typical shot-takers – and occasional shot-makers – went a combined 0-2 from the field for zero points.
The one shining piece off the pine came from Dieng, who had his best stint of the year in the second half. In fairness, though, much of that stint came with the starters as well.
It was a game that featured a slew of 3-pointers and a continued sense of frustration on the defensive end, but it was still a victory for a playoff-seeking team sorely needing one.
Towns, the team’s leading scorer, was good with the win, no matter how it came. To him, getting back on track was all that mattered.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “All wins count the same.”
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