A team that commits 18 turnovers, like the Timberwolves did Sunday, in a game aren’t going to win a lot of games.
Or, so you’d think.
This year, the Timberwolves are 11-2 in games where they commit more than 15 turnovers, and 5-9 otherwise. It makes no sense, but it’s where the Wolves are at right now.
As the turnover count would suggest, Sunday’s 97-92 win against the Dallas Mavericks wasn’t an attractive one.
Past the 18 turnovers, it featured bad shooting nights from Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague. It featured a technical foul from Karl-Anthony Towns. It featured Gorgui Dieng’s best night of the season, heroics from Jimmy Butler and a fan making bird noises to try to mess with the free-throw shooter.
In short, it was a mixed bag of successes and failures.
But head coach Tom Thibodeau looked past that. Even though there are clearly things that did not go his team’s way, all he wanted was to get out with a win.
“Just the win. The win,” Thibodeau said when asked what he liked about the game. “One of the things we’ve been working on is the defense in transition, and I thought that was a lot better.”
The game started off ugly and finished ugly. But there was some individual beauty.
The only constant from the first half was the brilliance from Towns, who finished with 21 first-half points on 8-of-11 shooting. He finished with 28 on 10-of-15 shooting, but also committed seven of the team’s 18 turnovers.
Eventually, the rest of the team picked up his slack in the second half.
But before that happened, some third-quarter chippiness between Towns and Mavericks forward Dwight Powell halted the game. A play that started as a technical on Powell for slapping the basket, turned into a double-technical after video review.
Even as that type of fun ensued, a sense of concern was setting in for the Timberwolves. The Mavericks were 7-19 and last in the Western Conference, but were also 5-5 in their last 10 and looked good in that stretch.
“Dallas has played well,” Thibodeau said. “If you’ve watched their games you know how tough they’ve been playing.”
Coming into this game, fatigue and bad fourth quarters were a consistent source of conversation surrounding the Timberwolves. After getting three days off, they still looked fazed, and continued their fourth-quarter struggles.
“I don’t really like the rest days. You get relaxed,” Teague said following the game. “You get to do certain things that you don’t normally get to do and you come out a little flat. I think that’s what we did today.”
But when the fourth quart hit, the fatigue, rest or whatever else didn’t seem matter to Butler.
In what seems like a predictable storyline at this point, he took over.
He shot 4 of 5 for 10 points in the final frame and notched a couple key late-game rebounds. His scoring is what catapulted the Wolves to a victory, with Jamal Crawford sealing it with free throws to put the game fully out of reach.
Butler’s typical wing duo threat, Wiggins, was bad for the majority of the night, but did come up big with a pair of late-game buckets on a mismatch with Mavericks point guard Yogi Ferrell.
“We just stayed patient, waited for a good shot,” Wiggins said. “I just fronted in the post, and we played off that.”
It was also one of the better games in terms of transition defense for the Wolves.
Currently, they sit in last in the league in transition points allowed. Sunday, they managed to grab nine offensive rebounds, while still only giving up two fast break points.
“I think we’re starting to clean that up,” Thibodeau said. “If we do that, I think that’ll be big for our team. That forces the opponent to go up against a set defenses. It takes the easy bucket out.”
It also featured some of the best work of the season for both Dieng and Crawford. For the first time in a number of games, the Wolves nearly had two guys off the bench hit 20 minutes.
Crawford finished the night at 19 minutes and 39 seconds, but made plays for the team in all four quarters. Dieng’s defense was paramount to the win, especially in the fourth quarter.
Sunday’s win improves the Wolves to 16-11 on the season, and marks the first of a five-game homestand. They’ll continue it Tuesday against the Philadelphia 76ers. Due to the move to an ESPN broadcast, it’ll be on an 8:30 p.m. start time.
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