With 2:59 remaining Saturday night the Wolves held a 13-point lead against the Houston Rockets and went on to lose in devastating fashion. Monday night when the Wolves had a 105-101 with 4:33 remaining the flashbacks to Saturday ensued and the possibility of the second shoe dropping was all too real. At the 4:33 mark, Ricky Rubio threw a chest pass to a fan in the first row after Gorgui Dieng ran the opposite direction. It was happening...
It sounds silly to assume the 8-19 Phoenix Suns would go on a similar run to that of the Rockets, but after the Rubio turnover the Suns went down the floor and Devin Booker hit a difficult fade away jumper— the Wolves lead was down to two. With how the Wolves season has played out it felt safe to assume more bad was coming. Then this guy showed up...
Defining what a superstar is can be a tall task. But on the simplest of levels, a superstar is someone who gives their team exactly what they need exactly when their team needs it. Karl-Anthony Towns sensed the fear of the game falling apart and rather than becoming consumed by the fear Towns got angry. Almost immediately following Rubio’s turnover, Towns gave the Wolves exactly what they needed— a huge bucket.
Towns’s defender on that play was the 6’5” P.J. Tucker and it was not a switch. Yes, that was a professional coaching decision. To be fair to Suns coach Earl Watson, they had tried everything else. Towns (in order) had already destroyed Marquese Chriss, Alex Len, and Tyson Chandler. And because of that the Suns actually decided to guard Towns with P.J. Tucker down the entire stretch of the game.
28 points (11 of 18), 15 rebounds, and 3 assists has come to be a normal night for Towns but those numbers almost don’t feel indicative of his value in this game. Possibly due to the initial matchup against the rookie Chriss, the Wolves committed to feeding Towns. The Wolves entered to Towns in the post three of the first six possessions. Towns is bigger and stronger than Chriss so, of course, Towns ate— 15 points and 8 rebounds in the first half.
After largely dominating Chriss in the interior, Towns showcased his versatility when the Suns put 7’1” Alex Len on Towns. Towns brought the slower Len to the perimeter and kept cookin’.
Needing a different approach, the Suns switched Tyson Chandler off of Dieng on to Towns in the second half. They also began to bring Jared Dudley over for a double team. Towns did not force the issue. After not scoring a point in the second quarter, Andrew Wiggins responded to the additional attention on Towns with 18 second half points of his own.
It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Suns decided to guard Towns with P.J. Tucker. And on cue, Towns found a new weakness to expose— size. The And-1 on Tucker was the play that propelled the Wolves to the win.
After Towns converted the free throw, the Wolves took a 108-103 lead and never looked back. The next possession Ricky Rubio found Zach LaVine for his eleventh assist of the game and Rubio stretched the lead up to ten points with his twelfth and final assist, again to Towns slipping through a post up.
It’s probably too much to say had Towns not saved the Wolves from a home loss to the eight-win Suns the devastation would have marked a tectonic shift in the Wolves narrative going forward. But it really felt that way. Instead, the glow of this win lessens the pain of the loss to the Rockets and the rest of the week against Atlanta and Sacramento present the possibility of a nice little stretch before opening the present of a 7 pm Christmas Day game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It was a win to feel good about.
- Rubio may have played his best game of the season. He pushed the pace on offense, recording twelve assists highlighted by finding LaVine and Wiggins on fastbreaks.
- Shabazz Muhammad was the first bench player to enter the game, leading the bench with 20 minutes played. Muhammad continues to be a weak sixth man on an overall weak bench. Muhammad looked especially dismal on the fast break against Phoenix, messing up at least three breaks in which the Wolves had the defense outnumbered.
- Gorgui Dieng had 10 points and 9 rebounds, a typical but good game from Dieng. When Dieng can confidently knock down shots from the midrange it does not expand the offense like a true stretch-four would, but the offense certainly benefits. It benefited from Dieng’s play last night.
- Kris Dunn had an impressive evening in only 11 minutes. Dunn continues to show flashes of elite athleticism on the defensive end. For Dunn, there also continues to be a propensity to gamble. Those gambles often lead to defensive breakdowns. His flashes on defense do not yet outshine his lapses in judgement, but Dunn appears to be getting there.
- This buzzer beater was my favorite Wiggins highlight of the season that was not a fading away jump shot or a dunk. I would love to see Wiggins splitting the defenders on pick and roll more often.
The positives outweighed the negatives last night. Let’s be excited about a win. And, as always, excited about KAT.