MINNEAPOLIS — The last 90 seconds felt like an eternity. The Wolves struggled to put away the feisty Celtics, who simply wouldn't go away throughout the night. Every time Boston went down by double-digits, they responded with big runs of their own and kept the game alive until the final seconds.
"It seemed like it was five minutes," Shabazz Muhammad said about the prolonged, stressful finish. "We just really had to stay composed and Ricky did a good job at the end of really gathering us up and really just focusing on taking care of the ball down the stretch."
Marcus Smart launched a potential game-winning 30-foot jumper towards the rim with one second remaining. His attempt fell short off the back iron as a collective sigh of relief echoed throughout Target Center. After starting 0-2 with losses to Memphis and New York after the All-Star break, the Wolves hung on to beat the Celtics 124-122.
The final ten minutes certainly weren't pretty to watch, but winning is priority number one for any young team looking to take the next step; sometimes the details can take a backseat.
Karl-Anthony Towns was sensational again on his way to 28 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks. He finished 13-22 from the floor, including 1-2 from deep, and continues distancing himself from the rest of an immensely talented rookie class. KAT is the best of the bunch, which is saying a lot considering the depth of his class. This years batch is filled with talent, top to bottom, and will probably go down as the best since 2003.
Part of what makes Towns so impressive are the colossal expectations he sets for himself. Nobody has higher expectations for KAT than he does. Throughout his rookie campaign he has consistently been highly critical of himself, even when it doesn't necessarily make sense.
After beating Boston, for example, Towns was upset with the way the Wolves let them hang around and couldn't close the game before the last play went down.
"I'm upset, it's hard to smile after a game like this," Towns said, sitting dejectedly in his locker stall. "We should have never gotten to that point, so we've just got to close out better. We can't make it so stressful on ourselves like that, putting ourselves in such an awkward position, such a hard position."
There's no denying his point.
Towns continued: "We got sloppy, we just got sloppy as a team. It wasn't the coaching staff at all, they were putting us in the right position, we just got sloppy as a team. We had some inexcusable errors both ways, so we're a young team, but we've got to fix those things so we can be the team we want to be.
It's awesome, it's great we got the W, but for me, personally, I'm just not happy with the way we executed at the end. That's us, especially me, so we've got to do a better job... it's all great to win, but it's better to do it in a better fashion."
Take a moment to consider what the Wolves have in Towns. The sheer talent and incredible maturity at age 20. His constant pursuit of perfection and the never satisfied attitude. This is the league's brightest young big man.
I'll spare the details, but the Wolves let a gritty team that currently sits third in the Eastern Conference standings hang around way too long with a collection of turnovers, missed free throws, and sloppy execution. While Towns is right to want more, to not be in that type of situation in the first place, wins have been hard to come by and this should offer a positive lesson of the importance of closing out games with proper execution, instead of giving the opposition endless chances to steal the win.
What were the Celtics saying?
On the loss:
"I feel like we can learn a lot from this game. We didn't play hard enough consistently throughout the whole game, and that's the real reason we lost. We gave ourselves a chance, but the last play or anything like that, that wasn't the reason we lost the game. We just weren't playing hard enough on a consistent basis."
On the Timberwolves:
"I don't feel like they only have a size advantage, they're an athletic, young team as well. We let their young guys get going early and it was hard to slow them down, to be honest."
On the team's energy:
"I feel like we played hard in spurts, but not the entire game like we needed to."
On the game plan:
"They got what they wanted. They were more aggressive team, they manhandled us in the paint. We didn't do what was on the whiteboard, and that was limit their touches in the paint, make them a jump shooting team. They got comfortable and that's what we get."
On the Timberwolves:
"It is, but we've got bigs too. We've got to do what we can to try and make it tough on them. I think they started the game off too, like everything was too easy. When that happens, especially for myself, I feel like I'm going to have a great game. I know that's how they felt on that end."
On the energy:
"We're all professionals and when they get the 50-50 balls, I think they outworked us tonight. I don't think it's a matter of size, I think they just outworked us tonight."
On guarding Towns:
"We went small late. I was guarding him and Jonas was guarding him. We just came with a double-team, make him make a play out of it, which he struggled doing late, making that pass out of it. They went away from him late. I just think we tried to throw a wrinkle there because he got it going."
On the mismatch inside against Towns and Dieng:
"We had no answer for them. We had no answer for them in any type of isolation I thought, that's why we went zone for a couple of possessions and actually played it pretty well. And then we just trapped everything late and played five guards and just tried to fly around. The problem with that was obviously rebounding. But you know, Towns had his way with us the whole night. Obviously their other guys did too, but certainly he stood out."
On the Celtics defensive effort (Minnesota scored a season-high 124 points):
"I thought that it certainly wasn't as good as last night. There are probably some technical things that we can work on to do that, and it's just got to be a decision to be great for 48 minutes. We weren't defensively, and then offensively I thought we really lacked ball movement at times, but then when we executed we got great shots. Hopefully we can do that a little bit more."
On the game:
"We made some mistakes that young teams make and we've got to learn that we can't do that down the stretch and we've really got to start learning how to pull out games."
On closing the game:
"I definitely think the win was the biggest part. If we lost, we would have been crushed. ...We missed some shots and that happens sometimes, but it was a good lesson learned and we got the W, so we'll take it."
On the game:
"Give Boston credit, their guys played until the end and played fast. They made some shots at the end, we made some mistakes defensively and then we missed some free throws. It was a good win for us, their team plays fast, they play hard, they come at you with numbers. We had some funky matchups tonight, but we felt like we'd have some of the advantages if we could just defend enough. We felt like we'd have some advantages on the offensive end and it kind of worked out for us tonight."
- Gorgui Dieng bounced back from a non-showing on Saturday — though he mentioned it was the most tired he has ever been during a game in his career after logging 44 minutes the night before in Memphis — by finishing with 17 points and 12 rebounds. It was his 12th double-double of the season and eighth in his last 10 games. In his 11th consecutive start, Dieng is now averaging 15.4 points and 10.2 rebounds during the stretch. Dieng said the game plan by the coaching staff was to stay big when Boston went small, to not adjust what they were going to do. The strategy worked. He also banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the third quarter. Sam Mitchell looked extremely relieved as he jumped out of his seat to give G his seal of approval.
- Zach LaVine started at shooting guard and tallied 16 points on 4-7 shooting. All four of his buckets were from 3-point land (4-5) and he performed quite well.
- Andrew Wiggins chipped-in 17 points, but afterwards talked about his missed free throws (7-12) and doing a better job of closing out games. It was his last game as a 20-year-old.
Only LeBron/Durant/Melo/Kobe/Dwight have scored more pts than Wiggins before turning 21. 2,531 before his final game as 20-year-old tonight.— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) February 23, 2016
- Ricky Rubio outplayed All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas (8-20) on his way to 15 points, eight assists and eight rebounds, including eight points in the fourth quarter alone. He missed two clutch free throws at the end, but went 9-11 at the line. A sloppy fourth quarter performance (-10 in the final quarter) by him, with some uncharacteristically bad passing turnovers, overshadowed an otherwise masterful performance that saw him around +20 for a majority of the night.
- Tyus Jones scored a season-high nine points off the bench, finishing 4-7 from the floor in 16. He was tasked with going head-to-head against Marcus Smart (yikes) early in the contest, and settled down after a rocky start in the second quarter that watched the Wolves 31-15 lead complete disappear. Boston went on a 17-0 run to take the lead. Still, it was his best game as a pro and he didn't crumble after starting out miserably. There was plenty to like about the fight he showed. Rubio praised him afterwards for his work ethic and character.
Rubio on Tyus Jones: "He's working his ass off and he's a great kid. ...Tonight he showed he had character and that's why he's here."— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) February 23, 2016
- Minnesota was 8-15 from three-point range, making them 24-53 over the last three games. LaVine acted as the main floor spacing presence, leading the way with four triples.
- The Wolves dominated the glass tonight, finishing with a 51-38 rebounding advantage. The team is now 6-3 when building a double-digit edge on the glass.
- Minnesota shot 51.8% from the floor, their 11th game this season shooting above 50%. The Wolves are now 6-5 in those games.
- Jae Crowder finished with a season-high 27 points, including scoring 19 points on 7-10 shooting in the second half. He chipped in nine rebounds and remains one of the league's best bargains.
- Avery Bradley added 22 points. He played every minute of the fourth quarter. It was good to see LaVine hold his own against an elite on ball defender like Bradley.
Nemanja Bjelica Injury Update
Before tip-off, Timberwolves PR issued the following press release regarding rookie Nemanja Bjelica.
Minneapolis/St. Paul – The Minnesota Timberwolves today announced an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) taken at Mayo Clinic on Wolves forward Nemanja Bjelica’s right foot revealed a foot strain. Bjelica will travel on the Wolves upcoming road trip to Toronto, New Orleans and Dallas, but will not play and will slowly be introduced back to basketball activities as tolerated. Bjelica has missed the last three games, including tonight vs. Boston, due to the injury.