MINNEAPOLIS — During morning shootaround, Karl-Anthony Towns was asked about his thoughts on the Suns.
"I still have a grudge over our last game, [Mirza] Teletovic hit that great shot over me, so I still hold that close to me," Towns responded. "I looked at that play a lot. Especially after the game, I was really upset."
If redemption is what Towns was seeking against Phoenix on Monday night, he got exactly that, even if the game was closer than he and his teammates would have liked after going up 99-79 with 1:10 left in the third quarter.
"It's not easy. When you're up by 20, it's not easy to play," Rubio said when asked about keeping the lead and winning after the team was in full control after three quarters of play only to let Phoenix sneak back into the game.
"You kind of relax and they had the momentum and had everything in their favor to win the game again, but I think we came back stronger. We played smart and Wiggins made plays, so it was good."
There were many crucial plays in the fourth quarter but none were larger than Rubio's 26-foot 3-pointer (Andrew Wiggins assist) with 2:40 remaining in the fourth. That clutch shot by the Wolves' floor general put them back on top 113-112 after rookie sharpshooter Devin Booker nailed a triple the possession before to put the pressure on Minnesota in front of the home crowd. Booker dropped 30 in his fourth straight 20+ point outing. It was his 14th of the season and fifth 30+ point performance (his fourth in March).
The Suns had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds, but Teletovic's turnaround 3-pointer in the left corner fell short and the Wolves hung on after Rubio nailed both free throws on the other end.
The eventual rookie of the year, Towns, came out with a statement early with 18 points and six rebounds in the first quarter alone to keep pace with Brandon Knight, who was absolutely on fire in the first four minutes. Knight scored 13 straight points to start the night (5-5) and matched a career-high with seven three-pointers (3x) in the game, finishing with 30 points. 27 of those came in the first half, but the Wolves were able to put the clamps down on Knight after halftime.
"He was making tough shots," Rubio said. "He's a streaky shooter, but tonight he was making them. We just played more aggressive than we were in the beginning and we didn't let him feel comfortable in the second half and I think we did a pretty good job."
Towns' 18 first quarter points marked a season-best for a Wolves player in a quarter this season. The previous high had been Kevin Martin, who scored 17 in the fourth against the Lakers on Dec. 9. He finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds, collecting his rookie-leading 45th double-double and 23rd 20+ point, 10+ rebound performance. But he didn't score again after getting hit in the face by Minnesota's very own, Jon Leuer. Towns said he couldn't even see the scorers table afterwards, but that he would be fine moving forward.
Andrew Wiggins was dynamite on both ends of the floor tonight, finishing with 32 points — his eighth 30+ point game of the season — five rebounds, two assists, three blocks, and one steal. He was a team-high +16 in 36 minutes, hit 3-5 from long range, and went to the line an outstanding 21 times; hitting 17 of his attempts. That matched the club high since Kevin Love made 18 free throws on Feb. 27, 2011 vs. Golden State.
"I just got the rim," Wiggins said in his typical calm demeanor afterwards. "I stayed aggressive. The bigs on my team — KAT, G, and Greg — set good picks that allowed me to get to the paint and opened up the floor for me."
The following question was posed to Wiggins after the game: Did your 3-point shooting early open some of those driving lanes for you?
"Definitely. When I'm hitting shots, the defenders are on their feet because I can go either way, right or left, I could pass it, who knows. When I hit shots early I think it opens up things for everybody on the floor."
Wiggins didn't even realize he shot 21 free throws tonight. "How many did I make?" he says. "17." ... "Oh, that's pretty good."— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) March 29, 2016
Towns on Wiggins going 17-21 at the line: "That's great. He's worked a lot on his FTs so for him to go out there and make them is big time."— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) March 29, 2016
Good game or bad game, Wiggins' attitude never changes and I love that about him.
While Wiggins was super efficient (25 pts on 8 attempts, 14/17 FTs), I was most impressed by his defensive effort on Tucker after last time in Phoenix. I thought he was incredible on both ends tonight going up against P.J. Tucker, who dominated him, especially on the offensive glass, when the two squads played only two weeks ago in Phoenix. This was a major response by the Wolves' sophomore wing.
Ricky Rubio continued his excellent post All-Star break play as he finished with 17 points (6-15), 11 assists, seven rebounds, and three steals. It was his league-leading 30th game of this season with 3+ steals...that's what I call #GrandTheftRubio. He's playing amazing basketball right now and is having the best season of his career at age 25. Tonight was Ricky's 14th double-double of the season and 28th double-digit assist outing. It's incredibly fun to watch.
- Minnesota shot 50.6% from the floor tonight, the team's 19th 50%+ shooting performance of the season (12-7) and 15th in its last 33 games.
- Shabazz Muhammad put together his finest showing in weeks, probably since March 5 against Brooklyn in which he had Tonight's win was Minnesota's third in its last four games and 25th of the season. "I felt really good out there," Muhammad said. "Just taking my time and getting some defensive rebounds."
- Muhammad on relaxing with a lead... "We're a young team and that's something that [David Adelman] always talks to us about, just keeping your foot down and that's something we kind of let our foot off the gasoline a little bit. We finally came back to life and got the win."
- Mirza Teletovic continued his Wolves domination with 19 points off the bench, including 11 in the fourth quarter when Phoenix made their big run. Tonight was Teletovic's fifth straight double-digit performance. While the offseason is still months away, Teletovic is set to be a free agent. It's probably recency bias talking, but at this point he's on my list of players the Wolves should be interested in chasing over the summer. He's an older player, 30, with NBA experience at a position of need with a premier skill (3-point shooting) the team certainly needs. The Bosnian forward is shooting 39.6% from 3-point range on 5.5 attempts per game.
- Phoenix went 15-33 from long range, the team's 34th double-digit 3-pointer outing of the season.
- Booker on his team's defensive aggression late in the game... "Yeah, it helped a lot. We got real aggressive on Rubio and Karl's pick and rolls and we were rotating all the way through. That's what we've got to do because Rubio, he's a great passer and he was coming off the screen, creating a lot of spacing and kicking back to Karl and Karl's going to do what he wants to do. We're just trying to speed them up a little bit, get a couple of steals and that's what we did.
Devin Booker complains about his foul on Towns. Garnett starts yelling "Rookie of the Year, Rookie of the Year. Rookie of the Year" at him.— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) March 29, 2016
- The Wolves obviously aren't going to break their playoff drought for the twelfth straight season, but moments like the one above, combined with closing out the game — something they have clearly struggled with — make it a little bit easier to swallow for the time being.