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Wolves 103, Warriors 102: The Return of Meaningful Basketball

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Yes, here we are, talking about the playoffs in March.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Meaningful basketball in March shouldn’t be too much to ask for in the grand scheme of things.

But aside from the 2013-14 season—led by two Kevin’s (Love and Martin), two Rick’s (Adelman and Rubio) and the Godfather (Pekovic)—important games late in the season have completely avoided Target Center for more than a decade.

It has been a loveless affair over all the years, with eyes perennially focused on the future, blankly gazing at the rise that never was, staring at the vague light at the end of the tunnel that shines ever so brightly for some (me) no matter how much evidence (supremely pessimistic voice) says not to believe.

Playoffs? Are we seriously talking about the playoffs in 2017 after that 6-18 start? Yes, here we are, talking about the playoffs on a cold night in March.

The same hope that has carried many fans through the dire times is stronger than ever as the Wolves are playing the best basketball of recent memory when it matters most.

The last time the Wolves played an 83rd game (or more) happened when Blockbuster was still a viable business, but the past is the past and the only way to move forward, so people tell me, is to look ahead. It’s hard not to be hopeful when looking at the post All-Star break numbers.

Entering tonight...

For now, the present is exciting enough to overshadow what the future might hold. The future (thankfully) is on pause, making way for right now. We can all live in the moment instead of obsessing over hypotheticals.

The Wolves kept their small playoff flame burning after beating the Warriors in front of the biggest crowd in franchise history announced at 20,412 (I would say it was 70/30 Wolves-to-Warriors fans). They kept the hope alive by escaping another possible tragic fourth quarter against Golden State with a narrow win, 103-102.

Three months ago, the Warriors roared back in Minneapolis to avoid their first back-to-back regular-season losses since April of 2015 with the 116-108 win. They maintained their impressive 111 game streak by outscoring the Wolves 38-20 in the fourth quarter to steal the game, sending one of the league’s most popular young squads to a 6-18 start.

Golden State extended that almost unbelievable non-consecutive losing streak to 146 games before the historic run ended nine days ago in Chicago, where the Bulls never lose on TNT (#TNTBulls). The streak ended in the Dubs first game since Kevin Durant’s knee injury occurred in Washington.

On Friday night at Target Center, the Wolves found a way to win and in the process they sent the Warriors to their second loss in a row after Boston beat them 99-86 two night’s ago. The path both team’s walk has certainly shifted and the win improves Minnesota to 5-2 since the All-Star Break and 8-4 in its last 12 games, while Golden State has dropped four of six.

The way the Wolves stumbled out of the gates is something I think about quite often. What if those disheartening third quarter woes never existed early in the season? Where would the team be now? But that question is for another time.

Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 23 points and nine rebounds to nab his 19th consecutive 20+ point effort, matching Andrew Wiggins’ franchise record set earlier this season. As for Wiggins, he turned up the dial after the break when his team needed him most—scoring 20 of his 24 points in the second half—though he missed a pair of free throws with 30 seconds remaining that would have given the Wolves a three point lead.

Steph Curry responded as the best players often do, hitting a 17-footer with 19 seconds left to give the Warriors the 102-101 lead. Here we go again. The doubt certainly crept in. The Wolves seemed headed for another devastating loss as the offense ran dry down the stretch, but Wiggins bounced back from his misses in the clutch and totally redeemed himself. He drove to the basket, drew the foul, and hit a pair of free throws with 12.8 seconds left to give the Wolves the one point lead.

Then, led by Ricky Rubio’s defense on Curry, the Wolves held strong on the last possession. Brandon Rush collected the big defensive rebound after Curry’s jumper rattled out before getting tied up by Klay Thompson, but the jump ball with less then a second went the Wolves’ way and the win was in the books.

The return of meaningful basketball to Target Center is important and exciting and something we should all not take for granted. A win against the Warriors inside a packed arena to keep the playoff hopes alive shows how far this team has come under Tom Thibodeau.

NOTES

  • Rubio is balling at a VERY VERY VERY high level lately (Thibs said as much before the game). He had 17 points and 13 assists in 36 minutes and outdueled Steph Curry (26 points and six turnovers on 10-27 from the floor and 5-5 from the line) after taking it to Chris Paul two nights ago in the win over the Clippers.
  • Nemanja Bjelica played huge fourth quarter minutes and recorded his third double-double of the season (all within the last five games) tallying 10 points and 12 rebounds (five offensive) off the bench.
  • Golden State fell behind 34-24 after the first quarter and the Warriors are now 0-5 this season when trailing by 10+ points at the end of the first.
  • With Steph Curry’s miss with 5.2 seconds remaining, the Warriors are now 0-for-8 on potential go-ahead shots in the final 10 seconds this season.
  • Klay Thompson dropped 30 points on 12-22 shooting, to go along with six rebounds. He gave Wiggins everything he could possibly handle with his elite off-ball movement coming off screens.
  • Gorgui Dieng added 12 points and four rebounds in 24 minutes, while Shabazz Muhammad chipped in 11 points and eight rebounds off the bench in 27 minutes. Bazz’s stock continues to rise during a contract year.
  • The Target Center was booming and the Wolves walked away with a crucial win before heading to Milwaukee for another huge road game on Saturday night.
  • Three tweets from me, because it’s easier to embed these than re-type the same points:

QUOTES

Ricky Rubio

“We’re getting experience in these games, that means a lot. We just go after it. This last week is the best basketball we have played all year. We almost beat the Spurs in San Antonio, we beat the Clippers, we beat the Warriors. But that doesn’t mean nothing if we lose tomorrow. We just have to keep going.”

How about Wiggins missing those two and then being able to put that behind him and step to the line and knock those two big ones down?

“He’s great. He made big plays at the end. Sometimes you miss free throws but when it counts at the end,down by one, it’s hard to take those free throws and he made both of them.”

What were you able to do with Steph (Curry)? He had some open looks that he missed but it seemed like you made him work as much as you could.

“That’s what you have to do. He one of the best in the league. He can get open, he knows how to move.You just have to stay attached all the time and try to make his life harder.”

Andrew Wiggins

What did it mean to have this huge crowd, a record crowd, and then beat the Warriors?

“It was great. There were a lot of fans in there. The crowd was huge and brought a lot of energy to the game.”

Is timing everything when it comes to free throws?

“It is. I missed two, but I made the two most important ones of the night.”

Brandon Rush

What did you think about Wiggs missing those two and then coming back and making two?

“That’s Wiggs. He’s so laid back, it didn’t seem to bother him at all. He just came back and made those two clutch free throws at the end of the game.”

Steve Kerr

On the last play of the game

“Steph [Curry] got a good look at it. I was disappointed there was not a foul called with two and a half seconds left. Brandon Rush got the rebound and Klay [Thompson] is grabbing him, I don’t know why there wasn’t a foul called there, should have been a foul. He is grabbing him with both arms and the clock went down to zero and they called it a jump ball which was kind of a strange sequence. I feel bad for our guys because we fought like crazy and I thought we should have won and the last sequence at both ends were tough.”

On sitting Curry, Thompson, Green, and Iguodala tomorrow

“It’s 100 percent health. I’ve been conferring with the training staff every day on this trip. I ultimately deferred to Chelsea [Lane] (the team’s Head Performance Therapist); I like her, biggest thing I asked her, ‘what’s the best game we can benefit from, those four guys are high minutes guys,’ and they said no doubt it’s San Antonio. We’re going to get in at 3 a.m., those guys are all playing big minutes and this will give them three days before our home game and we’ll have a full week at home and have time to recharge. It’s my call and it’s the right thing to do the way the season is turning, and KD [Kevin Durant] is injured, it’s the right thing to do so we’re doing it.”

Klay Thompson

On if this loss is tough to take after fighting back to take the lead

“Yeah it’s tough. You take that shot that Steph got any day of the week. It went in and out. That goes in at least 60 percent of the time. It’s just a tough night. We clawed all the way back, took that lead. It felt like we played great defense, but I guess we fouled Wiggins. They got those free throws. Just a tough night all around.”

On the foul call late

“No one liked it, but that’s basketball. Sometimes you try to do everything right and unfortunately you foul the guy.”

On the energy in the fourth quarter

“I think we really wanted to get this win. It’s never fun to lose two in a row. We tried to get back on the right track and we made a great effort tonight.”

Let’s check in with Thibs...

Steve Kerr ... any thoughts on losing four of your last six games?

Draymond was pissed off because of course he was...

HIGHLIGHTS