What looked early like it would be an easy night for the Timberwolves turned into anything but when the Knicks made a monster run in the third quarter. Ultimately, the Wolves regained control and were able to finish off a 108-104 win at Madison Square Garden for their first road win against an Eastern Conference lottery team this season.
As the Wolves enter the final ten games of the season, every one is vital in the congested Western Conference playoff race. After a very difficult stretch of the schedule, things looked to ease up for the Wolves starting tonight against a Knicks team that is without Kristaps Porzingis and will not be in the post-season.
The Wolves got off to a roaring start, with the ball movement impressive and the defense controlling things. Karl-Anthony Towns got a couple of dunks early from Jeff Teague dimes, and also made a couple of threes, Taj Gibson got it going underneath, and the Wolves built a double digit lead in the first quarter.
However, as they went to their bench, things began to regress, as we have seen much of the season. The Knicks hung around for much of the first half, but it appeared the Wolves were in control, with a nine point halftime lead against a team with little to play for.
You would be forgiven if you thought the Knicks were the team with playoffs on the line as the second half got underway. The Knicks ratcheted up the defensive pressure, forcing multiple turnovers from Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague, and Tim Hardaway Jr., who finished with 39 on the night, started knocking down everything at the other end. It was a 15-0 run for the Knicks out of the locker room in the third quarter, and they extended their lead to as many as seven at several points in the quarter. It appeared a devastating loss could be in the offing, but the Wolves fought back behind several big plays from Nemanja Bjelica and a couple of minutes of inspired play from the heretofore missing in action Gorgui Dieng.
The Wolves were able to grab a two point lead after three, and a Bjelica three early in the fourth moved the lead to five, and the Wolves would not trail again as they hung on for the much needed win. In a nice change of events, it was a mixed starter/bench unit that propelled the key run late in the third quarter to the middle of the fourth, with all three of Dieng, Crawford, and Tyus Jones making contributions as the Wolves pushed their way back into the lead. Bjelica and Gibson, then Towns, were the other guys out there during this stretch.
The telling stat tonight was the Wolves’ ability to get into the bonus early and get to the free throw line. They were 28-32 on the night outscoring the Knicks by 16 at the stripe. In many other ways, the game was a struggle. They were not able to take advantage of the offensive glass, an area they usually thrive in, until a terrific late possession in which they collected two offensive rebounds, highlighted by a desperation save by Bjelica allowing the Wolves to run precious time off the clock.
They could not stop Hardaway Jr. until the last couple of desperation possessions. He lit up the Garden from beyond the arc (6-11) and inside it, as he consistently made Andrew Wiggins, Jamal Crawford, and anyone else guarding him look rather silly. (Though kudos to Wiggins for coming up with a big stop and steal on Hardaway late in the game.)
In the end, however, the Wolves’ talent came through and they secured a much needed win, clinching their first winning season in 13 years.
Lets just hit a few notes:
- Towns finished with 24 and 13 to lead the Wolves.
- Wiggins struggled for much of the game, but had his first (I think) double-double of the season by grabbing 11 rebounds.
- It was great to see the three bench players Thibs used actually contribute to the win in meaningful ways. As noted, they were all involved in the big stretch of the game.
- Bjelica man. Give that guy run and he does things. After zero shots in the first quarter (when he barely touched the ball,) he wound up with 17 and six. He had several absolute monster plays, including threes late in the third and early in the fourth that were two of the biggest baskets of the night.
- Wolves are in Philly tomorrow, and really could use a bit of an upset win.