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Wolves 116, Raptors 112: An Unfamiliar Fourth Quarter

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Minnesota Timberwolves v Toronto Raptors Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Another night, another blown fourth-quarter lead. I’m sorry, it’s just become a habit at this point. The Minnesota Timberwolves not only entered the fourth quarter with a lead, but they held on to beat the Toronto Raptors!

After the excursion to the frozen tundra of Tampa, the Timberwolves came away with a desperately needed win. As the teams took the court, we saw a new-look starting lineup from the Timberwolves. Jarred Vanderbilt replaced Josh Okogie in the starting lineup, and the change made a difference.

I still believe in Okogie as a positive contributor to the rotation, but inserting Vanderbilt was absolutely the right decision. That’s right, Saunders haters, he is capable of making the right decision. Vanderbilt’s combination of size, athleticism, length, and energy helped the Timberwolves get off to a great start.

Early in the first, Vanderbilt had an excellent series that altogether showed off his energy. It started with Vanderbilt running in transition to tip in a missed layup. The Raptors then pushed the ball quickly, and Vanderbilt sprinted back to contest a layup and force a miss. Instead of jogging up on offense, Vanderbilt raced in transition and earned a foul. For a team that so frequently comes out flat, this type of energy is infectious.

As the game progressed, the Timberwolves saw significant contributions across the board as all five starters scored in double digits and four players off the bench scored at least five points. The offense moved the ball well, and the effort on the boards was significantly better than what we saw in Charlotte.

Malik Beasley was on fire from three, especially in the corners, and Ricky Rubio had a hot night from beyond the arc as he shot 4-8 from three. Off the bench, Jaden McDaniels continued his impressive play with six points, two rebounds, two assists, one block, and a second team-high plus-minus of +11.

The fourth quarter wound down, and the Raptors struggled to chip into the Timberwolves’ lead significantly. The Raptors tried all the referee manipulation they could muster. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Kyle Lowry and Nick Nurse were emphatic that they would never do something as heinous as committing a foul. Nurse went so far as to storm on the court and berate the officials for an entire commercial break. Somehow, he escaped with nothing except the experience of a one-sided conversation.

The seconds ticked down, and the Timberwolves entered an all too familiar reality of turning the ball over with a slim lead in the final seconds. The subsequent inbound play by the Raptors led to Pascal Siakam bull-rushing McDaniels at the rim. Siakam effortlessly moved McDaniels, but the rookie used his Go-Go Gadget Arms to contest the shot enough to have it fortuitously spin off the rim.

Rubio secured the rebound and called a timeout, which set up an inbound to Jordan McLaughlin, who calmly sank both free throws. Then, the Raptors, seeking a quick two and a little stat-padding, went for a dunk with under a second left. Happy to pad his stats, though, Vanderbilt promptly sent the shot the other way.

Wins like tonight’s are precisely what this fan base has been waiting for. It was a full team effort from start to finish. They played hard throughout and finally started showing signs of what this team is meant to be.

Tonight’s win should be celebrated and shouldn’t be shrugged off, but I have a mild cause for concern. The way this team is using Karl-Anthony Towns is bewildering. Overall, I love the spread-out production on offense. I love that the stat line of 20 points on 8-11 shooting with 11 rebounds, three assists, one steal, and three blocks is considered a down night for this team’s star. Before we go on, reread that stat line. Wow.

My concern is with the 11 shots. That is far too few for the most offensively gifted center in the history of this league. I know there were foul issues, and Towns had far too many turnovers (seven), but Towns must get more shots in the future. I’m not ringing alarm bells, but on nights where Rubio isn’t hitting four threes (which will be most), Towns must be more involved in the offense.

Ok, neurotic overconcerned nitpicking is out of the way. This was an excellent end to end win for the Timberwolves. Enjoy it. Let’s hope this energy and execution carries over to Tuesday.

Game Highlights

Editor’s Note: I love Anthony Edwards.