Existence in a visible, results-based profession is a fickle thing.
Take, for example, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 107-102 victory over the Brooklyn Nets Tuesday night: It seems doubtful that anyone involved with the team would say they played all that well, and another angsty loss sure looked to be in the cards at multiple points. Adding to that W column in this moment, though, speaks for itself.
Of course, getting that preferred result is much easier when one of the team’s stars reads the room and provides exactly what is needed. Two days after possibly the worst and most passive performance of his career, Karl-Anthony Towns showed from the jump he wouldn’t be invisible again. Towns shot the ball just three times in Minnesota’s disastrous loss to the Portland Trail Blazers; he tied that number less than four minutes into Tuesday’s contest.
Towns stayed aggressive throughout his minutes, and although it didn’t always produce results, it paid off in the biggest moments. The Wolves repeatedly went to the big man in the post down the stretch, and going against smaller defenders without Rudy Gobert clogging the paint allowed KAT to get to his spots and finish. Towns scored 10 of his 22 points in the final period, the key factor in Minnesota pulling away along with Anthony Edwards’ clutch defense and free throw shooting.
Wolves needed offense and Finch went small to find it.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) April 5, 2023
Slow-Mo closed over Gobert and Finch ran the offense through KAT post-ups on the left side three times inside of 3:00 left.
✅ Made FG
✅ Made FG
✅ Foul, 2 FTM
Great way of creating a mismatch and getting easy offense. pic.twitter.com/IspzmH0YCm
Again, if Minnesota had lost, the inability to play Towns and Gobert at the same time in the fourth quarter would be cause for chagrin. But they won, so those concerns are muted — for now.
Of course, the win wasn’t all about Towns. With the Wolves’ season potentially in the balance, Head Coach Chris Finch trimmed the rotation to eight players; his team responded with one of its more well-rounded performances of the season. All five starters scored at least 12 points, with Edwards leading the way at 23. Jaden McDaniels contributed 15 of his own between some strong drives and nasty pull-ups, and Mike Conley hit three of his five 3-pointers on his way to 18 points for the night.
As has often been the case in the limited time Towns and Gobert have been on the court together this season, though, transition defense was a major issue for the Wolves. These numbers put the lopsided nature of the transition game in perspective: The Nets led in fast-break points 23-6 despite committing just two fewer turnovers and grabbing four fewer defensive rebounds. Brooklyn didn’t get many more run-out opportunities, they were just far more effective at turning them into quick baskets.
The Wolves were mostly capable of corralling the Nets offense when they got back and set. Their length posed a major issue to Brooklyn around the rim, especially during a crucial stretch in the third quarter when Gobert’s ability to contest everything helped turn an 11-point deficit into a momentary lead. But, as was the case when the Blazers scored 25 fast-break points Sunday, Brooklyn repeatedly punished Minnesota’s porous effort in retreating after offensive possessions.
Putting the full blame on Towns and Gobert isn’t fair, because this was an issue all game, but it was at its worst when they shared the floor. In their big lineups, the Wolves simply lack the recovery fluidity to get back in position and cover threats from the 3-point line to the basket.
A lot of the Nets’ transition buckets came in the form of 3-pointers, as Brooklyn shooters sprinted to their spots and got up open looks before the Wolves knew what hit them. The Nets shot 13-of-35 from behind the arc to the Wolves’ 8-of-24, a 15-point edge that could have been a deciding factor.
However, Minnesota clamped up just enough when necessary to escape New York with a win. With the Nets down three, Edwards spiked a Spencer Dinwiddie three into the seats with 8.7 seconds left. Kyle Anderson followed that up by pressuring Dinwiddie into a leaning attempt in the corner, which rattled out and into Edwards’ hands for the clinching free throws.
Anthony Edwards blocks Spencer Dinwiddie pic.twitter.com/wRywauMSxN— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) April 5, 2023
This victory snaps a three-game losing skid and puts Minnesota just 0.5 games back of the No. 8-seeded New Orleans Pelicans following their defeat at the hands of the Sacramento Kings Tuesday. As a result, Minnesota now controls their own destiny to the 7/8 Play-In Game and, ultimately, a rematch with the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs.
The Wolves play the tanking San Antonio Spurs on Saturday in Austin, TX at the University of Texas before hosting their regular season finale against those Pelicans the next day. Everything is there for Minnesota if it reaches out and takes it.
Fans can watch the 3:00 PM CT tip on Bally Sports North.