Losers of seven straight, the Minnesota Timberwolves were tasked Sunday with trying to end their losing streak — without Karl-Anthony Towns — against the team they lost to the previous evening at the same site, with Towns.
And they came through, toppling the San Antonio Spurs 96-88 at Target Center in the most surprising way possible: with grit.
That’s been the last adjective to describe this Timberwolves team without Towns. The Wolves lacked fight in many of the first six games the all-star center missed with a dislocated wrist. Perhaps Towns’ early return Saturday, and strong play in a losing effort, inspired his teammates, because Sunday’s performance without him — Towns missed the game as part of the team’s plan to work him back into the fold — was admirable.
The Wolves didn’t win by shooting the lights out; they hit on just 42 percent of their shots from the floor, going 34 percent from deep. They won on the defensive end, which is something this franchise just hasn’t done in recent years.
Prior to Sunday, the Wolves had allowed 120-plus points in seven straight games, a franchise record. They’d allowed 100-plus points in 39 consecutive games, also a record.
Those streaks are dead. As is the seven-game losing streak, which is important, as Minnesota’s players still have playoff aspirations. When Towns has been on the floor, the Wolves look like a playoff-quality club. But that can’t happen in the West if you dig yourselves too big a hole without your best player.
Minnesota grabbed its shovel and went to work Sunday. D’Angelo Russell led the charge with 27 points, five rebounds and five assists. Malik Beasley scored 24 points. Naz Reid, Ed Davis and Jarred Vanderbilt chipped in on the interior in more ways than one.
Defensively, the Wolves (3-7) held the Spurs (5-5), who were without Demar DeRozan, to just 38 percent shooting.
Now Towns has a few days to rest before Minnesota’s next game Wednesday.