Sunday night was, again, not a master class from Minnesota in terms of how to finish games.
Up by six with two minutes to play, the Timberwolves committed a couple critical turnovers and struggled to get stops. Leading by two with 12 seconds to play, Malik Beasley succumbed to backcourt pressure and stepped out of bounds, giving Toronto a chance to tie the game or take the lead.
Pascal Siakam drove through Jaden McDaniels to get a clean look right at the rim with seconds to play.
And, inexplicably, he missed. The ball spun off the rim and the Wolves grabbed the rebound. Jordan McLaughlin hit a pair of free-throws down at the other end and Minnesota held on for a 116-112 victory over the Raptors in Tampa, Fla., — Toronto’s home for this season.
After all the baffling losses the Wolves have suffered this season, dropping three separate contests in which ESPN gave Minnesota a better-than-90 percent win probability, including one where Cole Anthony made a heave at the horn to lift Orlando to a miraculous victory, it seemed the Wolves were due to catch a break, though Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders was hesitant to say as much.
“I think that being due, sometimes it just means that you’re trying to rely on just luck or ‘Hey, whatever happens, happens,’” Saunders said. “But in a lot of ways you gotta keep fighting to make your own luck. And I thought the plays that these guys made, our young guys made down the stretch, I was just really pleased with them. And more than anything, I’m just happy for them.
“Because that locker room, they’ve been working. and they haven’t hung their heads with everything we’ve gone through this year. A lot of teams have gone through a lot of things, but it’s all about how you respond. These guys haven’t hung their heads, so I’m just happy for them.”
Ricky Rubio mentioned as much. This has been a challenging season. The Wolves’ record (7-20) is abysmal. There have been some ugly losses. The lineups are changing on a daily basis. Nothing has been easy.
Yet the veteran point guard hasn’t seen that affect his team’s approach to the game.
“There’s one thing I’m going to point out, and it’s truly wonderful about this group, is the spirit,” Rubio said. “When you lose a lot of games in the NBA, it’s easy to go in a different way. One thing this group has done I think better than anywhere I’ve been is when we lose, we don’t lose our spirit, and that’s very important to build something special, to build something from scratch. I know losing sucks and nobody likes to do it, but I think we have learned how to really learn from our losses and play good at the end of the game today, but it’s not just that.”
Minnesota suffered another tough defeat Friday, dropping a close contest in Charlotte. And rather than sulk, it went back to work.
“We kind of like really focused on what we have to learn,” Rubio said, “and things worked out tonight.”
Minnesota certainly put itself in a position to win Sunday. The Wolves played 46 strong minutes of basketball. Anthony Edwards had the ball placed in his hands and succeeded, tallying 18 points and seven rebounds. Rubio had one of his strongest games of the season, again starting in place of the injured D’Angelo Russell, hitting three triples en route to a 16-point performance.
Malik Beasley dropped another six 3-pointers and Karl-Anthony Towns delivered a hyper-efficient 20 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out in the final minute.
The team defense was strong, as well. Those positives are all probably worth overlooking more late-game struggles. Those can be fixed another day.
“We played great together. It was a team win. No individual effort was greater than the other,” said Towns, who was awarded the game ball after surpassing Andrew Wiggins for the top spot on the franchise’s all-time 3-point list with 522. “I think there were so many amazing moments from our team as a whole that allowed us to play really well. We just played with great energy and this is one of those games that I feel very good in saying we played close to 48 minutes.”
Yes, it’s just one win.
“But it’s a good win,” Saunders said. “We look for turning points, the way this team has come together, especially over the last couple of days, I’m really proud of them.”