The injury report was long, and the recent schedule unforgiving, yet for a team that disappointed over the first half of the schedule, the Minnesota Timberwolves finally displayed some impressive mettle Thursday.
Despite being down a pair of starters in Karl-Anthony Towns (calf) and Rudy Gobert (groin), plus reserve guards Austin Rivers and Jordan McLaughlin, the Timberwolves rallied from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit and improved to 6-1 at home this month with a 128-126 victory over the Toronto Raptors. Minnesota has won seven of its last 10 contests.
The Timberwolves will host the Houston Rockets on Saturday in the first of back-to-back games between the teams, with the home-and-home series concluding on Monday in Houston.
After blowing a late lead against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, the Timberwolves mustered the gumption to overcome Toronto. They did so with a collective effort led by D’Angelo Russell, who scored 16 of his 25 points in the fourth, Anthony Edwards (23 points, seven assists, three steals) and Kyle Anderson, who posted a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double.
“All credit to those guys, especially to that starting unit,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “I went back to them early and I knew they were really tired. They did an unbelievable job.”
While Minnesota shot well throughout, with 50.6/42.5/91.3 shooting splits, it was the late-game defence that saved the day against the Raptors.
That the Timberwolves proved able to limit Toronto to seven points over the final 9:45 without Gobert protecting the rim was a testament to their commitment, starting with the on-ball effort provided by Edwards down the stretch.
“Ant was special on the ball,” Finch said. “He and I talked after the game (in Denver) about how we’ve gotten away from putting him on the ball a lot more, particularly against high-leverage matchups. We’ve been trying to save him some but he needs to do this because he can be a weapon for us defensively. And we’re both on board with that.”
Anderson is averaging 15.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, 8.0 assists and 2.3 steals over his last three games for Minnesota.
The Rockets dropped their 12th consecutive game on Wednesday despite two of their second-year building blocks, guard Jalen Green and centre Alperen Sengun, playing exceptionally.
Houston suffered a 122-117 defeat to the Charlotte Hornets that extended its home-court skid to 10 games. Green matched his career-high of 41 points while grabbing five rebounds and dishing out seven assists. Sengun added 24 points, 12 rebounds and six assists to continue a seven-game tear during which he is averaging 19.1 points, 10.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists.
Unsurprisingly, turnovers offset the production from Green and Sengun. The Rockets are last in the NBA in turnover rate at 16.7 per cent, and their 20 turnovers against Charlotte yielded 29 points and fueled the Hornets’ 26 fast-break points.
“Obviously they were blitzing Jalen and trying to get the ball out of his hands,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “We didn’t make great decisions. They were aggressive on his pick-and-rolls.
“There were some unforced, ‘just throw it to the other team’ turnovers that hurt us.”