DENVER – Near the end of a week overflowing with sorrow, the Timberwolves headed home after Friday’s 95-78 victory over the Nuggets celebrating a 2-0 record for only the seventh time in their history.
They did so just hours before they will together attend a memorial service honoring the life of president of basketball operations and coach Flip Saunders, who died Sunday at age 60.
Moments after he became the youngest player in NBA history to start his career with consecutive double-doubles, Wolves No. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns’ voice cracked when asked how satisfied he is to start the season with two road victories.
“We can go tomorrow as winners to bury our coach,” Towns said. “That was more important to me.”
Towns followed Wednesday’s 14-point, 12-rebound debut against the Los Angeles Lakers with 28 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks Friday, a performance in which his confidence seemed to grow every time he touched the ball.
He carried his team offensively, but the Wolves won the game with their defense, holding the Nuggets to 30.5 percent shooting, albeit on 95 field-goal attempts.
“That’s a lot of possessions you have to defend,” Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell said. “For a team to take 95 shots and you hold them to 30 percent shooting, you’ve got to play a lot of defense.”
Mitchell played 35-year-old forward Tayshaun Prince 29 minutes and 39-year-old Kevin Garnett 22 minutes to help stabilize a defense that now has held opponents to 28 percent shooting (34-for-121) in the past five quarters, including Wednesday’s fourth quarter against the Lakers.
Even when the Wolves went cold in the fourth quarter, the Nuggets couldn’t score, either. Denver shot 6-for-23 (26.1 percent) in the fourth quarter.
“Our defense won the game,” said Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio, who had 12 points and eight assists. “KG and Tayshaun are doing a pretty good job teaching us how to do it. They’ve been in the league so long, and if you want to win games, you have to start from there.”
Towns exploited matchups against a team undersized up front without injured 7-footer Jusuf Nurkic. The rookie made 11 of 19 shots, many of them on drives to the basket.
“That’s the most shots I’ve taken since, like, two games in high school,” Towns said. “I just want to utilize my quickness. I’m only going to be young for so long.”
He credited Friday’s success to a long conversation he had with Garnett, who gave him pointers on how to use his quickness even at 6-11 to get to the basket.
“You know what, I think a lot of my points today came off one dribble going to the basket,” Towns said. “With them being 6-9 and lighter and me being 7-foot, that’s not supposed to happen. I was just seeing openings. I was utilizing the little things KG taught me about getting to the basket, and it really worked.”
Towns is the youngest player in NBA history to reach 28 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots. He’s also only the second Wolves player to do that, joining Garnett, who has done it six times.
The Wolves now head home to say farewell to their coach and then play their home opener Monday vs. Portland.
“A lot of emotions going on,” Rubio said, approaching tears when asked what he expects Saturday. “It’s tough.”
They will do so undefeated.
“It has been a tough week and it’s going to be a tough day tomorrow,” Mitchell said. “But our guys have worked extremely hard and they should be proud of themselves.”