For an idea of just how impressive Timberwolves big men Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng were Saturday against Chicago, consider the fourth quarter.
Strange, perhaps, because they each scored just four points in the final 12 minutes. But ask Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell, and he will tell you that the way the two played over the first three quarters allowed Andrew Wiggins to explode in the fourth.
“When you’re a coach and see the other team’s four and five have 20 points each, you can’t just lock in on the guy you normally lock in on,” Mitchell said.
Saturday, the Wolves’ twin towers combined for 50 points, 30 rebounds and eight assists. Towns had 22 of his 26 in the first three quarters, Dieng 20 of his career-high 24. Both scored both inside and out, their midrange shooting ability causing problems all night. So when it came to the fourth quarter, the Bulls couldn’t just concentrate on Wiggins.
Wiggins scored 10 of his 21 points in the fourth, including three consecutive baskets late that led the Wolves, down five with 2:55 left, to a 112-105 victory.
The Wolves have been without veteran mentor Kevin Garnett the past seven games because of a sore knee. In the first game without him, Mitchell started Nikola Pekovic along with Towns. The past six it has been Towns and Dieng, and the two have been prolific.
In those six games the two have shot a combined 60.8 percent while averaging 39.7 points, 23 rebounds and five assists.
This is a particularly effective duo because both players can score in the paint and both can hit the midrange jump shot. Both are able to defend both in the paint and on the perimeter, so that Mitchell can keep both in the game when other teams go with a smaller lineup because of their ability guard smaller, quicker players.
“Both of them can do a lot of things,” guard Ricky Rubio said. “Both can shoot, so they stretch the floor. And it’s good to play with five guys who can shoot the ball at the same time. The paint is more open, and both are building a chemistry together, which is what we need. Because the bigs have to help on the pick and roll, and the bigs have to help the helpers. It’s something that takes time.’’
Said Towns: “It’s awesome to have him on the court. I love him like a brother, so when you have that kind of unity and trust in each other, big things are able to happen.’’
At this point, Towns has more range with his shot, but Dieng is probably the better pick-and-roll defender. Other than that, the two are pretty interchangeable, which makes it easier on both ends of the court.
“They play so well together,” Mitchell said. “Gorgui is passing the ball, he’s scoring, his rebounding, he’s anchoring our defense and he’s teaching Karl along the way. And it allows Karl to make some mistakes defensively that don’t really hurt us because Gorgui is behind him. These two can run the floor, and they’re good at sealing. I mean, they want the ball. You want big guys who want the ball.’’
And minutes. Both played more than 40 minutes Saturday. With Pekovic and Garnett hurting and Nemanja Bjelica struggling, they could be in for more minutes going forward.
“I’m in a lot of ice right now,” Towns said after Saturday’s game. “If he trusts us with those minutes, we have to be in better shape and ready to go.’’