DALLAS – With the clock ticking down Friday, Timberwolves guard Jamal Crawford had the ball, way atop the key.
What had been a 12-point Wolves lead minutes earlier was down to two after Dallas guard Dennis Smith Jr. scored on a finger roll with 28.3 seconds left.
And the clock was ticking.
Center Karl-Anthony Towns looked at his bench, where coach Tom Thibodeau signaled for him to set a screen for Crawford, who was being guarded by Yogi Ferrell. Then Towns looked at Crawford, who waved his hand and shook his head.
No. He was going to do this himself.
And he did — dribbling to within 17 feet, rising and hitting a jump shot with 9.9 seconds left that iced a very, very difficult 93-92 Wolves victory at American Airlines Center.
“That was cold-blooded,” Towns said. “That was one of the most cold-blooded shots I’ve ever seen. He waved me off. He wanted to go 1-on-1. When you’re in a zone like that? Why not?”
On a night when so many shots wouldn’t fall, on a night when the Wolves, still thick in the middle of the playoff race, struggled with the lottery-bound Mavericks, the Wolves never stopped working.
And Crawford kept scoring.
Legendary for his streaky shooting, this was a big one.
Crawford scored a team-high 24 points off the bench. Of those, 15 came in the second half. And 13 of those came in the fourth quarter of a game the Wolves had to win.
“Big shot,” Thibodeau said. “His mentality is everything. If he gets it off, gets a good look at it, he doesn’t need a lot of space.”
It was the second consecutive victory for the Wolves (44-33) and their fourth in six games. And, with Oklahoma City losing in overtime to Denver and New Orleans losing in Cleveland, the Wolves ended the night as the fifth seed in the Western Conference with five games left, a half-game behind No. 4 San Antonio.
A game after setting the team record with 56 points, Towns struggled with his shot, going 8-for-21. But he defended hard and rebounded ferociously (20 rebounds) and finished with 21 points. Andrew Wiggins shot only 4-for-17 but had three steals and two blocks. Jeff Teague had 14 points and Taj Gibson 12.
Dallas (23-53) was led by Harrison Barnes’ 19 points. Smith had 17. Ferrell — who hit a three-pointer in the closing seconds — had 14.
“Sometimes you’re just trying to play chess,” said Crawford of his final shot, working his way through an interview with injured teammate Jimmy Butler kibitzing him. “My teammates were telling me it would be there. All my teammates did a great job. I had the easy part, just making the shot.”
Said Butler: “If you want a bucket, give it to Jamal.”
It was a chore. The Wolves shot 6-for-23 in the first quarter. They didn’t get their first lead until the third quarter. But they played defense, rebounded well, had a season-high 23 fast-break points and outscored the Mavs by 10 points on free throws.
They found a way. Up just one early in the fourth, Crawford scored nine points in a run that put the Wolves up 12 with 5:06 left. Then they held on.
“Scratching out wins, it’s critical,” Thibodeau said. “Everyone is tough in the west. Sometimes it’s going to be like tonight.”
No matter the opponent, winning on the road when the offense is at times dysfunctional is big. Thanks to Crawford, it happened in Dallas.
“I was pretty trash,” Towns said. “I just wasn’t hitting shots. At the end of the day my teammates were fantastic. We had a heroic performance by Jamal Crawford, and it led us to victory.”