Before news of Tom Thibodeau’s firing spread throughout Minnesota and the NBA, there was one other potentially noteworthy sequence at Target Center in Sunday’s 108-86 Wolves victory over the Lakers.
It came with 7 minutes, 38 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter when center and franchise linchpin Karl-Anthony Towns hit the deck hard following a dunk attempt. Towns stayed on the floor as a hush fell over the arena.
After those few agonizing seconds, Towns got up, smiled and walked toward the bench. Wolves fans could breathe again.
“I was just sitting on the floor, wondering if my Eagles were up or not,” Towns joked, referring to the NFL playoff game happening at the same time. “But I got up … made some free throws and got the game over with. I thank God every time I’ve fallen like that I’ve gotten up.”
Towns and the Wolves did what they had to do against a depleted Lakers team that was down multiple key contributors, including forward LeBron James, recovering from a groin injury. Little did they know, however, that it would be the last game they won for Thibodeau, whom Glen Taylor fired after the game.
Afterward, Thibodeau was joking with reporters without a clue the Wolves were about to fire him, while players hadn’t seemed to get the news before leaving Target Center. The locker room was upbeat, with Towns his usual jovial self after a win and players making plans for the rest of their evening.
The Wolves grabbed a 15-1 lead and never let the Lakers, who were also without Kyle Kuzma and Rajon Rondo, back within single digits. Andrew Wiggins helped them build that lead by scoring 25 of his 28 points in the first half.
“You’ve got a front-row seat to watch Maple Jordan go to work,” Towns said. “It’s always great when he’s going off.”
Towns posted another eye-popping stat line of 28 points, 18 rebounds, three assists and four blocked shots.
The Wolves’ victory pulled them to within two games of the eighth-place Lakers in the Western Conference. It helps the Wolves that Towns is playing like that. He is averaging 29.7 points and 16.5 rebounds over his past six game.
“We’re battling for our lives,” Wiggins said. “Last year was a good example. Every game counted even until the last game was played. Every game now counts. You never know what position you’re going to be in at the end so every day you have to play like you’re fighting for your life.”
The Wolves’ last two wins weren’t enough to save Thibodeau’s job. Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune, had made up his mind about Thibodeau’s fate following other games against winnable opponents that didn’t go so well — notably, recent home losses to Detroit and Atlanta.
The Wolves still have an uphill battle to make the playoffs, but they will do so under 32-year-old interim head coach Ryan Saunders. With Towns performing like he is, they still have a chance.
“I’m just in a groove where I feel like every time I throw the basketball to a teammate I feel like I’m hitting them exactly where they want to be, on the run or in a standstill position,” Towns said.
Added Thibodeau: “This is his best stretch of basketball.”
Except Thibodeau won’t be around to see how it ends.
Note: The Wolves waived forward James Nunnally, who had appeared in 13 games.