At the start of the fourth quarter of the Timberwolves’ victory over New York on Friday night, coach Tom Thibodeau went with a lineup of Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng, Jamal Crawford, Tyus Jones and Nemanja Bjelica.
That’s one starter and four reserves. Two big guys, but an entire lineup capable of hitting a three-pointer, especially Towns, Crawford and Bjelica, who was asked to play the small forward in that lineup.
The result: Towns fed Bjelica for a three-pointer to start the quarter. Minutes later Towns hit Bjelica cutting to the basket for a layup. Shortly after that Towns hit a three-pointer of his own. Then, with 8 minutes, 19 seconds left in the game, Towns fed Bjelica for another three, putting the Wolves — who started the quarter up one — up 11. Before Thibodeau started putting his starters back in the game at mid-quarter, the Wolves had outscored the Knicks 19-6, with Bjelica scoring eight and Towns six. The Wolves, with excellent spacing, hit four of five three-pointers.
For Bjelica, it appears the rust of having missed 15 games with left mid-foot sprain has come off. He entered Sunday’s game against Portland at Target Center having shot better than 64 percent overall and 4-for-8 on three-pointers during the Wolves’ homestand.
“I found the rhythm,” Bjelica said. “And the second unit, we finally found our rhythm. I think we helped change the rhythm of that game. We brought extra energy and we shared the ball.”
It wasn’t long ago that the wolves bench struggled to hold leads, especially at the start of fourth quarters. Which is why the lineup that includes Bjelica at small forward could be so interesting.
His size allows him to challenge three-pointer on closeouts at the defensive end. It also gives the Wolves flexibility when switching on pick-and-rolls. “It’s hard,” Bjelica said of playing small forward. “It’s especially hard in this league. But it’s good for me.”