SAN ANTONIO – On nights in years past, the emotions and foul trouble might have gotten the best of the Timberwolves.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Robert Covington and Ryan Saunders all earned technical fouls arguing with officials in the third quarter. Then with 8 minutes, 8 seconds to play in the fourth, Towns went to the bench with his fifth foul after a challenge from Spurs coach Greg Popovich was successful and turned a DeMar DeRozan block into a Towns offensive foul.
But 8:08 didn’t equate to heartbreak. The Wolves regathered themselves in a timeout after San Antonio took a brief lead and sprinted to the finish line for a 113-101 victory over the Spurs.
It was an noteworthy one for the Wolves on many fronts. It was their first win as a franchise in San Antonio since April 17, 2013. Nobody on the current roster had won in AT&T Center as a member of the Wolves.
“I know I ain’t won here,” said Andrew Wiggins, who overcame missing his first five shots to get 26 points and eight rebounds. “So when I heard that I was like, ‘sounds correct.’ ”
The Wolves corrected their course after falling behind 92-91 with 6:15 to play. It was the first time the Spurs led since the second quarter. Saunders called a timeout. There was nothing unusual about that huddle, Saunders said. It was just like all the other ones the Wolves have had this season – and that’s what was important to him. No panic. Just calm and focus.
“Guys are locked in,” Saunders said. “Guys are trying to encourage each other and understand what’s at stake.”
Saunders called a practice Tuesday that wasn’t on the Wolves original itinerary for this trip. At the practice, Saunders said the Wolves worked on their end-of-game offensive script for 40 minutes. They looked like a well-rehearsed band Wednesday. Out of the timeout Covington hit a three, then Wiggins got a layup and Gorgui Dieng, filling in for Towns, hit a shot for two of his 10 points off the bench. The Wolves were back up six. The Spurs got a bucket from LaMarcus Aldridge (22 points) but then Wolves rattled off eight more points. A Josh Okogie (11 points) three, a Wiggins three and another Okogie three.
The Wolves were up 12 with 2:21 to play and Towns didn’t have to worry about fouling out. It helped that Keita Bates-Diop turned in his third consecutive strong performance with 16 points. He was 4 of 6 from three-point range as the Wolves hit 18 of 40 from deep, tied for third-most threes in franchise history.
“We just stayed with it,” Okogie said. “The game was kind of like a roller coaster. It was a game of runs, but we were able to stay together and we’re pretty good on the road.”
They are now 7-2 away from Target Center.
“I can’t say enough about just being a part of this group and their ability to fight through anything, anything that is put in front of them,” Saunders said. “They keep fighting and it doesn’t always work out for us, but I’m so proud and thankful to be a part of this group.”
Saunders wasn’t as upbeat during the third quarter when he, Covington and Towns were fed up with the officiating and picked up technical fouls all within about a minute of each other. The frustration continued after NBA replay center overturned the block on DeRozan and called a foul on Towns, a potential turning point in the game.
But the Wolves prevented what would have seemed inevitable in years past from happening. Especially on the road. Especially in this building, even if the Spurs, who have lost 10 of 11, are a shadow of their former selves.
“I feel like on the road we’re all we got,” Wiggins said. “It’s us against the crowd, and we feel like our backs are against the wall. That might bring more out of us.”