MEMPHIS – On Friday night, the inevitable happened in the Timberwolves season — they were officially eliminated from playoff contention, but you wouldn’t have known it based on the mood in the locker room after their 112-99 win over Memphis on Saturday.
There was lots of laughter, a rare occurrence after a road game this season, as the Wolves got ready to pack up for their trip back to Minnesota. Karl-Anthony Towns is always one of the last to leave the locker room, and while he joined the revelry, he also reflected on the moment in the larger context of the Wolves’ season as most other players had already left for the bus.
“It’s been forever,” Towns said. “It’s a good feeling. But it comes with a grain of salt as well for me personally because we could’ve had more times like this, this season.
“A win is a win no matter when it comes. I understand celebrating it, but you have to look at it on a grander scale as well.”
That scale would show this was just the second win for the Wolves in their past 15 road games, a stretch that included an excruciating loss in Memphis at the FedEx Forum when the Grizzlies took the lead on free throws with 0.1 seconds remaining.
“Every loss your stomach hurts,” interim coach Ryan Saunders said. “You don’t sleep well. They all hurt, but that one hurt a little more.”
By this point, the Wolves are past the hurt, so of course they would have one of their easiest road wins of the season now that they are officially out of the postseason race. There was nothing left to lose now that they have lost too much.
They used a 35-18 third quarter to catapult themselves to the win as Towns was again magnificent with 33 points and 23 rebounds, his seventh game with 20 or more points and 20 or more rebounds.
Andrew Wiggins had an efficient game with 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting while the Wolves got contributions up and down the lineup. Every starter hit double figures while Keita Bates-Diop and Anthony Tolliver provided quality minutes off the bench. Mike Conley had a team-high 23 points for Memphis.
Memphis never threatened in the fourth quarter as the Wolves avoided making it a close game down the stretch.
“It’s a big sense of relief in a way,” Saunders said. “It can get tough when younger guys are asked to do more. … What a win does is it allows you to keep building and build in a positive way.”
That’s what Towns emphasized after the game as well. To him, the Wolves are still battling for the playoffs, just not these playoffs.
“Even though we’re mathematically out, you got to play for the playoffs for next year,” Towns said. “The building starts right now. We got to get our culture right. We got to get our defense right. We got to get our identity right. We don’t have to wait until next year in training camp to get started. We can start that right now. There’s no better time.”
Added guard Tyus Jones: “Obviously it’s not the outcome for the season that we wanted. But at the same time we’re not just going to give up or stop playing Timberwolves basketball.”
If only Timberwolves basketball had looked like this at other times this season.