NEW ORLEANS – You knew the Timberwolves’ 120-102 victory at New Orleans was due to change Wednesday when combustible DeMarcus Cousins unsuccessfully tried to calm mild-mannered teammate Anthony Davis.
Now in his sixth NBA season, Davis was ejected from a game for the first time, tossed with 4:11 left in the first half after he received two technical fouls within 15 seconds of each other for protesting the officiating.
The Wolves led 45-43 when Davis fouled fellow former Kentucky star Karl-Anthony Towns, or so the game officials said. Before the hometown crowd stopped booing Davis’ departure, the Wolves scored the next 12 points to take a 14-point lead with 2:21 remaining before halftime and the Pelicans never pulled closer than nine points again.
“Basketball is an emotional, passionate game,” Timberwolves young star Andrew Wiggins said, “so anything can happen.”
And almost everything did Wednesday, when the Wolves recovered from Tuesday’s fourth-quarter failing in a home loss to Washington and won at New Orleans for the second time in 29 days.
They did so by moving and sharing the ball among seven players, led by Wiggins’ 28-point night, scoring in double digits even though Towns didn’t play many more minutes than Davis did because of persistent foul trouble.
They did so with resiliency and purpose on the second night of back-to-back games, after their five starters had played anywhere from 37½ minutes to nearly 41 minutes against the Wizards.
And they did so by exploiting Davis’ absence, using that ensuing 12-0 to outscore New Orleans 34-20.
“He’s [Towns] a great basketball player,” said Wolves backup center Gorgui Dieng, who countered Towns’ foul trouble with an important 36-minute, 19-point performance off the bench. “When we play without him, there’s more chance for us.”
Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said Davis’ ejection “changed everything” after the four-time All Star already had scored 17 points in just 18 minutes.
When asked to explain the ejection by a pool reporter, officiating crew chief Ken Mauer used such words as “pointing,” “yelling,” “screaming,” and “cursing.”
“I’ve seen him hot before, just from experience, from Kentucky and from stories,” Towns said, “but never like that in a game.”
A man who knows a little something about technical fouls himself, Cousins called Davis’ ejection “bogus.”
“You all saw it,” Cousins said. “It’s obvious. It’s a complete joke. What I don’t understand is that players are punished for playing off of emotions or showing their emotions during the game, but other people are allowed to and it’s totally fine.”
The Wolves used the moment to build a 62-49 halftime lead that grew to 20 points by the third quarter.
“In the NBA, there’s an excuse every night, whether it’s travel, injuries, back-to-backs,” Wolves coach Tom Thibdoeau said. “Or you can make good. When the ball goes up, you have to be ready to go.”
The Wolves trailed 10-2 early, but played themselves back into it.
After Tuesday’s game, Wolves star Jimmy Butler declined to talk to the media in a solemn Wolves’ locker room. Twenty-four hours later, all had changed.
“You know, we were not even worried about last night,” Butler said. “We need to start doing what we’re supposed to do now. This is a great step moving forward. We played great as a team. When we’re out there playing hard, moving that ball, playing with so much confidence, it looks like some pretty good basketball.”