On an afternoon when both Jimmy Butler and Golden State’s Stephen Curry didn’t play, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins stepped forth for the Timberwolves in a 109-103 victory their team needed to win.
By doing so Sunday at sold-out Target Center, the Wolves ended a three-game losing streak amid a stretch in which they still must play Washington, San Antonio, Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers before their schedule eases up in the regular season’s final three weeks.
Towns outdid Warriors superstar Kevin Durant in a fourth-quarter duel the Wolves won 25-19, as Towns scored 14 points on his way to a 31-point, 16-rebound performance.
He scored eight of his team’s nine points down the stretch in a game that the Wolves led by 11 points in the first quarter, trailed by 12 in the second and then led again by as many as seven points with less than six minutes left.
The Warriors pulled as close as 104-103 with two minutes remaining but never got any closer, thanks to Towns’ cool.
The Wolves are tied with Oklahoma City for fourth in the Western Conference, two percentage points behind New Orleans and 1 1/2 games ahead of three teams that are tied for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Wiggins’ insistence attacking the rim all afternoon didn’t hurt any, either.
“I think the young guys grew up today,” Wolves veteran point guard Jeff Teague said. “They played hard. They saw a playoff atmosphere. It was an intense game. They have really talented players over there, and we came out and played hard.”
The Wolves announced their 13th sellout this season for a Sunday matinee televised nationally by ABC. The Warriors played without Curry — out for a second consecutive game because of a recurring right ankle injury — and veteran forward Andre Iguodala as well as three other rotation players.
But don’t cry for the champs, who still went forth with All-Stars Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.
“We needed it badly,” Towns said. “I felt we came out with a sense of urgency, desperation. We understood the magnitude of this game.”
Until Sunday, the Warriors were 13-1 in games following a loss. Now they’re 13-2 after losing Friday at Portland and Sunday at Target Center.
“I don’t think about stats like that,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said.
Meanwhile, the Wolves played on without Butler, who is out for at least a month while he rehabilitates from surgery on meniscus cartilage in his knee.
Sunday’s game provided a big stage for a Wolves team that moved back into fifth place in the Western Conference.
“This is big for us,” Wiggins said. “This is one of the best teams in the league, if not the best. If we can play well against them and win, we can do it against anybody.”
To be sure, the Wolves received many contributions: Taj Gibson’s four offensive rebounds in an 11-point, 13-rebound double-double. Teague’s own double-double, 10 points and 10 assists. Nemanja Bjelica’s fast-break reverse layup that gave the Wolves a 96-90 lead with 6:56 left and a clutch blocked shot on guard Quinn Cook in the final 30 seconds.
But none contributed more than Towns and Wiggins, who combined to score 54 points on 22-for-40 shooting while Durant needed 32 shots to score his 39.
“This is a great opportunity for everyone on the team, certainly for those two,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Whenever a guy like Jimmy goes out, it’s an opportunity to get experience in different situations. We have good veterans on the team, but this is a good opportunity for them to step up and lead. We don’t want leadership to fall on any one person and that includes when Jimmy is here.
“We want to have a team of leaders, and the best leadership you could have are your actions. What are you doing? It’s not what you say because oftentimes people say things and don’t do what they say. It’s what you do.”