LOS ANGELES – Love him or hate him, Basketball Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Charles Barkley is a man of many strong opinions.
He had one during Thursday night’s coverage of the Timberwolves’ comeback 104-101 victory over the Clippers in Los Angeles, and he won’t get an argument from many Wolves fans:
Tyus Jones needs to play more.
“I appreciate that, Charles,” Jones said after Thursday’s game. “Just trying to do everything I can.”
He hasn’t been called upon often this season, but Jones has delivered when asked. He did so again Thursday after starting point guard Ricky Rubio left the game at halftime because his hip tightened up. Afterward, Rubio said the issue had bothered him recently and it worsened in the first half but said, “It’s not a big deal.”
As Jones did in a victory at Phoenix in November and another over Dallas earlier this month, he played a pivotal part with the game in doubt. Before Thursday, he had played nine minutes total in the past four games, and that was all in one game.
This time, Jones played the entire fourth quarter against a Clippers team that played without All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. He teamed with rookie and fellow point guard Kris Dunn for the game’s final six minutes when both teams downsized to smaller lineups.
This time, he found a rhythm and a chemistry playing pick-and-rolls with Karl-Anthony Towns. Jones finished with four points and four assists in 12-plus minutes. Towns, meanwhile, had 37 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. He scored 27 points in the second half, with fifteen of his points coming in the fourth quarter — including nine Wolves points in a row down the stretch.
It was enough to get Towns a bit nostalgic, remembering back to the 2014 McDonald’s All-American game when he and Jones played on the East team.
“That’s something me and him have had since high school,” Towns said after the game. “It just carried over to tonight.”
Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau praised the play of both Dunn and Jones, attributing a fourth quarter in which the Wolves scored 11 of 15 points late to better ball movement with two point guards on the floor together.
When asked about Towns’ 37-point night, Thibodeau said: “When you go and look at it, you’ll see Tyus made really good plays, too. I thought that helped. The ball movement was really good.”
Jones did the same when he played the game’s final 11 minutes after Zach LaVine hurt his hip against Dallas on Jan. 9. After that game, Thibodeau called Jones’ limited role “situational” in a firm rotation where Rubio and Dunn — whom Thibodeau drafted fifth overall last summer — play ahead of him.
When needed, Jones delivered.
“I’m trying to,” Jones said. “I just try to stay ready and try to help this team out any way I can, no matter what it is, whether it’s the 20 seconds I got in the second quarter to play defense or cheer on from the bench. Whatever I can.”
Towns credited both Dunn and Jones, attributing Thursday’s victory to their play and leadership rather than his third career 30-10-5 game.
“Without them playing the way they did, we wouldn’t have had a chance,” Towns said. “Tyus played a great game, hitting shots, putting pressure on the defense. He took some key charges, too. He hadn’t played [in three of the previous four games] and he showed up. Just for him to always be ready, it shows what a true professional he is and why he is so valuable to this team.”
It was the kind of performance that caused Barkley, among others, to call for more.
“Obviously, everybody feels they should play and wants to be out there on the court,” Jones said. “But whatever the coach says goes. He calls the shots. When my name is called, the only thing I can do is make the most of it.”
Jones is 20, the Wolves’ youngest player. When he finished the game alongside Towns, Dunn, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, Dunn was the team’s oldest player on the floor, at 22.
That fact was enough to make Thibodeau smile after Thursday’s game.
“That’s pretty good,” he said.
ESPN.com reported Friday night that the Wolves and Detroit have discussed a trade that would include a Rubio-Reggie Jackson swap of point guards as its main piece. Jackson is in the second year of a five-year, $80 million contract.