MIAMI – New Jersey-raised with a baseball in his hand not far from Yankee Stadium, Karl-Anthony Towns might not know Yogi Berra’s greatest quotations, but he apparently is well-versed in 12th-century French proverbs.
The Timberwolves’ 125-122 overtime victory over the Miami Heat on Monday night proved both that it really ain’t never over until it’s over and basketball truly is 90 percent mental while the other half is physical.
Up by seven with 3 minutes, 9 seconds left in the fourth quarter and by seven again with 1:47 left in overtime, the Wolves proved resilient when Miami refused to go into the good night, holding off Dion Waiters’ enduring 33-point game to finish October with a 4-3 record.
After having seemingly won the game more than once, the Wolves needed point guard Jeff Teague’s two free throws with 4.4 seconds left in OT to ensure victory. Teague finished with 23 points, 11 assists and six steals and was plus-18.
“It takes time, you know Rome wasn’t built in one day,” Towns said. “We’ve got to go brick by brick.”
Brick by brick, the Wolves on Monday built a winning record in this young season.
They did it with Towns finding more room to make a clutch corner three-pointer early in overtime, after he had no room with Heat rookie Bam Adebayo draped all over him as regulation expired. Towns had a double-double of 20 points and 12 rebounds.
They did it with Andrew Wiggins delivering a stirring slam dunk over Miami’s Josh Richardson late in the fourth quarter and another that he later missed. But both attempts left teammates Towns and Jamal Crawford admiring each on their phones postgame.
“I made the dunk that was harder and missed the dunk that was easier,” Wiggins said after he scored 22 points. “I don’t know how that happened.”
Wiggins intended that made slam as punctuation — “Say it’s over” — on the game. It gave the Wolves a 110-106 lead with 38 seconds left in regulation, but it didn’t stand up after Waiters scored the fourth quarter’s final four points to tie the score.
After Waiters’ driving layup tied the score with 3.6 seconds left, the Wolves then used two timeouts, but they still couldn’t get a shot any better than Towns’ forced corner three that went nowhere near the basket.
“I’m sure we wanted to get a better shot,” Teague said, “but it’s part of the game.”
No matter, the Wolves simply started overtime by scoring seven of the first nine points, including Towns’ made left-corner three, and then held on to the end.
But when Teague found Jimmy Butler all alone behind the Heat defense for a layup and a 123-119 lead with 9.9 left in overtime, it still wasn’t over. Waiters’ long three-pointer forced Teague to make those two final free throws.
Inevitably, Waiters’ potential game-tying, desperation three from 35 feet missed at the buzzer.
“It just kept swinging both ways,” Crawford said of the game. “Whenever you can find ways to win like that, it not only helps build character, it reveals it. If you look at our four wins, all four have been in clutch moments. It’s great growth, showing where this team has come from last year to this year.”
Granted, it’s a small sample size, but Butler found satisfaction that the Wolves head to November and Wednesday’s game at New Orleans winners.
“It’s never over, not in this league,” he said. “All wins aren’t going to be pretty. All in all, a win for this team is amazing on the road. It’s a short month, but a winning one for us.”
The Wolves won partly because they forced Miami into 24 turnovers, partly because they won the contest to get to the free-throw line, making 32 of 35 in an area that has vexed them so far this season while Miami shot 25 and made 17.
“You’ve got to be able to take a punch in this league,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We have to improve. We can’t get tired with the work. The work has to be done. There’s no way to get around that part. It’s the only way to improve.”
Just ask the Romans.