LAS VEGAS – Tyus Jones took charge of the Timberwolves and led them to the NBA Summer League championship game.
His best wasn’t enough to give them the title.
Jones finished with 27 points and 10 assists, but the Wolves lost 84-82 in overtime to Chicago Monday night at Thomas & Mack Center.
The tournament turned into a showcase for the second-year point guard from Apple Valley High School, who took charge of a struggling Wolves unit to bring it to the brink of a championship. Jones was named Summer League MVP on Sunday night.
Jones made a deep, deep three near the Bulls bench that gave the Wolves a 77-74 lead with 3 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, but Chicago rookie Denzel Valentine answered with a tying three with .2 seconds remaining.
“I just wanted that pressure and that challenge. I didn’t think it would be from that far out but they just kept coming at me,” Jones said. “[I left] a little bit too much time on the clock.”
Jones also assisted on a banked-in three by Xavier Silas that tied the score at 82-82 with 11 seconds left in overtime, but Valentine again answered at the buzzer, this time to win the game and the championship.
“Denzel made a heck of a play. There’s a reason he’s a big- time leader down the stretch,” Wolves Summer League coach Ryan Saunders said of the Big Ten Player of the Year from Michigan State. “We did everything right; we just wanted three more points.”
Valentine scored only two points outside of his two makes at the buzzer. Chicago guard Jerian Grant was chosen the game’s Most Valuable Player after recording 24 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
Adreian Payne had a double-double for the Wolves with 22 points and 16 rebounds.
The Wolves took early control with a 19-0 run to open the second quarter, giving them a 32-18 lead. The run was enough to energize reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns, who stood and cheered as his team seized the momentum. Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau was watching a few seats away underneath the basket by the Bulls bench, looking on as his current team played his former one.
Chicago got back in front with an 18-5 run in the third quarter, and the teams kept trading the lead in the fourth.
In the end the Wolves, who started the tournament seeded 24th out of 24 teams, couldn’t pull off one more upset. They did come away with a confident point guard, even if it maybe wasn’t the one they were expecting.
“He’s a winner,” Saunders said of Jones. “He’s tough. He’s cool. He makes big-time plays in big-time situations.”
Jones started Summer League play sharing ballhandling duties with rookie and No. 5 overall pick Kris Dunn. He was the Wolves’ focal point for their first two games, averaging 24 points, but then he suffered a concussion.
Jones took off from there, powering the Wolves to a four-game winning streak and eventual berth in the title game.
In those four games, Jones averaged 22.8 points, 8.3 points and 1.8 steals with 49.1 percent shooting. In his first Summer League stint, as a rookie last year, he averaged only 7.8 points and 2.0 assists.
“It seems like he’s more comfortable out there, and he knows where he’s going to get shots on offense,” Payne said. “He’s just playing with more confidence.”
The Wolves were blown out 99-68 by Cleveland in their first game without Dunn, also the last game before tournament seedings were announced. They looked on their way to a quick exit from Las Vegas, but Jones didn’t let that happen.
In the second round of the playoffs he scored 11 points in the fourth quarter to help defeat Memphis. In the quarterfinals, he drew a questionable foul in the corner and made two free throws in a victory over top-seeded Toronto.
He scored a game-high 29 in the semifinals against Phoenix despite hurting his left hand on a layup at the end of the first half.
“I’ve been working hard this past summer and the offseason,” Jones said. “Seeing it pay off is definitely motivating and it’s definitely a positive.”