Following his coach’s mantra, Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns made enough of the right plays during Wednesday’s 105-103 loss at Denver to produce his first career triple-double.
His 15-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist night and his team’s late 12-2 run couldn’t overcome another early blown lead or troublesome third quarter.
It did suggest progress in a process where Towns or teammate Andrew Wiggins are challenged to make a play quickly enough for themselves or a teammate after opponents send two defenders (or sometimes more) at either.
Eleven of Towns’ 15 points and eight of his 11 rebounds came in a fourth quarter when the Wolves trailed by 10 points with 3:49 left and tied the score at 103 when Wiggins made one of two free throws with 58 seconds left.
Towns’ 10 assists were one more than his previous career high, set vs. Dallas late in his rookie season. His previous high this season was five, which he’s reached in four games.
“I thought he played a great floor game,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said after Wednesday’s game. “He was so unselfish. We didn’t shoot it well, but he made the right play. To have 10 assists, he was trusting the pass. I thought he made great reads.”
Thibodeau lamented his team’s defensive breakdowns, particularly too many of them in the fourth quarter when the Nuggets reached the rim too often. Not included was Denver forward Danilo Gallinari’s spinning, banked-in 14-foot shot with 27 seconds left that stood as the winner.
“That late Gallinari shot you live with,” Thibodeau said.
He also praised the way his team passed the ball, Towns particularly. The Wolves had 29 assists on 42 made baskets and just eight turnovers.
“When teams are doing that — double- and triple-teams — you just pass it out,” Towns said. “Our team worked tremendously hard making shots. My teammates helped me out a lot when I was getting triple-teamed.”
Both Towns and Wiggins have worked with assistant coaches, studying film and all the different ways opponents send combinations of defenders at each player.
“It’s about the game plan instead of going with instinct,” Towns said. “When [assistant coaches] call ‘white’ or ‘red’ or anything, I know they’re trying to double-team me from different areas and I’m just trying to find ways to put people in the right positions. I’m trying to get to the safe, open man instead of trying to thread the needle.”
In theory, two defenders on Towns or Wiggins should create what Thibodeau calls “easy offense” for teammates who outnumber defenders elsewhere on the floor, if each player reads the play and makes decisions quickly enough.
“Keeping everyone connected is the most important thing,” Thibodeau said. “If a team is double-teaming — whether it’s a trap, a pick-and-roll or doubling in the post — trusting the pass and making the right play is crucial. Karl is getting better at it.”
Denver dared Wolves starting point guard Ricky Rubio to shoot corner three-point shots by leaving him undefended often on Wednesday. He did, making just one of seven attempts, but went 4-for-7 inside three-point range and made all seven of his free throws — the most he’s attempted in a game this season — for 18 points on a night when he also had eight rebounds, seven assists and four steals.
“I’m working on that shot,” said Rubio, who’s shooting 36.2 percent overall and just 27.5 percent on three-pointers this season. “I know I have to work harder; it is the way it is. I feel comfortable with it.”
Thibodeau said he wants Rubio to take that shot when it’s open, but …
“He can mix it up, he can put it on the floor, too, and get to the free-throw line,” Thibodeau said. “Sometimes the clock was winding down, so I thought they were the right shots. I thought he did a really good job, he wasn’t stationary. He was on the move a lot. It puts pressure on the rim. It opened stuff up and Karl was making good reads.”
Staff writer Kent Youngblood contributed to this story.