Tom Thibodeau delivered the line deadpan. But the sarcasm was evident when he mentioned center Karl-Anthony Towns.
“It was nice,” he said, “to see him play a game against New Orleans.”
There was a lot to like in Saturday’s 116-98 Timberwolves victory over the Pelicans at Target Center, in front of an announced 18,978 fans, the team’s third straight sellout. The ball movement through three quarters, while the Wolves were building a 34-point lead, for example. As good, Thibodeau said, as he’s seen this year.
The continue growth on the defensive end, of course.
And then: Towns.
His first two games against the Pelicans this season had been frustrating. Well, to a point anyway. The Wolves had won both games. But, mired in foul trouble in both games, he’d done more sitting and watching than playing and scoring.
Not Saturday. Displaying again the growth in his game, Towns scored 21 points, with 16 rebounds, three assists and a block in the victory.
Towns had 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting — hitting two three-pointers and two emphatic slam-dunks — with seven rebounds in the second quarter, when the Wolves essentially took the game over for good.
“It was good to be out there, to try to help my teammates win,” said Towns, who has 39 rebounds in his past two games. “Instead of the last few times, when I was on the bench. It was a lot of fun. We played a great game.”
Yes, the Wolves did. Through three quarters Minnesota shot 52.8 percent, with 25 assists on 38 made field goals, consistently turning the extra pass into an open shot. While building that 34-point lead late in the third quarter, the Wolves held the Pelicans (19-19) under 40 percent shooting.
And if there was a little hiccup late? Nobody’s perfect.
“It’s awesome when we move the ball like that,” said Taj Gibson, who had 15 points, three assists and three steals. “When everybody plays unselfish, it makes the game so much easier.’’
The Wolves (25-16) ended a two-game losing streak, won their fourth straight game at Target Center, and hit the midpoint of the season on pace for a 50-win season. It is the best 41-game win total since the Wolves started the 2003-04 season 29-12.
“Our offense was a lot better today,” Thibodeau said. “The defense has been moving in the right direction. I thought the willingness to move the ball, keep it moving, making plays for each other, was terrific.”
It showed. All five starters scored in double figures, led by Towns and Jimmy Butler (21), Andrew Wiggins (20) and Gibson. Gorgui Dieng scored 14 off the bench.
The Pelicans got 23 points from DeMarcus Cousins and 16 from Anthony Davis. But this was another wire-to-wire victory for the Wolves, who opened a high-profile five-game homestand that continues Monday against Cleveland.
But the most impressive? Towns.
The twin towers of Cousins and Davis play a physical game that invites contact and dishes it out. In the first two games vs. New Orleans, Towns had found it hard to avoid foul trouble.
Saturday he kept his focus.
“It can be frustrating at times,” Thibodeau said. “He can’t allow that to get to him. He handled that really well today. He showed a lot of maturity and growth, in terms of not reacting to calls and non-calls, and just playing.”
The result was Towns’ 33rd double-double this season and his second straight game with at least 20 points and 15 rebounds.
It was, as Thibodeau said, nice to see him play against the Pelicans.
“You have to stay mentally strong, understand what their game plan is coming in,” Towns said. “You have to stay disciplined to the game plan.”