Back from a three-game road trip where they couldn’t win, the Timberwolves played an Oklahoma City team that they cannot lose to and they didn’t Tuesday night at Target Center, winning 131-120.
Those losses at Atlanta, Indiana and Washington are the kinds that can keep the Wolves out of the playoffs. But All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns said that victories like this one can still get them there, no matter how mathematically improbable it might be.
“We still have a chance,” Towns said after finishing with 41 points and 14 rebounds against Thunder. “We still have a great chance.”
They do, particularly if they could play Oklahoma City more than once again this season.
The Wolves are 6-1 since last season’s start against a playoff-aimed Thunder team they still trail by nine games in the West. They have beaten All-Stars Russell Westbrook and Paul George and the Thunder with Andrew Wiggins’ desperate, banked, buzzer-beating heave early last season and with Wiggins averaging 35 points in the Wolves’ first two victories against them this season.
On Tuesday, it was Towns’turn, with a big performance despite early foul trouble. The 41 points give him 182 in five games since returning from missing two games because of a car accident.
That’s the most prolific five-game scoring stretch in franchise history, better than Kevin Love’s 175 points in February 2014.
That’s a 36.4 point average. That’s what they call another level.
“We’re seeing that right now,” Derrick Rose said. “He’s averaging probably 35 points. Why not go to him and play through him?”
The Wolves did just that on a night when they also received valuable contributions from Rose, Wiggins, Josh Okogie, Jeff Teague and Keita Bates-Diop. They surrendered 120 points, but held an opponent among the league leaders in pace and transition points to just six fast-break points.
Wolves interim coach Ryan Saunders said he was proud of his players and pleased with a defense that slowed down the pace as well as Westbrook and George, who still combined for 63 points.
He said the same about Towns, who collected two quick fouls in the first four minutes and played only 10½ minutes before halftime.
“His 41 and 14 in 30 minutes is impressive,” Saunders said. “We just need to keep him growing in every facet of his game and we know he will. He has teammates who are going to support him to make the next step from All-Star to the next types of accolades that come with doing all the other things. He’s definitely moving that.”
In one breath, Towns afterward spoke of his performance in the biblical, describing one dash to the rim for a mighty dunk like this, “Thought Moses was out there, I saw the Red Sea part.”
In the next breath, he declared himself unhappy with that 0-3 road trip and unmoved by gaudy stats.
“If we’re not winning, it’s not fun,” said Towns, who moved past Wally Szczerbiak into fifth place on the club’s all-time scoring list. “It’s cool. It looks great. Friends get to talk about it. But when I go home, I’m still looking in the mirror at a person who lost three games on the road to teams we should be beating.”
Saunders acknowledged the road trip, saying “We understand how Sunday looked in Washington.” Towns himself dryly said, “Sunday was just the tip of the iceberg with the amazing things we were able to not accomplish on that road trip.”
Now they head to Detroit on Wednesday to see what Towns and his team might do next.
“Just greatness,” Okogie said of Towns’ last five games. “We’re all witnessing it.”