ATLANTA – After their 125-113 win over Atlanta on Monday, some of the Timberwolves were complaining that they didn’t want to leave so suddenly for San Antonio.
Robert Covington snuck up to the dry-erase board and changed the departure time for the team buses by 10 minutes, then walked back to his locker motioning “Sh!” to those around him. Karl-Anthony Towns suggested he change the times by a few hours.
Perhaps the Wolves wanted the good feelings of Monday’s win, just the second in their past six games, to last a little longer.
Towns attempted to put the game on his shoulders in the third quarter, when he had 15 of his 28 points to go with 13 rebounds and eight assists. But after he checked out for some rest with 3 minutes, 43 seconds remaining in the quarter, the Wolves picked him up.
Jeff Teague, in a new role coming off the bench, and Gorgui Dieng helped lead the best stretch of Wolves defense on the night as they erased a double digit third-quarter deficit and turned it into a comfortable victory.
Dieng had 13 points, including going 3-for-3 from three-point range, and with each three he hit, the bench got increasingly excited.
“Gorgui was amazing,” Towns said. “It’s just him being a consummate pro, always being ready for that opportunity and doing what he does best. When he’s given the opportunity he goes out there and makes magic happen.”
The Wolves tried a new look for their starting lineup, with coach Ryan Saunders shifting Teague to the bench and starting Jarrett Culver (14 points) with Andrew Wiggins (25 points) as the primary ballhandler. It was a move Saunders made after a few discussions recently with Teague, who was more than OK letting go of a starting spot.
“I thought it was best for the team with all the injuries we have right now,” Teague said. “With Jake [Layman] being out, with Shabazz [Napier] being out I’m just trying to give us something off the bench.”
He gave them eight points and eight assists while still playing 31 minutes. All of Teague’s points came in the second half — a stretch of play he kicked off with the second unit.
When Towns went out in the third, the Wolves held the Hawks and Trae Young (37 points) to just three points the rest of the quarter. That turned an 87-82 deficit into a 91-90 lead headed into the fourth.
“We were just relying on our offense early and realized this team wasn’t going away,” Dieng said. “We got to win this game with defense. They’ve got good shooters, and they’re trying to get stops. We set goals, and I think in the first half we felt like our goals — we were failing. Let’s try to get back to normal and play the basketball we know.”
They did that the rest of the way, outscoring the Hawks 32-23 in the fourth. Afterward Saunders was effusive in his praise of Teague and how he handled his new role.
“Jeff Teague is a professional, and he is a man,” Saunders said. “And Jeff, he feels strongly about ‘Wigg’ and ‘Kat’ and these guys, he wants these guys to succeed.”
Towns said it was fitting Teague led the Wolves over the top.
“Isn’t it amazing that Jeff is one of the biggest reasons we win tonight?” Towns said. “Because Jeff is just a pro. He’s an amazing character guy, and we’re very lucky to have him in this locker room.”
A locker room they were in no hurry to leave Monday.