CHICAGO – New Timberwolves coach Chris Finch has said he wants to get the ball to Karl-Anthony Towns as much as possible, so much so that guard Ricky Rubio said the only plays Finch has had time to install so far are designed to run through Towns.
When asked Tuesday what needs to happen for the Wolves to be better in late-game situations, rookie Anthony Edwards just shook his head and said, "Put the ball in KAT's hands."
There was one problem with that strategy in overtime for the Wolves in their 133-126 loss to the Bulls — Towns wasn't on the floor. He fouled out late in the fourth quarter.
"It was a little bit deflating for our guys," Finch said of Towns fouling out. "He gives you a guy to go to when the ball is in his hands and things feel calm."
Former Wolves guard and newly minted All-Star Zach LaVine bolstered his status as the one that got away with 35 points to lead the Bulls, who scored the first seven points of the extra session to pull away in a game it had led most of the second half. Malik Beasley had 25 points for the Wolves as they fell to 0-2 in the Finch era.
"If it was a different moment of the season, we could figure things out," Rubio said. "But now with a new coach, playing through [Towns] all the time and basing our offense through him, it was hard to really find a rhythm in the overtime."
The game only got to overtime because of a curious string of events.
The Bulls had the ball leading 117-116 after a Towns miss with around 31 seconds left — a seven-second difference between the shot and game clocks. Towns and Beasley trapped LaVine near the sideline, but an official ruled Towns fouled LaVine, ending Towns' night with 24 points and eight rebounds.
It was a moment that previously might have caused an outburst from Towns. Not so much now; after all, he and his family have been through in their battles with COVID, he said.
"I got to focus on — what do I really exhaust my energy on?" Towns said. "Refs are not one of those things anymore. I kind of just let it go. I just want to talk to them."
Towns said in that talk the official ruled he had grabbed LaVine's arm, and even added the official told him he thought the Wolves wanted to foul. They didn't because of the difference in the clocks.
The Wolves (7-26) then had to foul and Tomas Satoransky then hit a pair of free throws to put the Bulls up 119-116 with 9.8 seconds left.
On the Wolves' final possession of regulation, Rubio heaved one at the basket from three-point range and somehow drew a foul on Coby White with 4.9 seconds left. Rubio hit the three free throws to send the game to OT. Rubio said he thought Chicago might foul to prevent a three-point attempt, and when he sensed contact coming, he decided to shoot. It was a move he said he pulled on Beasley when the two met last season on Phoenix and Denver.
"You got to make sure that you have the contact because if not, you can shoot without a foul and put you in a tough spot," Rubio said.
The Wolves weren't exactly in a good spot even after Rubio tied the score because they no longer had Towns. Rubio said the Wolves were calling plays they ran under fired coach Ryan Saunders since Finch's sets had Towns as the focal point.
The Bulls scored the first seven of overtime and the Wolves never got within one possession again.
When asked what went wrong late, Finch's first words were, "Losing KAT."
It didn't help the Wolves allowed the Bulls to shoot 59%. But Finch wasn't complaining too much after the week the Wolves have had.
"Really proud of the guys the way they kept fighting back and especially on a back-to-back," Finch said. "Effort was awesome and they really rose to the challenge."