NEW YORK – With 4 minutes, 22 seconds remaining in the third quarter, and the Timberwolves down 21 to the Knicks on Monday, coach Chris Finch pulled his break-glass-in-case-of-emergency substitution off the bench.

In came Jordan McLaughlin, who had an instant impact on the game. Within two minutes, McLaughlin had two steals and five points and he led a Wolves surge late in the third and early in the fourth that nearly brought them all the way back in their 112-108 loss to the Knicks.

If there's a lasting effect Monday's game might have on the Wolves' season, it could mark the moment McLaughlin becomes a more regular part of the rotation. Finch offered high praise for McLaughlin's play of late, and this happens to coincide with the Wolves trying to figure out who might take the ninth spot in their rotation.

"He's now played in three of the last handful of games, and every single time he's come in and had a super positive impact," Finch said. "... We still believe that position [the ninth man] could be situational, but if somebody comes and takes it, then somebody comes and takes it and it looks like J-Mac is on his way to doing that right now."

It has been a tough season-plus for McLaughlin, who dealt with a calf injury that limited him most of last season, even when he returned from it. This season he suffered a knee injury against Boston on Nov. 6 and didn't play again until Dec. 11.

But he looked back to form Monday. The offense has been choppy lately for the Wolves, who play host to New Orleans on Wednesday, and McLaughlin helped smooth it out with his ability to play quick and move the ball.

"That's what we need, the ball to pop," McLaughlin said. "That's one of the things I'm able to bring to this team. All the guys bring something different to the table, but that's one thing I bring to the table."

Teammates praise McLaughlin for doing things that don't pop in the boxscore, but even that looked good for him Monday: nine points, three assists, two steals in 12 minutes.

"It's been tough … you want to be out there competing," McLaughlin said. "I love supporting these guys. They got us to No. 1 in the West, almost No. 1 in the league, just being a team player. Supporting my guys when they're out there, because I know they're going to support me when I'm out there."

McLaughlin is actually one of the longest-tenured Wolves on the team. He arrived in 2019, as did Naz Reid, and both are second only to Karl-Anthony Towns in time with the Wolves. To Towns, McLaughlin's play doesn't come as a surprise and he called McLaughlin the "complete teammate."

"He was the X-factor today," Towns said. "We wouldn't have had a chance to win the game without J-Mac. He came in and sparked us. … He was doing it all. It's been synonymous with his career. Every single time the game is tight, he comes into the game and he just changes the whole momentum."

Such has been the story of McLaughlin's career, but might this finally be the time where he finds himself back on the stat sheet pulling double-digit minutes on a nightly basis?

"My time will come when it comes," McLaughlin said. "They know what I can do. The guys know what I can do to help this team. Everybody just has to be ready when their number is called. We got guys one through 18 that can play. It's going to be somebody's night every night, every other night. Everybody just got to be ready to play."