Karl-Anthony Towns took the microphone before Tuesday’s home finale against the Raptors. His words were short and to the point, thanking the fans for their support throughout the season before heading back to the bench.
It’s been a trying year for Wolves fans, who filled up Target Center for the opener on Oct. 19 to boo two guys who used to be their own, Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau.
The home chapter of this story ended Tuesday with a 120-100 loss to the Raptors.
The animosity that was present toward the state of the franchise at the opener wasn’t present in the home finale, just the resignation from a half-full arena that accompanies another year out of the playoffs.
Towns didn’t play because of right knee inflammation that extended back to an injury he suffered against the Wizards on March 9 and interim coach Ryan Saunders joked before the game that as a result of Towns’ injury he was going to throw out some interesting lineups. The Raptors took advantage in a 43-19 second quarter that sealed the outcome.
Kawhi Leonard finished with 20 points in just 24 minutes of work to lead Toronto. Chris Boucher came off the bench to score 15 while Andrew Wiggins and Gorgui Dieng had 16 to lead the Wolves. Tyus Jones added 11 points and 10 assists.
Saunders has been able to keep the Wolves focused on trying to improve over the past few weeks even with the playoffs out of reach, but Tuesday had a last-day-of-school feel. There was plenty of laughter inside the Wolves locker room after the game as the team got ready for its final road trip to Denver. Saunders also couldn’t help but crack up during a few of his interactions with reporters.
When asked how the Wolves ended up shooting 42 three-pointers, a high number for them, Saunders said through some laughter: “Honestly, I don’t know. I’ll be honest with you — I’m going to have to take a look at the film, going to Denver. I’ll get you an answer [Wednesday].”
The Wolves have been adamant that they’re not tanking, but Towns not playing made it tremendously difficult to beat the Raptors, which in turn helping the Wolves’ odds of staying behind the Lakers in the standings. If the Wolves lose Wednesday night, they will secure the 10th-worst record in the league and a 13.9 percent chance of jumping into the top four of the draft lottery.
There have been some bright spots for the Wolves in the closing weeks of the season, like Dieng regaining his form after an inconsistent season.
“I know I can help the basketball team, but the minutes I play — it’s not up to me,” Dieng said. “The best I can do is stay ready and whenever I get my name called, get in there and do what I can do.”
His play has been cause for cheer and the crowd got into the Wolves debut of Australian Mitch Creek, who was on a 10-day contract and signed another deal for the end of the season. Creek had eight points.
“It’s always good to get your first run,” Creek said. “You work so hard for so long and you want to go out there and do your best, try and put on a good show.”
At the end of the game, fans who were still there gave the team a standing ovation.
“I’ll say this about our fans, no matter what this year, they have come out and they have been energetic and found things to get excited for,” Saunders said.