It was a play the Wolves have not run this year. Drawn up on the spot, the result of some last-second input and some late-game luck.
At this point, they’ll take it.
With the game tied and a half-second left in overtime, in their second attempt to inbound the ball, Wolves forward Anthony Tolliver threw the ball toward the rim — a little high — and Karl-Anthony Towns was fouled by Kevin Durant trying to go get it. Moments later Towns hit the first free throw, then deliberately missed the second, sending the Wolves to a 131-130 victory over the defending champion Golden State Warriors in a sold-out Target Center.
In a season that has been a disappointment, in a spring of some fan discontent, this is the kind of win — wacky, impassioned, improbable — that is worth holding on to.
“It’s a long year, and it’s probably been a longer year for us in a lot of ways,’’ said interim Wolves coach Ryan Saunders, who has had to navigate through a slew of injuries since taking over. “But I’ll say it, and I’ve said it before, but I was proud to be a part of that group and proud to be a part of the resolve in that room.’’
Towns struggled nearly from the start to the finish and Andrew Wiggins fouled out, but the Wolves got contributions from everywhere — eight players scored in double figures — and showed a toughness that saw them withstand a pair of late charges from the Warriors, who trailed by nine points both in the fourth quarter and in overtime.
Wiggins had 24 points. Towns finished with 15, but shot 5-for-17. But it was the contributions from Josh Okogie (21 points), and the bench trio of Jerryd Bayless (17), Tolliver (14) and Gorgui Dieng (14) that made this possible.
This despite 37 points and 11 three-pointers by Warriors guard Steph Curry, 23 points from Durant and 20 from Klay Thompson.
The Wolves were down 19 with 8:54 left in the third quarter with Towns sitting with four fouls when everything changed. The Wolves ended the quarter on a 32-13 run, tying the score heading into the fourth.
Saunders stuck with his guys; at one point he was going to put Tyus Jones back in the game for Bayless. Just then Bayless drove for a score. Saunders looked over at Jones, who said, “Keep him in.”
And he did.
The Wolves build a nine-point lead with 5:14 left in regulation, only to see the Warriors storm back to force OT. The Wolves went back up nine on Okogie’s corner three with 1:41 left in overtime, but the Warriors weren’t done. A three by Curry, then another. A Draymond Green putback.
With 4.4 seconds left Durant got the ball, was fouled, then made a three-pointer, but the basket was waved off. Out of another inbounds Curry got the ball in the corner, covered by Bayless. As the seconds ticked down he turned around and let fly yet another three, tying the score at 130.
In the timeout Saunders drew up a play designed to get the ball to a shooter, but the Warriors blew it up and another timeout was called. This time Towns asked Saunders to call for a lob to the hoop.
“We’ve never run that, no,’’ Tolliver said. “I’ve seen it be run, though. It’s a great play, and it’s hard to guard.’’
Towns got the foul, and the free throw. And, finally, it was over.
“This means a lot,’’ Okogie said. “It shows we have guys with a lot of resiliency.’’
It was a high point in a difficult year for the Wolves. After it was over Towns went to bat for his coach, lobbying for Saunders’ return next year.
“He’s done a lot to earn it,’’ Towns said. “Our record might not be what we want it to be. But I think the culture he’s building, it’s something you can’t make up. He’s Minnesota basketball through and through.’’