Karl-Anthony Towns has just hobbled to the bench with 8.3 seconds remaining in regulation, unable to continue because of a right knee injury. In that remaining time, Wizards guard Bradley Beal beat the buzzer to send a potential Timberwolves victory to overtime.
If there was a moment the Wolves could have collapsed under the weight of their disappointing season, it was then, between regulation and overtime after that emotional one-two punch staggered them.
But they didn’t, and the Wolves sent home the hearty fans who braved the weather to come to Target Center with a 135-130 overtime victory over the Wizards.
“It’s tough. You can’t believe it at first,” said guard Derrick Rose, who had 29 points. “But that’s why we’re pros.”
The pros outlasted the Wizards in the overtime session without Towns, who took his 40 points and 16 rebounds to the locker room just before overtime started. Interim coach Ryan Saunders said after the game Towns needed further testing on his knee but added he saw Towns walking around and that he had “not heard concern” of a potentially serious injury.
That comes as a relief, but not one Wolves fans can fully let out until those other tests are complete.
With the Wolves’ playoff chances fast approaching zero, getting Towns across the finish line healthy is the top Wolves priority the rest of the way. While they do that, Saunders said Friday the team isn’t going to tank, that it will put the best team possible on the floor. To Saunders, that meant playing little-used rookie Keita Bates-Diop 37 minutes in his first NBA start for injured Andrew Wiggins (left quad bruise). Bates-Diop (12 points) was out there for every crucial minute down the stretch and had the assignment to guard Beal. Saunders also gave 20 minutes to Cameron Reynolds, who just signed his second 10-day contract with the Wolves.
“We stuck together and knew we were going to get the win one way or another,” Bates-Diop said.
It looked like that might not happen. Towns put the Wolves ahead 116-114 with two minutes left, and the Wolves held the lead until Beal (36 points, 13-for-25 shooting) got open on a side out-of-bounds play and buried a three to send the game to overtime. Before that, Towns was injured on an out-of-bounds play and immediately took himself out of the game.
“It hurts for a little bit but then you have to kid of re-collect your thoughts and try to win the next five minutes,” forward Anthony Tolliver said.
In the extra session, Rose scored four points, including a step-back to put the Wolves ahead 131-127 with 22.6 seconds to play. Rose exceeded his usual minutes limit in 30 minutes of playing time and went 13-for-23 from the floor.
“[Saunders] kept me in and I was cool with it,” Rose said. “It’s whatever the team wants. I’m willing to give myself up for the team.”
Even with the Wolves nearly out of playoff contention, that’s an attitude that still permeates the team. For Saunders, the rest of the season matters as he tries to prove to owner Glen Taylor he deserves the job long-term. Moments like Saturday can help with that.
“A number of things showed a lot of resiliency from our team … ” Saunders said. “We really pulled together, and without [Towns] as well. In a way you can look to [that] and you can say we’re building something.”