Robert Covington knows what it’s like.
Early in his career he felt like a yo-yo, bouncing back and forth and between what was then called the NBA’s Developmental League and the NBA. He knows what it’s like to be on a plane every day for 3½ weeks, to fight through fatigue, knowing that every precious moment played in the NBA is an opportunity.
“I’ve been there before,’’ Covington said Thursday night after his first 20-point, 10-rebound game with the Timberwolves. “You don’t get the chance to really know what you can do unless you’re out there.’’
That’s what made the Wolves’ 99-84 victory over Golden State at Target Center so much fun. They were playing on the back end of consecutive nights, with about half the roster hurt or sick. But Covington led a group of players, many of whom also have called the G League’s Iowa Wolves home, in an inspiring effort.
Covington and Shabazz Napier each had 20 points. Napier scored 11 in the first quarter to get the Wolves going. He scored eight in the fourth quarter when a Wolves lead of more than 20 points had been trimmed to single digits.
And then, the supporting cast:
Kelan Martin had 12 points and was a team-best plus-24. Jarrett Culver scored all 10 of his points in the third quarter. Naz Reid hit three three-pointers and scored 13 points off the bench, adding one of the prettiest feeds you’ll ever see to a crashing Keita-Bates Diop.
Eleven players got minutes, nine scored, eight had at least three rebounds. Playing without Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Jake Layman, to name just a few, the Wolves (13-21) took it to the injury-ravaged Warriors (9-27) from the start, leading by 15 after a quarter and as many as 27 in the third quarter.
The Wolves, who have struggled so mightily to win at home, have now won two in a row at Target Center. A team that suffered through an 11-game losing streak has now won three out of five, with a two-point loss at Milwaukee onWednesday included.
“In a back-to-back you gotta give more energy,’’ said Napier, who made seven of nine shots and had two steals and a block. “And, hopefully, that in turn pushes us to a victory like it did today. I thought we all came out with an aggressiveness defensively, and that’s where we kinda want to hang our hat on.’’
The Warriors’ 84 points were the fewest by a Wolves opponent this season, and this was Minnesota’s first victory when scoring less than 100 points. The Wolves held Golden State to 42.9% shooting and only three three-pointers in 20 attempts.
“We went through a stretch where it was unacceptable defensively,’’ Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said. “We knew that. The players understood what was at stake.’’
It didn’t hurt that a number of players who usually spend more time on the bench — or in Iowa — were busy taking advantage of an opportunity.
“We’ve been playing hard,’’ Martin said. “That continued, on both ends. Some shots weren’t falling, but we made up for it on the defensive end with our energy, intensity.’’
“They know their window is small and they want to make the best of it,’’ he said. “We tell them go out and just play. Don’t think about it. Don’t try to do anything extra. Just go out and play.’’