A man who favors certain concepts and catch-phrases, Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau often advises players to “never let go of the rope” and defines his professional world by those who reside either inside the circle or outside it when speaking about such things as trust and connectedness.
One of his most reliable standbys applied in Monday’s 115-108 victory over Phoenix at Target Center, a triumph that delivered the Wolves’ first home victory in more than a month and moved Thibodeau’s team beyond Saturday’s stinging overtime loss to Houston:
It’s a phrase Thibodeau uses almost daily and one that embodied Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns’ relentlessness during a game-changing, three-point play with 3:21 left.
That decisive play started the Wolves’ late 10-2 run and Towns’ cutting layup finished it during a two-minute stretch that also turned a two-point lead into a 115-105 bulge with 1:34 left.
“I don’t know, that’s a question you have to ask Thibs,” Towns said when asked if his play personified what Thibodeau so often mentions. “I’m lost half the time sometimes when he says something, all the vernacular he uses. I think that is more about finding a way and a will, the determination to do stuff.”
Thibodeau’s endless search for multiple-effort also came in the way his team finished plays and the game after they failed to so against Houston on Saturday, when they blew a nine-point lead in the final minute.
This time, the Wolves gave away most of a 14-point, second-quarter lead, but never gave away all of it.
“That’s one of the things we were talking about, just finishing,” Thibodeau said. “Finishing our defense, finishing our spacing and finishing our game.”
Towns’ game-changing, three-point play came after he grabbed two offensive rebounds and missed one layup before making the next. It also came after the Suns had pulled within two points for the fifth and final time in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t want to let this game slide away,” Towns said. “I was going to do everything in my power to make sure we weren’t going to come out with a loss tonight. Even missing that first one, I was determined to get that second one. I would have gotten a foul running over somebody to get it.”
His 28-point, 15-rebound performance led the way, with plenty of help from Andrew Wiggins’ 26 points, Zach LaVine’s 23 points and Ricky Rubio’s commanding 12-assist, 8-point game.
“That’s will and determination and oftentimes that’s the difference between winning and losing right there,” Thibodeau said, particularly about Towns’ transformational play. “It’s something we have to develop, our mental toughness. If that’s three stops in a row at the end of the game or three scores in a row, whatever it might require. We have to have the belief we can get that done and trust in each other.”
Their will and determination allowed the Wolves to persevere and win at Target Center for the first time since they thumped Philadelphia there on Nov. 17. They now are 4-10 at home, 4-9 on the road.
“That’s what he asks for,” Rubio said, referring to Thibodeau’s multiple-effort creed. “You’ve got to put in the effort and the work and the results will come.”
Rubio has heard Thibodeau call for such effort before. So has Wiggins.
“I’ve heard it multiple times, all the time,” Wiggins said dryly. “He always wants us to give the first effort, second effort, third effort, fourth effort, keep going. That [three-point play by Towns] was a big play.”
Did Wiggins keep count how many times Towns tried on that play?
“It was a lot,” he said. “Multiple.”