NEW YORK – For the first time in the past four seasons, the Timberwolves had to play a game without Karl-Anthony Towns on the floor.
The sight of Towns in regular clothes cheering on the end of the bench was a new one for the Wolves, but they were thankful Towns was able to be there at all given his involvement in a car crash Thursday on his way to catch the team flight.
The scheduling gods had sympathy on the Wolves and handed them the Knicks, the Eastern Conference doormat that doesn’t have much interest in winning games this season. Towns was in the NBA’s concussion protocol, but the Wolves defeated the Knicks anyway, 115-104 at Madison Square Garden. His veteran teammates made sure they staved off embarrassment.
A few of them even posted season highs, such as Taj Gibson, who had 19 points, and Anthony Tolliver, who had 16. Derrick Rose also helped offensively as he finished with 20 while Andrew Wiggins had 17 on 5-for-16 shooting. Interim head coach Ryan Saunders said he didn’t want one player to pick up the slack for Towns; instead he said the mentality was “lean on whoever,” especially since Towns’ backup, Gorgui Dieng, also missed the game for personal reasons.
“It’s a next-man-up mentality,” Saunders said. “And whatever adversity is put in front of us, we’re going to do everything we can to stay together and just contribute.”
They did so without much fuss Friday. The Knicks got off to a hot start behind 18 first-quarter points from Damyean Dotson and led 33-29 after one. But Rose led a charge back with a second unit comprising him, Tolliver, Luol Deng, Keita Bates-Diop and Tyus Jones. Bates-Diop was seeing some of his most meaningful minutes of the season while Jones made his return after a 13-game absence because of a left ankle injury. That unit was able to reclaim the lead, and the Wolves didn’t relinquish it from there.
“It just shows the resiliency this team has,” Gibson said. “A number of guys that can step up any given night.”
Rose was able to contort his body and provide a number of entertaining moments for the New York crowd, which last got to see Rose in action in the 2016-17 season.
Tolliver’s three-point stroke was as smooth as it has been all season in connecting on four of five attempts.
“Felt really good,” Tolliver said. “Just felt good to play, play in the rotation and play kind of my natural position and just be able to go out there and produce and just have a lot of confidence in myself.”
Towns was expected to make the trip for the team’s game in Milwaukee on Saturday. He will have to clear the concussion protocol before he can return, which means he must pass a variety of physical tests and receive clearances from a doctor.
He was on the end of the bench Friday cheering on his teammates, leading the cheers when Bates-Diop buried a corner three for his only points of the night. It’s unknown how long Towns will be in that role.
“He’s a character,” Rose said of Towns. “When he’s out there, he’s cheering for us. He’s animated, and it’s always fun whenever he’s around. We’re just happy that nothing serious happened to him. We were more concerned with that.”