ATLANTA – Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau emerged from the coaches’ room after Wednesday’s 92-84 victory at Atlanta with a beaming smile and a hearty laugh, but he vowed his uncommon good mood had little to do with his team’s first winning “streak” this season or their third victory in the past four games.
“G and Karl were having some discussion about some college game,” Thibodeau said, referring to frontcourt starters Gorgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns. “I don’t know what transpired, but they’re having some fun back there. I believe Louisville won.”
It couldn’t be that his Wolves, little by little ,seem to be figuring this winning thing out, could it?
Owners of a 6-18 season start not that long ago, the Wolves have reversed course in eight days, beating Chicago, Phoenix and Atlanta and losing in overtime to streaking Houston after they led by nine points with a minute left in regulation time.
“I feel like we’re playing good basketball,” Wolves forward Andrew Wiggins said. “I feel like it should be four in a row the way we’ve been playing. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”
This time, the Wolves let an early 15-4 lead slip away yet again, but they beat the Hawks for the third consecutive time because of a decisive 25-15 fourth quarter after their defense stiffened. They turned over the ball just enough near the end to stress their coach, but still took care of it well enough to win.
“Well,” Thibodeau said, “I’m always stressed.”
His team exploited the absence of Atlanta big man Dwight Howard (back tightness) for consecutive games by outrebounding the Hawks 52-35 and used Towns’ 17-point, 18-rebound game to overpower an opponent that tried to play small and fast.
Towns now is the first NBA player this season with three consecutive 15-point, 15-rebound games. The last man to do it: Then-Wolves star Kevin Love with four consecutively in February 2014.
“Karl is a load down there and they were small,” Wiggins said, “so we had to take advantage of it.”
Don’t look now, but the Wolves trail Portland, Sacramento and Denver by just 2½ games for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot and it’s not yet Christmas.
“We’ve given some away, we know it,” Wolves guard Zach LaVine said. “We’ve been doing it all year, but you can’t dwell on the past. Just keep moving forward and get better at it.”
The Wolves started this 3-in-4 stretch by beating Chicago a week ago Tuesday with defense and rebounding after they trailed 26-6 early.
“We just feel more confident in ourselves,” Towns said. “I told you after we won in Chicago, we have a different swagger, a different walk, a different talk. That’s a sign we’re growing.”
And Thibodeau’s wide smile and big laugh after Wednesday’s game? Well, consider that progress, even if he attributed both to the Dieng-Towns exchange rather than to another victory.
“All right, man, go ahead and smile, we like that,” LaVine said. “I don’t care why, regardless. If we see him smile, we know we’re all right.”
Dieng needled Towns post-game because his Louisville Cardinals defeated Towns’ Kentucky Wildcats on Wednesday night.
Towns dismissed the occurrence as once in a blue moon — “A Kentucky blue moon” — although Dieng said he does not know about such things.
“I don’t understand that stuff, I really don’t,” Dieng said. “But I’m glad they won. I’m going to trash [talk] Karl the whole way back to Minneapolis.”