Wolves 118, Knicks 108: Towns Shines in Battle of The Unicorns

The Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the New York Knickerbockers 118-108 Friday night, the team’s fourth victory in a row; their record now sits at 28-16 and they find themselves .5 games behind the San Antonio Spurs for the third seed in the Western Conference.

The game was defined by how it started and how it finished.

Knicks’ budding star Kristaps Porzingis was a defensive force out of the gates making things difficult for Karl-Anthony Towns and Taj Gibson. Enes Kanter, as he is wont to do, was a force on the glass, particularly the offensive variety, and around the hoop. The Knicks ended the opening frame 13-of-22 from the field, but that doesn’t quite do justice to how hot they were.

The Wolves, on the other hand, started cold. The shot selection was poor and the offensive chemistry more of a solid state than a fluid. Jimmy Butler, who has played himself into the MVP discussion with his performance over the last month and a half, was nearly invisible, except for when he was getting caught indecisively in the air. New York led the turnover battle 4-3 (which is uncharacteristic of the Wolves) and the game 27-24 after one.

Jamal Crawford, in typical Jamal Crawford fashion, hit a few difficult and timely shots as the first quarter transitioned into the second, keeping the Wolves close, and Tyus Jones, who played a paltry 15 minutes, connected on a few difficult layups.

But then Michael Beasley happened… (well, and also Courtney Lee, but let’s focus on Super Cool Beas, shall we?). Beasley absolutely torched Gorgui Dieng, putting up 11 points in six minutes. Everything went in: long twos, difficult drives, if Beasley put it up, it went in (and it was awesome).

But slowly the narrative of the game began to shift. The Knicks started missing shots, the Wolves started making some, and Karl-Anthony Towns began to take over. Led by Towns, the Wolves went on a 20-4 run between the end of the third and start of the fourth quarters. New York seemingly made it a game towards the end of the third when they took a series of one-point leads, but the Wolves put this one away by blowing the doors off the Knicks in the fourth.

Jarrett Jack led the Knicks in scoring, finishing with 18 points and eight assists. Porzingis scored 17 points on 19 shots and added 10 rebounds. Tim Hardaway Jr., in his first game back after recovering from a stress reaction in his lower leg, and Kanter each contributed 16 points each (Kanter also had 12 boards).

Eight of the nine Wolves’ players scored in double-digits tonight. Jones was the lone Wolf to not; he finished with seven points, two rebounds, and four assists. Nemanja Bjelica was a perfect 4-of-4 from the field, including 2-of-2 from three, in 11 minutes. Bjelica, Dieng, and Crawford all finished with 10 points.

Taj Gibson (17 points, six rebounds, and two assists) continued his impactful play on both ends of the court, helping to slow Porzingis and Beasley after his hot start. Andrew Wiggins put up 16 points (unfortunately on 20 shots, though he missed a number of layups he typically makes), six rebounds, two assists, two steals, and a block. Jimmy Butler put up a mortal 13 points, four rebounds, and two assists, but also did this when the game was already out of reach:

Towns, who is familiar with putting up absurd numbers in games (especially so against the likes of Porzingis and Nikola Jokic), did so again, finishing with 23 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists, and one (timely and impactful) block in 40 minutes. After tonight, Towns has career averages of 27.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 2.0 blocks in five career games against Porzingis.

In all, it was yet another encouraging showing from the Wolves. In years past the Wolves would’ve likely folded after getting off to a slow start while the opponent came out on fire or after the Knicks retook the lead at the end of the third quarter. But this Wolves’ team continues to prove to be different. And it can’t be overstated how refreshing that is.

The Wolves are next in action on Sunday against the Portland Trailblazers (22-20, 5th seed in the West). Tip is set for 8 pm.

Notes:

  • Andrew Wiggins was 1-of-4 from beyond the arc tonight. He’s now made a three in 12 consecutive games.
  • Jeff Teague looked to be moving around well, as evidenced by his eight assists, four rebounds, and four steals, but his shot continued to look awfully flat. He finished 3-of-11 in 33 minutes. His shot will come around eventually, but part of the rehab process is relearning to trust the body part that failed you. Whether conscious or not, it looks like Teague doesn’t quite trust his knee quite yet.
  • As of writing, the Wolves now boast the league’s 4h-ranked offense (110.4 ortg), 17th-ranked defense (106.4 drtg), and 5th-ranked net rating (+4.0), according to NBA.com/stats.
  • Please enjoy a video of Tom Thibodeau laughing

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  1. Well I guess we’re back to Tyus getting 15 min a game. Thats unfortunate because this team is (I think) better with him when getting minutes with the starters.

    Nice to see put the game away in the 4th.

    It’s good that Jimmy can have an off night offensively and we put up 118.

    Belly is returning to form which we really need!

  2. Great to be winning….

    It’s not just about one or two players playing exceptional basketball. Last night was a team victory – If Jones had made the open 3 early, and if the (Teague/Butler) shot had gone, we could have had 9 players in double figures and KAT with a Triple double! Teague/Jones – (great to have fans thinking Jones is better than Teague) provides solid play at point with little drop off when Jones takes the floor. Butler/Wiggins/Crawford – 40/35/21 with GMH/Bjelica/Bazz not pulling to many minutes. Actually Offense remains strong with Crawford – Defense suffers, but not as badly as early season. GMH has shown defensive ability – offense suffers some, but when coupled with either Wiggins/Butler their increased production balances it out. Wing is where we have the greatest risk – also where the trade (risk/reward) has paid off big reward quickly – Butler is a game changer – but the risk remains – beyond Crawford and we would have to trade/free agent/? to survive any major injury. Post play – ignoring Aldrich – KAT/Dieng/Gibson/Bjelica – Patton playing into shape in Iowa, perhaps the strongest group of bigs in the league. KAT – young/strong/skilled – unlimited potential, Dieng backs him up with little drop in production on either end of the floor, Gibson/Bjelica/Dieng at PF, each brings something special – but any can play stretches with little drop in efficiency. Didn’t like crowding the Post with Gibson early season – would much rather have depended on our existing players – but Gibson has helped not only change the culture but his floor numbers themselves are very good. Post play has been getting better down the stretch (with our depth, there is no reason for fatigue) and considering the 2-way contract to Brown – Aldrich/Bazz/Brooks – MGH there are potentially 5 open slots (non-guaranteed) entering training camp. Aldrich/Bazz/Brooks likely gone – Brown likely an invite and summer league – GMH also certainly invited for a tryout. Not many dollars freed up – but certainly enough for a free agent young combo guard – and a couple draft picks – as well as retaining MGH/Brown or other entry level players. Another combo guard with some size – Teague/Jones/Crawford gives us insurance at point – and greatly increases depth at wing. Draft picks at wing – one seen as ready for floor time, and another with physical skills and potential to stash in Iowa until needed, and this team is on their way.

  3. This was a game that models what good teams do to non-playoff teams. They stick with the energetic younger team for a half and then put the hammer down in the third or fourth quarter and pull away for a victory. However, it was done last night with primarily KAT and the second unit and not the usual starters. The starters significantly outscored the Knicks starters, and the Knicks bench outscored our bench, but the big +/- was with KAT and the second unit. Teague had a good game, but not until he came out and watched Tyus play. Jeff Teague plays better when he plays like Tyus Jones.

    I have read that the Unicorn had an off night shooting 6-19, but Wiggins was equally off going 7-20, yet was viewed as having a good game. Mainly, the Knicks are in transition, similar to the team the wolves had last year. They have their big three Hardaway, KP and the PG Frank Ntilikina. They have an offensive version of Taj in Enes Kantor and a defensive version of him in O’Quinn. They have a good bench scorer like Crawford in Beasley, A good player similar to Teague in Courtney Lee. The biggest thing they are missing is that KP gets tired more than our stars and needs to push through the heavy minutes stars play. When you see KAT shoot his three and then watch 7′-3″ KP stroke so much more easily than KAT, you know that the Knicks have a star in the making. They don’t have the best supporting cast for him yet, but I think the PG has some talent and will be a good player when he gets older and possibly Hardaway can be a Wiggins type of third option.

    I would love to have gotten Beasley instead of Baz. Imagine if we had his scoring to help the team. Dave Benz has to stop with the negative comments when the team is down by six points or at the end of the game when a team closes to single digits. He isn’t adding anything to the experience of watching the game and it is annoying. I get to several games a year, but would love to have a crew similar to the Knicks telecast duo. I also love when Lindsey Whalen is providing her insight to the game. She moderates Petey and the two have good chemistry. It also reduces Benz mike time.

    We have a great team to watch. Life is Good.

  4. I was only able to watch most of the second half of this one, so I didn’t get the whole picture. It did seem like I started watching at just about the right time.

    It seems like one advantage Teague has over Tyus is getting to the line. Teague shot 27% but was able to get 5 points at the line to supplement his 3 field goals. Tyus has something to learn in that art form, but also, young guys that still get called Tyler just aren’t going to be able to count on getting calls. Teague’s legs seem there for general play, and I don’t think the injury was very serious. But his shot is flat and his % has not gotten on track just yet. Frustrating in that scoring is the main thing Teague does better than Tyus. Jones played well when I was watching. Teague got 4 steals (!) but Tyus looked at least as disruptive out there in a general sense. He’s a real pest and I love it. Teague can be in fits and starts, but it’s not the same constant that Tyus provides. There is zero reason to play Tyus only 15 minutes.

    Towns was again our best offensive player and still didn’t get the most attempts (15 to Wiggins’ 20). Wiggins shot poorly, but he did stuff despite. I’m hoping this is a permanent step up–that Wiggins now will defend, rebound and generally take part in the game even if his O isn’t clicking. If so, excellent. But that’s the difference. KAT is just so consistent. Wiggins is not. He can score with ease one night and clank city the next. Everyone is hot and cold–that’s basketball. But the greats play through it and are a certain level of productive almost every night. They find a way. KAT is turning into that kind of player. Wiggins is not. Butler has the know how to be a reliable score guy for us, but he’s not the talent Towns is. KAT is 6’11” with great post moves and a deadly hook. He can score down low all night. He’s also a much better three point shooter than Jimmy. And he’s agile enough to do center floaters. Like I said, he’s our best offensive weapon. It would be interesting to see KAT play PF someday and get a ton of shot attempts every night. Won’t see that this season.

    Great to see Beasley contributing well to a team. I mentioned it a while ago. I like the guy. LaVine just had his debut. Man, he came back fast! 14 points on 55% shooting in 19 minutes! Really excited for him. We may rue the day we traded him. Young talented teams are so exciting. We have young talent, but are no longer a young team. It has taken a lot of fun away from me as a fan. A big chunk of that loss has been replaced by winning fun, then there’s wacky Butler fun, better Wiggins, and dominant KAT fun. Still, I look at Chicago and sort of am jealous. Dunn keeps putting up numbers. Still have yet to see him play, but he must be playing at least OK to be putting up those… Man I was wrong about that guy. It’s worth considering if this is a sign of how poor Thibs is at harvesting talent. Dunn looked like an awful pick all season for us. From game one, he’s looked like a solid starting NBA PG in Chicago. That’s really concerning… I also like Markkanen as a hyper modern PF–really nice pick up.

    I’m not sure I understand what a unicorn is. I always though it was a really good yet unexpected player who has some freakish aspect. Giannas is a classic unicorn in my mind, because he’s crazy good, super long and a crazy athlete who is from Greece of all places. It’s like, whhhhatttt? I always thought Rubio was a good unicorn. He’s from a Spanish beach town, doesn’t really look like a guy who should be on an NBA court yet he’s just got this crazy feel for the game and freakish passing ability. (Glad he’s still used in the league and healthy, but to see his passing power just be totally neutralized, like someone sawing a unicorn’s horn off because it might poke one of the other horses has been very painful for me. No joy, no magic. The NBA gets too comfortable with joyless basketball). Porzingis is a unicorn. Who is this dorky looking Lithuanian guy who’s 7’3″ and hits 3’s and moves with that kind of agility? It’s mythic and unexpected. You just look that guy and think he’d topple over, trip on his own feet trying to keep up with the NBA game. Instead he can dominate. He isn’t the fun, joyful character Rubio is, but the two seem to have something in common–they are sort of sensitive guys who you have to make a good environment for in order for them to blossom. That’s been an up and down proposition for them in NY and frankly was here too, though the team was a trainwreck in so many other ways who knows… But KAT. Is he a unicorn? He’s from Jersey. You expect guys from Jersey to ball. He’s just all around skilled and good, but not a freak among freaks really. He’s just really, really good. I don’t know… That takes nothing away from the guy. He’s our future, going forward. Another good win, hopefully we can keep it going. The schedule isn’t that hard the next 2 at least…

  5. Bulls Wolves trade… A rare case where both teams are likely to benefit – both short term and long term. This year obviously LaVine just played his first game – we have had a great half from Butler. 5 years from now – Dunn and LaVine will both still be just into their prime – while Butler will be easing beyond his prime – perhaps still playing at an elite level. Markkanen/Patton – once again Markkanen seems to be the real deal – while Patton is still playing himself back from injury – time will tell on these young players. Difficult to isolate Butler’s impact simply vs. LaVine/Dunn (if all are healthy) and obviously Gibson/Teague/Crawford also impact the wolves play. Great to see LaVine back – moving well – couldn’t watch more than clips, so don’t know how well he moves on D, but he still has a great first step, and his shot looked smooth. Dunn’s clips show a vastly improved player – and he remains a strong defender.

  6. It is kinda cool to see a trade that benefits both teams! Sadly, a key was our win now kind of desperation after missing the playoffs for so long and Thibs’ failure to get the young version of the team to improve last year. So we needed healthy bodies all year. That must have meant getting rid of LaVine. But based on how this coach and franchise have always favored and babied Wiggins, perhaps there was never a thought to keeping LaVine instead of Wiggins, injury or not. It’s no secret that I would rather have LaVine. I say this, on one hand, purely as a fan who likes to watch LaVine more, likes his effort and personality. He seems like a winner. On another hand, I’d bet in a cold blooded poker kinda way that LaVine will have the better career. I could be wrong, but that’s where I’d put my chips. From a Wolves perspective, it would be nice to have a pure SG who can hit threes like crazy CONSISTENTLY, which is LaVine. As it is, we have 2 SF SG tweeners starting. It’s a contrast. I think they are both technically not overly huge SF’s and we don’t really start a SG. Bulter is a tweener because he covers everything both those positions might do. On the other hand, Wiggins sucks at SG stuff like consistent outside shooting, passing, and ball handling. So he kinda has to be a SF, but we often have put him in as a SG in the past to give him weaker guys to match up against. Go figure. In this ‘positionless’ era it doesn’t matter that much, but there is still more redundancy between Butler and Wigg than Butler and LaVine. The silver lining, other than the fact that I am probably totally wrong, is the combo of Wiggins and Butler is tough and long defensively with a lot of flexibility. Jim Pete was fairly annoying during the Portland game and went on some sycophantic rave about how little redundancy the roster has. It was kind of funny to hear this as he looked right at Jimmy and Andrew. Wiggins is more or less only not redundant to Jimmy and what he does in that he’s less good. He’s a weak, not intense, less consistent, way less wily, mistake prone version of Butler. He does next to nothing better. LaVine at least for sure shoots 3’s better.

    For a while I was jealous of getting Markkanen, thinking he’d be good next to Towns soon. Perhaps he would. But since then I have been thinking more in the direction of moving KAT to PF and putting him next to a D minded C. Patton may not be this (or much of anything) but he could be. He would have to beef up a lot to play C but who knows… It would be fun to be able to try Patton next to Towns for a month and then Markkanen next to him for a month. No idea how Thibs will handle Patton other than suspecting we won’t see a lick of him int he big show this season. No problem, right now Taj is playing amazing.

    ‘He remains a strong defender’. Even Dunn’s D looked overrated and sketchy at times last season, and that was the only thing he could do. He’s made a total turnaround. It makes me nervous about my organization when a player looks like Dunn did here last year and then immediately looks fantastic after leaving. Really strange…