Fourth-Quarter Heroics Have Wolves Back In Rhythm
Over the two last games, the Minnesota Timberwolves helped rectify a three-game skid to win back-to-back games versus the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors at home on Sunday and the Eastern Conference playoff hopeful Washington Wizards Tuesday on the road.
While the Wolves’ play in quarters one through three has been sufficient to keep themselves in contention to win, it’s been the difference of Karl-Anthony Towns and Nemanja Bjelica in the fourth quarter that’s put Minnesota back firing on all cylinders in the absence of All-Star Jimmy Butler.
On Sunday, the Wolves entered the fourth quarter tied at 84 after overcoming a seven-point halftime deficit. In the final 12 minutes, Minnesota outscored the Warriors 25-19 in front of a home audience at Target Center. Towns led the way with 14 points in the period on 6-of-10 shooting from the field, including a clutch turnaround baseline jumper over Draymond Green to seal the victory. On the defensive end, it was an inspired effort from Andrew Wiggins to hold former NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant to just 28.6 percent shooting in the period.
Alternatively, Tuesday’s game in the Nation’s Capital saw Minnesota head to the fourth down 90-82 on the road. The Wizards held their onto their lead for the first three-and-a-half minutes of the quarter… but then Beli happened.
Bjelica went on a tear through the Washington defense over the next 62 seconds. The Serbian forward started his solo 7-0 run with a scooping runner off the glass. A steal by Tyus Jones on the next defensive possession led to a Jones assist and Bjelica bucket in the paint 28 seconds later. After a Towns block on Ian Mahinmi, Bjelica drilled a corner three from a Wiggins dish to tie the game at 98.
Bjelica would go on to hit another three in the quarter, but it was a combined 10 points from Wiggins and Jamal Crawford to go with Wiggins’ stifling defense that put the visiting Wolves ahead 111-109 in the final minute before a Towns dagger from the corner punctuated by a Jeff Teague steal and slam that lifted Minnesota to the 116-111 win.
In all over the last two fourth quarters, Minnesota has outscored its opponents 59-40 shooting 57.5 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point, all while holding opponents to 30.2 percent and 17.5 percent in those respective categories.
Bjelica is the only Wolves player to play all 24 minutes of the last two final periods, compared to his 2.4-minute average in the prior four months of the season. In doing so, the 6-10 Serbian is shooting a red-hot 87.5 percent from the field.
And then there’s KAT. Towns is averaging 10 points over the last two fourth quarters, shooting 61.5 percent from the field — and coming up huge in the clutch at both ends of the floor.
Closing Time (Remix) - Karl-Anthony Towns pic.twitter.com/sC84PvOcP8
— Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) March 14, 2018
The Timberwolves’ fourth-quarter toughness will continue to be tested as the Western Conference playoff race gains even more importance this week with a visit to San Antonio on Saturday and a home clash with the Houston Rockets Sunday at Target Center.