The Minnesota Timberwolves stepped up big in the fourth quarter to defeat the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.
Defense, Karl-Anthony Towns propel Timberwolves to win over Knicks
The Timberwolves headed into Madison Square Garden on Tuesday to face a New York Knicks team playing on the second night of a back-to-back and missing the likes of Derrick Rose, Nerlens Noel, and the newly-acquired Cam Reddish.
Kemba Walker was back, however, and the Knicks have generally been playing better of late, a rough loss to Charlotte on Martin Luther King Day notwithstanding.
But the Wolves came out firing, scoring 30 points in the first quarter and forcing the Knicks into a slew of difficult jumpers. Minnesota also forced the Knicks to play fast, which was a major advantage for the visitors.
Minnesota’s bench outplayed the Knicks reserves in the second quarter, and the Wolves used a quick run at the end of the half to bo up by 10 at the break.
The third quarter, however, was all Knicks. New York hung 40 points on the Wolves, and there simply wasn’t an answer for Julius Randle and Evan Fournier as the Knicks’ duo suddenly woke up and decided to put pressure on the Timberwolves defense in a variety of ways.
First Jaden McDaniels and then Jarred Vanderbilt struggled to slow down Randle. Wolves head coach Chris Finch even tried turning to a zone on a handful of occasions, and that didn’t work, either.
Instead, Fournier got hot en route to 13 points in the frame. The Wolves suddenly looked a step slow, and the Knicks got Madison Square Garden rocking as they took a five-point lead to the fourth quarter.
The Wolves trailed by as many as five points in the final four minutes, but some strong defense and rebounding down the stretch combined with a few solid offensive sets was enough to get the Wolves the win.
Jaylen Nowell played crunchtime minutes and didn’t disappoint, making a few big buckets. The biggest single basket came with the Wolves trailing by one with 30 seconds to play. Finch called a set that gave Towns the ball at the free throw line, where it’s difficult to double-team. Towns drove hard to his right and scored over Randle, earning a 3-point play and giving the Wolves a two-point lead after he knocked down the free throw.
After Randle split a pair of free throws on the other end and Patrick Beverley did the same for the Wolves, the Knicks had a couple of chances in the closing seconds. McDaniels blocked a Fournier attempt at the rim, and after an offensive rebound, Alec Burksmissed a contested 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Player grades from Timberwolves’ win over the Knicks
Let’s take a look at a few individual player grades from the Wolves’ win.
Karl-Anthony Towns: A-
20 points (6-12 FG, 2-4 3P, 6-7 FT), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, one steal
Towns played yet another well-balanced game from start to finish. While it wasn’t loud — except for an impressive hammer dunk he threw down early in the first quarter, that is — it was effective, and it was efficient.
The Wolves star big man was also fantastic defensively, locking down the paint and helping on the perimeter. He caused both Mitchell Robinson and Taj Gibson to foul out, and was physical in locking up the Knicks frontcourt to allow Patrick Beverley, Jaylen Nowell, and others to sneak in and grab rebounds.
Towns also made the game-winning shot, of course, which was the cherry on top of a top-notch performance.
Anthony Edwards: B
21 points (8-17 FG, 2-9 3P, 3-4 FT), 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 4 turnovers
Yes, Edwards led the Wolves in scoring. And yes, there were some tantalizing moments, including the tough, left-handed scoop shot and-one he hit in the second quarter to go along with a couple of mesmerizing stepback threes.
But Edwards was struggled with his decision-making and contributed to some cringey turnovers. His efficiency wasn’t awful, but the 2-of-9 from outside the arc was, at least in part, due to the aforementioned shoddy decision-making.
Jaylen Nowell: A
14 points (5-12 FG, 1-4 3P, 3-4 FT), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, one steal
Nowell again played the role of part-time backup point guard and full-time scorer off the Wolves bench. His play earned him key fourth-quarter minutes, and Chris Finch called sets in order to get the ball to Nowell in isolation situations.
Nowell made strong decisions once again, and whenever he had the opportunity, he was able to get downhill and put pressure on the Knicks’ defense. He was also second on the Timberwolves in rebounding and competed defensively once again.
D’Angelo Russell: B+
17 points (5-11 FG, 4-8 3P, 3-3 FT), 4 assists, 2 rebounds, one steal, one block, 3 turnovers
Russell was great early and had some strong moments late, although there was some sloppiness in the fourth quarter as well.
The main takeaways here are that Russell is definitely still looking to pass a lot — sometimes, too much. Also, don’t look now, but even with a pair of 0-for-5 performances from beyond the arc (Sunday vs. Golden State and Jan. 5 against Oklahoma City), Russell is hitting 3-pointers at a 42.2 percent clip in the month of January.
If Russell can get his shooting percentages up near where they’ve been for much of his career, look out. The Wolves offense has several more gears to hit, and that would immediately activate the next one.
The Wolves head south to take on the Atlanta Hawks at 6:30 p.m. CT on Wednesday as they look for a third win in a row.