So, happy birthday.
What do you give a guy who seemingly has everything? How ’bout a win against the San Antonio Spurs?
“It was nice,” Karl-Anthony Towns said. He was smiling, wearing a smart coat, a jaunty hat, about to go out and celebrate birthday No. 22 Wednesday night. “I came in and told [coach Tom Thibodeau] we ain’t going to lose this one. And I made sure I went out there and kept my promise.”
Promise. After a 98-86 victory over San Antonio in front of 18,987 at Target Center, the Wolves (9-5) continue to show it.
While getting their first victory over the Spurs in 13 tries — Towns, Andrew Wiggins and backup guard Tyus Jones had never done it before — the Wolves showed depth, persistence and a good bit of defense down the stretch.
The result was Minnesota’s first victory over San Antonio since April 8, 2014. And before you go attributing that to the Spurs missing Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker, remember this same group beat the Wolves 107-99 on opening night and was third in the Western Conference entering the game.
Towns had 26 points and 16 rebounds. Guard Jeff Teague — who broke his own personal 13-game losing streak against the Spurs — had 16 points and six assists. The Spurs were led by LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored 11 of his 15 points in the second half.
Perhaps more impressive was the Wolves won this game on a night when Jimmy Butler shot 2-for-13 from the field and Wiggins was a nonfactor until right at the end.
The reason? The bench.
“The bench was great,” Thibodeau said. “The bench saves us.”
Down 10 early in the second quarter, the Wolves reserves — led by Shabazz Muhammad and Nemanja Bjelica — took control of the game.
It started with Muhammad’s put-back dunk with 11:23 left in the half to cut the Spurs’ lead to 26-20. From then until Towns flushed one with 4:33 left in the quarter, the Wolves hit 12 consecutive shots during a 26-12 run. Muhammad scored all nine of his points in that stretch, including his first made three-pointer of the season. Jamal Crawford had five, Jones four and Towns six, with all three baskets assisted by Jones.
And the Wolves weren’t done. By halftime, the Wolves were up 57-43 and never again trailed.
Oh, the Spurs tried. San Antonio got within five points twice in the third, only to have the Wolves push back. Up 75-65 entering the fourth, the Wolves allowed the Spurs to come within five at 80-75 when Aldridge hit two free throws with 7:24 left.
But Taj Gibson scored on a layup, Teague hit a three and the crisis was averted. In the fourth quarter the Spurs — who had ended the game in a rush while beating the Wolves on opening night — shot 5-for-17 (29.4 percent). The Wolves got stops, and buckets. And, ultimately, the victory.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Bjelica, who scored 11 points and was a team-best plus-15 off the bench. “After 12 [losses], it’s a great feeling to beat one of the best teams in the league.”
The Wolves improved to 5-1 at home. And, with their second consecutive victory, they now sit in third in the West, two games behind Golden State.
Again, the Wolves finished strong. In the fourth quarter, all five starters scored. With the ball moving well, Minnesota had assists on all six field goals made in the quarter, turning five offensive rebounds into five second-chance points.
A good, solid victory that was a long time coming.
After it was over, Towns was ready to go out and do a bit of celebrating. Only now he had a couple of things to feel good about.
“The food will taste better tonight,” he said. “And there will be even more laughter.”