PHOENIX – Desperate times sometimes require change.
In the Timberwolves’ 98-85 comeback victory, they also called for Tyus Jones’ reappearance.
His team the loser of the three previous games and 10 of its first 14, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau indicated before Friday’s game that he’d stay the course with his lineup and rotations.
But when the Suns went small — as they often do with point guards Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight — Thibodeau sent Jones into the game midway through the third quarter and kept him there.
He kept him there for the game’s final 18 minutes and for a team’s metamorphosis that quickly turned a 13-point deficit into a 31-10 fourth quarter and a going-away, 13-point victory.
The Wolves did so by transforming their defense from pretty putrid into one that held the Suns without a field goal for the game’s final nine minutes.
They did so by making almost every free throw (23-for-25), an aberration for a team that hasn’t shot them well.
And they did so with Jones providing the spark.
“Changed the whole mood, changed everybody,” teammate Andrew Wiggins said about the second-year point guard afterward.
Having played a total of nine minutes the past five games, Jones first played alongside Ricky Rubio. When Rubio quickly picked up his third and fourth fouls, Jones played next to rookie Kris Dunn. In the transformative fourth quarter, he played with starter Zach LaVine down the stretch.
Jones’ 19-minute, six-point, three-assist and two-steal night helped organize a team that this past week had been driftless and helped give direction to a fourth quarter in which Wiggins finally started making shots again and Karl-Anthony Towns exerted his presence offensively.
“Just trying to stay ready, trying to stay ready,” Jones said. “You don’t know what can happen. You don’t know how the game can go.”
For the first 3 ½ quarters, Friday’s game went as the last week and most of the season has gone: badly.
Still trailing 77-67 a minute into the fourth quarter, the Wolves ripped off a 20-4 run that featured the scoring of Wiggins and Towns. It featured Jones’ ability to make plays as well, whether that meant taking a charge or hitting a running floater with 2:10 left that gave the Wolves a nine-point lead and bade the Suns a good night.
“That floater looked like high school Tyus,” Towns said, smiling.
In a nearby locker stall, Jones proclaimed him the same guy with the same floater he has always had.
“He’s always on me about it, asking me where that floater has gone,” Jones said. “But I think it’s the same.”
Towns called the victory that prevented their season’s longest losing streak a case of his team willing itself to win.
“I just think it’s us coming to the point where we didn’t want the same story written about us,” Towns said. “We’re all very tired of hearing the same chatter from everyone, how our third and fourth quarters are a problem and our first half is almost a show.”
The Wolves overcame a double-digit deficit for the first time, after six previous losses.
They did so with Wiggins handling the ball away from the basket, which allowed him to make plays. After going 9-for-48 his past three games, Wiggins was 7-for-18 on Friday, but he went 3-for-5 in the fourth quarter on his way to 25 points.
“It felt good, finally,” Wiggins said. “Every midrange shot I’ve been shooting in the past games felt good and now they decided to go in. So it’s a big relief.”
Thibodeau said his players should enjoy the victory but warned about Saturday’s game at mighty Golden State.
“The challenge is to be well-balanced, to be even keel,” he said. “I’m glad we won, but there’s not much time. You should feel a difference between winning and losing, but the next day you have to be ready to go.”
WOLVES 98, PHOENIX 85
Saturday: 9:30 p.m. at Golden State (FSN)