ATLANTA – The Timberwolves had emptied their bench at the end of their 136-115 victory over the Hawks, except for one player: Kyle Anderson.
Anderson was sitting on 14 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds, needing one more garbage time rebound to record his third career triple-double and second of the season.
There was still a little drama in an otherwise emptying arena. Anderson hung near the basket as Atlanta came down the floor with less than a minute to play. Atlanta's Garrison Mathews missed a three, and Anderson had to fight Bruno Fernando for the board. Anderson got his mitts around it, and secured that elusive triple-double.
The Wolves bench erupted. You could hear Anthony Edwards bellow, "Yes sir."
"I flirt with it so much," Anderson said. "I might as well stay in and get one now."
There was a reason coach Chris Finch didn't want to pull Anderson in that moment. Anderson was so important to why the Wolves built a big lead Monday, and he was the main reason why the Wolves were able to prevent Atlanta from cutting a 28-point lead any closer than 13 in the second half. The Wolves have a tendency to let teams back in games like that, but whenever Atlanta made a bit of run, it seemed like Anderson was there to get a bucket or make a key play to set someone up. That was evident in the third, when he scored 12 points to help stop the Hawks from mounting any significant threat.
"This is who he's been for us," said Finch, who tied Rick Adelman and Tom Thibodeau for second-most wins by a Wolves coach all-time with 97. "He doesn't get a triple-double every night but he's so important for everything we do, whether it be rebounding, creating or scoring.
"... We were happy for him. We left him in there so he could get it, and teammates love Kyle and we do too because of how important he's been all season."
If there was a game that could encapsulate all that Anderson has provided the Wolves, it was Monday. Of course, part of his game is setting up teammates so they can shine, too. Mike Conley (21 points on 9-for-13 shooting) and Jaden McDaniels (19 points) both benefited. So did Edwards, who scored 32 points in his first-ever victory over his hometown team. Edwards is glad he won't have to hear from people back home that he's never defeated the Hawks. He was thankful Anderson helped get that win.
"Anytime they'd make a run, he'd make something happen," Edwards said. "He just knows the game. He makes it look so easy. He makes it easy for me."
Anderson was trying to downplay his triple-double.
"I don't really play the game trying to get stats or nothing like that," Anderson said. "It just happened."
But it was also clear how much it meant to him, especially when he was asked a question about his playmaking ability. Nights like Monday are vindication, an "I told you so" to those who said he likely couldn't be this kind of player at the NBA level.
"I feel I can always do this in the league," Anderson said. "That's what I've always done all my career. They told me I wouldn't be able to do it in the NBA and here I am. If I'm given the opportunity I'm going to deliver."
On this Wolves team there has been ample opportunity for him to do that, and Anderson is one reason why the Wolves have stayed afloat in the Western Conference playoff race while Karl-Anthony Towns has been out. Anderson noticed how happy the bench was for him when he turned around after grabbing that rebound. It was a moment for him to take in and appreciate.
"I know they always got my back," he said. "I know they're happy for me. We got a dope locker room."