SAN FRANCISCO – The Timberwolves knew the Warriors were going to be physical in the second consecutive game the teams played against each other.
But nobody could expect what happened in their 104-101 victory at the Chase Center, and the result was perhaps their most satisfying win of the young season on a night the basketball was anything but pleasing.
Just 1 minute, 43 seconds into the game, Warriors guard Klay Thompson and Wolves forward Jaden McDaniels began grabbing each other's jerseys and shoving each other near midcourt.
Warriors forward Draymond Green, who has had a prickly relationship with Wolves center Rudy Gobert, then seized on the opportunity to put Gobert in a chokehold and dragged him toward the Warriors bench after Gobert said he was attempting to "de-escalate" the situation by pulling Thompson away from McDaniels.
It ended up in ejections for Thompson, McDaniels and Green, with Gobert saying after the game Green's actions were "clown behavior."
"I'm proud of myself for being the bigger man again and again," Gobert said. "And yeah, doesn't even deserve me putting my hands on him. My team needed me tonight.
"I did whatever I could to keep my cool and then show that I wasn't making the situation worse, and I do hope that the league is going to do what needs to be done because that's just clown behavior. Not much to say. It's clown behavior."
After all that, there were still 46 minutes, 17 seconds of basketball to play.
For the Wolves, that basketball was often choppy and disorganized as they struggled offensively and their defense allowed Brandin Podziemski to score 23 points on a night the Warriors were now without the three tentpoles of their four championships (Stephen Curry was out because of a right knee injury).
But the Wolves overcame a seven-point deficit behind the hot shooting hand of Karl-Anthony Towns, who scored a game high 33 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter.
So far the Wolves (8-2) have passed most tests of maturity that have come their way this young season. Tuesday represented a new kind of challenge — keeping their emotions in check after tensions boiled over in the early brouhaha. They passed the test and won their seventh consecutive game.
That marks the first win streak of at least seven games in Wolves history since 2004, and makes them 2-0 in their group of the NBA's in-season tournament.
"Just found a way to win ugly in a game that was pretty ugly," coach Chris Finch said. "All credit to them. Those guys, they were super physical and took us out of our rhythm. But we found a way to win it and showed some toughness mentally."
The Wolves trailed 98-96 following a Dario Saric three-pointer with 2:05 to play, but following a pair of empty possessions, Anthony Edwards missed a 10-foot pullup shot. Kyle Anderson came down with an important offensive rebound and chucked the ball out to Mike Conley, who swung it to Towns at the top of the key for Towns' fifth made three of the night with 1:07 left. He finished 12-for-26 from the floor, 5-for-12 from three-point range. It was Towns that kept the Wolves close as things threatened to spiral in the third quarter, when the Wolves went down 12.
"He's just really doing a great job of just being the guy we can lean on when things are going rough," said Conley, who had 13 points and eight assists. "Man, even down the stretch, he was still making plays for us. So, proud of him, as always, and hopefully we just continue to keep this chemistry going and get more wins."
Gobert (nine points, 13 rebounds, three blocks) had his most important play of the night with 34 seconds remaining when he blocked a three from former Wolves forward Dario Saric (21 points).
Then with 9.6 seconds remaining, Anthony Edwards found an open Conley in the left corner for a game-sealing three. It was a heady play by Edwards to find Conley in that situation, and Conley wasn't exactly expecting Edwards to make the pass directly to him out of a crowd.
"I've been in that position a lot, where I'm just sittin' in the corner, waiting for the ball, and now it's here," Conley said. "And I'm like, 'Man, I gotta make this shot'. So I stood there, followed through and made sure I wasn't leaning one way or the other. Just go in. It did."
When Conley hit the shot, the reaction from everybody on the Wolves said it all. The bench behind erupted in excitement. Conley stared at the basket for a while. Anderson yelled "Let's go" as he went to congratulate Conley. Gobert flexed his arms and gave a primal yell, as if to let out all the frustration and emotion of the night. Finch gave a fiery fist pump.
"Everything was going against us," Finch said. "It's a game you got to have when they're missing their three guys, their core three. You've got to have this win. They don't ask how, they just ask how many. It wasn't pretty."
But it seemed a pretty important one for the Wolves to get.
"It feels a lot better coming out of here with a win after the way things started," Conley said.