That’s how they got in the playoffs, in the last possible game.
Towns had 28 points and 11 rebounds, and the Timberwolves muscled and hustled their way past the Oklahoma City Thunder 120-95 to finish the play-in tournament on Friday night.
“We utilized our size. We did a great job of putting pressure on the paint and just doing what we do best,” Towns said. “Rudy was fantastic. He did a lot for us and really imposed his presence.”
Gobert had 21 points and 10 rebounds in his return from exile for swinging at teammate Kyle Anderson, and the Wolves filled out the NBA playoff bracket by seizing the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference with a near-perfect performance at the end of another harder-than-it-had-to-be season.
Anthony Edwards added 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Wolves, who had a 58-30 advantage in points in the paint. They will face No 1 seed Denver in a best-of-seven series starting on Sunday night.
“We are in the standings, but I don’t consider us as an ‘8’ seed,” Gobert said, adding: “We know if we play the right way, there’s not a team in the league that we can’t beat.”
“It’s been really fun this year. We kind of turned the corner a little bit,” Gilgeous-Alexander said.
With their best defender Jaden McDaniels out with a broken hand – thanks to a wall he punched out of frustration in the final regular-season game shortly before Gobert took a swing at Anderson in an argument during a timeout – the Timberwolves put Nickiel Alexander-Walker in the starting lineup. He guarded his cousin, the dynamic Gilgeous-Alexander, at the suggestion of president of basketball operations Tim Connelly.
“He’s the reason we won,” Towns said. “There’s no other way to put it.”
Gilgeous-Alexander was slow to get going in the Thunder’s play-in tournament opener, too, before scoring 25 of his 32 points after halftime in the 113-108 win over New Orleans. This time, the NBA’s fourth-leading scorer picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter and then had to leave for treatment a few minutes later after Gobert accidentally elbowed him in the eye as he rebounded and dunked his own miss.
Towns had 24 points on 8-for-12 shooting in Minnesota’s 108-102 overtime loss in Los Angeles in the first play-in game on Tuesday, when the Wolves offense grinded to a woeful finish. This time, they took a much better blend of outside and inside shots with a constantly moving ball. Towns and Gobert going to work against the much-smaller Thunder, who played all season without No 2 overall pick Chet Holmgren, the 7ft 1in Minneapolis native who broke his foot in summer pro-am game.
Gobert was listed as questionable with a back injury that might have kept him out against the Lakers anyway to make his team-imposed suspension moot. He wore a wrap around his midsection when he was on the bench, but he found his groove in the second half.
After Mike Conley tracked down a loose ball in the corner midway through the fourth quarter, he threw a three-quarters-of-the-court baseball pass to Towns, whose cross-court feed set Gobert up for yet another dunk and a 109-80 lead that matched Minnesota’s biggest of the game.
“It was nice not to give back a lead, which we’ve done quite a bit,” Wolves coach Chris Finch said. “The guys were super locked-in. They knew what it was going to take.”
Chicago Bulls 91-102 Miami Heat
Max Strus had another three-pointer taken away in an elimination game. He and Jimmy Butler made sure it didn’t matter.
The playoffs await.
Strus and Butler – who was doubled over at times in the final moments, heaving for every breath – scored 31 points apiece, and the Miami Heat closed the game on a 15-1 run to beat the Chicago Bulls 102-91 in an Eastern Conference play-in game Friday night.
“Our team has obviously not been perfect this year,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But I do know one thing about the men in that locker room: The last 48 hours, I know how categorically, unequivocally, how badly and desperately our group wanted to get into this damn thing — and get into the playoffs to have an opportunity to compete for a title.”
Their reward: the No 8 seed in the East and a first-round matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks, the NBA’s top overall seed, starting Sunday.
DeMar DeRozan led the Bulls with 26 points and nine assists. Alex Caruso added 16 points, Zach Lavine had 15 but shot just 6 for 20, and Coby White scored 14. Chicago got a road win at Toronto on Wednesday to extend its season, but couldn’t get the second road victory it needed to make the playoffs.
“They’re disappointed,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “When you make that investment from September to the middle of April, that’s a lot of time. You reflect back a little bit. I think they’re all disappointed. We were getting better as a group, I think, since the All-Star break. It would have been nice if we found a way to win tonight and continue on to the playoffs, but it didn’t happen.”
Tyler Herro added 12 points and Bam Adebayo grabbed 17 rebounds for Miami, which trailed by six midway through the final quarter.
But Butler scored while getting fouled with 2:17 left to put Miami ahead for good, found Strus for a three-pointer – his seventh of the night – a minute later to push the lead to five, and Strus sealed it with three free throws after getting fouled on a try from beyond the arc with 40 seconds remaining.
“I don’t think any of us felt any type of pressure,” Butler said. “We went out, we competed.”
The Heat led by 14 in the first quarter, held as much as a 10-point lead in the third quarter, then found themselves down by six with 7:12 remaining.
A 9-3 spurt over the next two minutes – Butler had seven, Strus had the other two – pulled the Heat into a tie, and into all-too-familiar territory. The NBA defines clutch games as those that are within five points or less in the final five minutes, and the Heat played a league-high 54 of them during the regular season.
Maybe it prepared them for this moment. White made a three-pointer with 3:47 left to put the Bulls up 90-87. The score the rest of the way: Heat 15, Bulls one.
“Win or go home,” said Strus, an Illinois native who started his career with the Bulls. “We’re not done yet.”
Source: The Guardian