Timberwolves capitalize with fourth-quarter comeback as Atlanta sits starters late in Towns’ return

Atlanta did Minnesota a solid Friday at Target Center.

After Atlanta rallied from a double-digit second-half deficit to hold a lead early in the fourth frame, the Hawks — who are locked into the No. 10 seed in the Eastern Conference play-in — sat their starters.

Meaning Minnesota just had to out-edge Atlanta’s reserves to pull off a victory.

The Wolves made it far closer than they would’ve preferred, but did manage to squeak out a 109-106 victory over the Hawks.

The Hawks won Trae Young’s 27 minutes by 16 points.

The win came on a night where Denver fell 121-120 to San Antonio, meaning the Oklahoma City Thunder, Wolves and Nuggets are all in a three-way tie atop the Western Conference. That means Oklahoma City is currently the No. 1 seed, but that could change via a variety of outcomes Sunday. Minnesota plays Phoenix in its regular-season finale.

It wasn’t always pretty down the stretch for Minnesota, which was a little clunky all game offensively in Karl-Anthony Towns’ return from a month-long absence from a torn meniscus. Towns finished with 11 points, eight assists and five rebounds in 28 minutes. He hit a key triple to put Minnesota out front in the contest’s closing minutes — it was his first made triple of the night.

“You work so much on mental fortitude and mental toughness. It’s something we’re going to need if we expect to bring a parade here in Minnesota, and no better game to try that out than today to work on it and test it,” Towns said. “Missed five in a row (to start the game), something I feel is a staple of mine. I just stayed very confident in my shot, and I knew if I got another chance like last year, I’m going to make the shots. Got a chance from Ant, amazing pass, drive, kick to the corner, something I’ve been watching him do so much more since I got hurt. Just wanted to be able to be another person who can do that for him.”

For a team that has struggled so mightily down the stretch of close games this season — the Wolves entered the night second-to-last in clutch-time net rating since Christmas — it was nice for the Wolves to experience success with the game on the line. Anthony Edwards carried the load offensively, consistently finding his own offense over the final two minutes.

“Ant made a couple toughies, had the kick out, got to the free-throw line,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “I think we still need to vary what we do. I like the ball in Mike’s hands, too. We’ve got to get back to mixing it up a bit and being more dynamic down the stretch. But Ant certainly brought that home tonight.”

On the defensive end, after Vít Krejčí put a scare into Minnesota with a couple of key plays midway through the frame to put Atlanta up a couple on multiple possessions, the Wolves tightened the screws defensively to take the lead.

Still, it was just a one-point game with 20 seconds to play before Edwards hit a pair of free-throws to extend the lead to three. Eight of Edwards’ 14 points came in the final frame.

Then, on the other end, Minnesota mustered a stop, and Rudy Gobert hit a pair of free-throws on the other end to essentially put the game away. Gobert had 25 points on a perfect 10-for-10 shooting from the field — a franchise record — to go with 19 rebounds.

“There’s a difference between being (the reason) that you win and being the reason that you don’t lose. Rudy is the reason we don’t lose,” Finch said. “He doesn’t let us lose these games.”

Meaning he might be the reason the Timberwolves are the No. 1 seed when the season ends Sunday night.

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