Minnesota was getting waxed.
Orlando guard Terrence Ross had just drilled his second straight long-range, prayer of a triple to put the Magic up 63-44 with seven minutes remaining in the second quarter. Orlando was shooting 76 percent from the field, and even better than that from three-point range.
The Magic were on pace to score 170 points. The Wolves were on pace to get booed out of their home gym and fall further out of the Western Conference playoff race.
Then, for some reason, the Wolves flipped some kind of switch. Anthony Tolliver — back in the rotation because of injuries — buried a pair of triples on back to back possessions, and the Wolves were back.
“We got some energy from AT,” Taj Gibson said. “We were able to use that energy to get some big stops on defense. once we got rolling, got in the thick of things, we got to play some solid defense. … The energy picked up, and we just took off.”
One quarter later, Minnesota led 88-75 thanks to a 44-12 run that sparked the Wolves to a 120-103 come-from-behind victory Friday.
“We weren’t doing our thing,” Karl-Anthony Towns said of the Wolves’ start. “We weren’t playing with that edge and energy. We did that in the second half.”
The run was sparked by the same defense that had been so abysmal for the game’s first 17 minutes. The Wolves started to get stops. Those stops led to scores, many of which were directed by Jeff Teague.
In his return to action after missing the previous nine games with left ankle inflammation, Teague directed the Wolves’ offense to perfection. He finished with 23 points — on 8 for 10 shooting — to go with 10 assists. Teague hasn’t delivered many of those types of performances this season as he has battled with ankle and knee injuries. But he said Friday morning he finally feels good and certainly looked the part against Orlando.
“He looked like he had his bounce back, which I think is the most important thing,” Tom Thibodeau said. “From a physical standpoint, he looked really good.”
It was Teague who kept Minnesota afloat in the first half.
“He came out with a lot of fire,” Gibson said. “Sometimes when guys are missing, you tend to forget about all the great things he brings to the team. It’s a lot, man. We missed him a lot. … It shows how much heart he has to come out and help our team.”
It was Towns who took things over in the second. Towns tallied 21 points and nine rebounds in the second half, moving his game total to 29 and 15 as he continued his recent tear.
“Karl has been playing great basketball,” Thibodeau said. “He’s reading the game extremely well. He’s not forcing things, he’s making the right plays, he’s got good patience, he’s doing a lot of good things out there right now. This, I think, might be his best overall stretch.”
Towns was asked about Thibodeau’s praise after the fact, but it’s hard to respond to something you can’t quite compute.
“Thibs said something nice about me?” Towns said with a look of disbelief. “Whoa, sheesh. I must be doing something right then. I don’t know what to tell you about that one. I’m going to let that one soak in for a little bit.”
Minnesota outscored Orlando (17-21) by a 56-35 margin in the second half, holding the Magic to 35 percent shooting over the final 24 minutes.
“We came out in the third with an edge,” Towns said in an on-court postgame interview, “and that’s why we played so well.”
Those are the types of efforts Minnesota (18-21) will need to stay in the playoff race without the services of Robert Covington, who will miss extended time with a bone bruise on his knee. And it’s still unclear as to when Derrick Rose will return to the lineup.
Still, despite being down two of their top perimeter players, Thibodeau insists Minnesota has “more than enough to win.” On Friday, he was proven correct.
“It’s tough not having your guys that you want there,” Teague said, “but you’ve just got to find ways to get wins.”