The Toronto Raptors dropped their second consecutive game on Valentine’s Day, surrendering a winnable game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, 116-112. Coach Nick Nurse did have an effective defensive game plan to slow Karl-Anthony Towns, but the Timberwolves’ hot perimeter shooting opened things up for Towns anyway. Ultimately, he fouled out with 20 points and 11 rebounds — and, yes, the win over Toronto.
The Timberwolves’ balanced attack had Malik Beasley (20 points) and Ricky Rubio (18 points) combining for ten three-pointers. Meanwhile, their length and athleticism wreaked havoc in the third quarter, shutting down the Raptors’ offense. What’s more, the Wolves went on a couple of big runs to give themselves enough of a buffer to hold off the Raptors’ typical late rally.
For the game, Kyle Lowry led all scorers with 24 points, with half coming in the fourth quarter. Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet added 22 apiece. VanVleet had a hot first half but was held to 1-for-10 shooting in the second half. Pascal Siakam, meanwhile, continued his Jekyll-and-Hyde-esque performances from the start of the season. He was bothered some by the lengthy defenders the Timberwolves threw at him and had his shots blocked several times throughout the game. He finished the game with 18 points on 6-for-19 shooting — and missed the lay-up that would have tied it up late.
In a battle of two teams looking to push the pace, Fred VanVleet started off hot, hitting two three-pointers early. In contrast, the Timberwolves looked to take advantage of their size and athleticism to get to the cup. It led to Aron Baynes’ two quick fouls in the first three minutes of the game, which earned him a quick hook — not always the worst thing for Toronto. But tonight it was followed by the Timberwolves going on a 12-2 run via four straight three-pointers, put them up 20-12 midway through the frame.
Meanwhile, Pascal Siakam struggled to finish in the paint, bothered by the length of Minnesota’s defenders. He was a little bit out of control — perhaps pressing a bit — which led to him too picking up two offensive fouls in the quarter. Funnily enough, the Raptors responded with an 11-4 run minus Siakam, thanks to their scrambling defense which produced plenty of empty possessions for the Timberwolves for five minutes. In all, Toronto’s defense keyed-in on making life miserable for Karl-Anthony Towns, who finished the quarter with zero points and three turnovers.
Juancho Hernangomez opened up the second frame for Minnesota, continuing his torrid shooting from behind the arc, and converting on the team’s sixth attempt of the game. It kept the Timberwolves in control, though the Raptors briefly held the lead off a Siakam drive-and-kick to Terence Davis, who canned a corner three-pointer. It was a back-and-forth affair for the next few minutes, before the Timberwolves hit a wall, scoring only five points in four minutes. Unforunately, the Raptors failed to get much separation due to their own five straight missed three-pointers. (This tiny margin for error did not help down the stretch.) It was here when Towns finally got himself on the board, with his first points of the night, but VanVleet would score nine straight to put the Raptors in control, giving them a 58-54 lead at the half.
Towns opened the half with a smooth midrange jumper — trouble for Toronto — but it was actually his teammate Malik Beasley who would really get going in the third, hitting back-to-back three-pointers to tie the game at 62. The Raptors and the Timberwolves exchanged baskets in the next few possessions due to equally porous defense, with Baynes dropping six points during this stretch. There’s really no way these two teams should have been so evenly matched, particularly on defense, but it got worse from there for the Raptors.
In something of a surprising turn, it was the Timberwolves who tightened up their defense first, using their length and quickness to suffocate the Raptors’ offensive possessions. At the same time, they pretty much got what they wanted on the other end. Case in point: rookie Anthony Edwards’ back-to-back lay-ups capped off a 10-3 run to put the Timberwolves back in front, and they subsequently followed this up with a 10-0 run after a Toronto timeout. The Raptors ended the quarter with a run of better defense, closing the frame on a modest 4-0 run, putting them behind 91-83.
Kyle Lowry and the Raptors rode that modest momentum into the fourth, clamping down on defense, and taking advantage of their early bonus situation. The Raptors forced four turnovers in the first seven Timberwolves possession, while Lowry tried to will his team back. It was his floater that tied the game at 96, after growing that modest 4-0 run into a 17-5 spurt that got Toronto back into the game.
Unfortunately, the Timberwolves responded with a 7-0 run of their own, complete with Ricky Rubio picking apart Toronto’s (or Baynes’) defense. The Raptors ran a set play to get VanVleet a corner three — which worked to perfection — but Towns responded with his own, shooting over Baynes from the top of the key. In all, it’s possible Nurse might have relied on Baynes a few minutes too many, but fate intervened with Toronto’s starting centre picking up his sixth foul a few minutes later. The Raptors remained within striking distance down the stretch, but they failed to tie or take the lead a couple of times. We did get to see some vintage Lowry, who was hell-bent on producing anything he could for the Raptors, including getting to the line. However, a late trip to the charity strip for Lowry resulted in just one point, and the Timberwolves still lead 111-107.
From there, a wild sequence started with Lowry attacking Towns off the dribble, resulting in a frantic loose-ball situation. Lowry missed the shot but poked the rebound away from Towns directly to Norman Powell. As a result, Powell found a cutting DeAndre’ Bembry, who double-clutched his way into an and-1 — fouling out Towns in the process with 38 seconds to go. From there, the Raptors’ press forced Beasley to step out of bounds, giving them a chance with 11.6 seconds left. With the clock ticking down, Siakam made a strong drive to the rim, but his attempt unbelievably rolled off, sealing Toronto’s fate.
This was a deeply unfortunate turn for the Raptors, as they now have to pack their bags again and head to Milwaukee to take on the Bucks twice. Then they head to Minneapolis to face the Timberwolves again before playing host to the East-leading Philadelphia 76ers for two games. In all, it’s another tough test ahead for the Raptors, who are still just barely hanging onto their playoff spot.