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Timberwolves hold on late to beat Detroit

The win moves Minnesota (27-25) to two games over the .500 mark for the first time since it was 3-1.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Detroit Pistons
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Edwards (1) drives to the basket against Detroit Pistons guard Rodney McGruder (17) during the first quarter on Thursday at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.
Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports

The Timberwolves’ bench has become a strength of the team over the past month and a major reason Minnesota has surged up the standings.

It was essentially the reason Minnesota emerged victorious Thursday night in Detroit. Yet again, the second unit sparked the game-defining run, as the Wolves, who trailed 82-79 when Jordan McLaughlin and Malik Beasley entered the contest in the third quarter, led by 16 when they exited in the fourth quarter — a 38-19 run that keyed Minnesota’s 128-117 victory.

The win moves Minnesota (27-25) to two games over the .500 mark for the first time since it was 3-1.

McLaughlin finished with eight assists and zero turnovers, Taurean Prince scored 23 points on the strength of five 3-pointers and Beasley went 4 for 5 from downtown as the second unit continues to shine.

“We got some pace in the game. We were able to get a lot of stops and then run and move the ball well,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “Those two guys made shots at a high level. They’re in a good rhythm. Certainly that unit is … I didn’t think they had a great first shift, but that second shift made up for it.”

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Finch briefly considered sticking with the bench to close out the game but decided to go back to the starting unit with its bigger size to combat Detroit on the glass in what he figured would be a physical finish.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Detroit Pistons
Minnesota Timberwolves guard Malik Beasley (5) goes up for a dunk during the second quarter against the Detroit Pistons on Thursday at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.
Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports

But upon their return, the starters briefly imploded. The 16-point lead was whittled down to five in a span of three minutes before the starters got a few big defensive plays from Patrick Beverley and Karl-Anthony Towns to help seal the deal.

“I think our second unit in the third gave us a big enough gap because we came out and stunk it up in the fourth and they came back,” Anthony Edwards said. “I think our second unit did a great job of giving us that cushion.”

Minnesota played without that cushion for much of the night, which was surprising given Detroit (12-39) is a cellar dweller that was without No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham. But Detroit is a physical team, and those can give Minnesota issues. The Pistons — who can struggle to score — didn’t shoot the ball well for much of the night but scored 67 first-half points largely on the strength of their offensive rebounding.

The Wolves became frustrated with the lack of whistles from the officials, which led to technical fouls in the first half for Towns, Beverley and Edwards.

Finch thought his team adjusted to the physicality in the second half.

“Just a little bit more focus and attention to detail on the defensive end of the floor in particular. Quit settling for shots and going to the hoop and moving the ball a little bit,” Finch said. “I thought our ball movement, particularly in the second quarter, was really poor. We had a little bit better ball movement to get some easier baskets.”

Teams like Detroit, while not good in terms of record, do provide Minnesota important tests — re: that heightened physicality the Wolves are likely to see should they indeed qualify for the playoffs. The same teams meet again Sunday in Minneapolis.

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“I think just in general we’ve got to get used to playing against physicality and not let it affect how we move the ball,” Finch said, “or how we try to execute defensively.”

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Detroit Pistons
Minnesota Timberwolves center Naz Reid (11) gets defended by Detroit Pistons guard Hamidou Diallo (6) during the second quarter on Thursday at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.
Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports

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