The Minnesota Timberwolves picked up a vital victory over the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night, 99-96. They did so thanks to a clutch 3-pointer in the closing seconds by Karl-Anthony Towns, who finished with 14 points and five rebounds, but also thanks to a critical error by the referees.
With 27.7 seconds remaining, Rudy Gobert drew a foul and earned two free throws to potentially tie the game. He made just one of two, however, and with such a small difference between the shot clock and the game clock, the Timberwolves had to foul to extend the game.
That’s just what Mike Conley was trying to do when he wrapped up Steph Curry just inside halfcourt. For whatever reason, the refs did not call that foul and allowed play to continue. Even Conley raised his arms in bewilderment, which is perhaps the first time all season a player has complained that a foul wasn’t called on them.
As play continued, Curry played catch with Draymond Green, and still the Wolves could not get a foul. Once Green got the ball back at the top of the key for a second time, Kyle Anderson ran at him with what appeared to be the intention of fouling, but Green did not want to take the free throws and tried to quickly get rid of the ball. Anderson, however, stuck out his arm and deflected the ball, leading to a steal and a Wolves fastbreak, which Towns finished off with what ended up being a game-winning 3-pointer.
Now, there are a few things to note here. First of all, Towns had to hit the shot, which was cold-blooded, especially in one of his first games back. In addition, the Wolves had a foul to give, so that attempted foul by Conley would not have resulted in free throws. Then, even if the Wolves did foul again to send the Warriors to the line, they would have been down by three at the most and had a chance to tie. Furthermore, the Warriors had a bad turnover after the Towns shot, then missed a potential game-tying 3 of their own on the final possession.
Still, even if the Warriors weren’t guaranteed to win if the foul was called on Conley, that was a massive swing in that situation. That Conley openly attempted to foul only made the situation more bizarre; this wasn’t a typical missed call on a bang-bang play.
The Wolves, however, will not be complaining, especially after some of the calls that have gone against them in recent weeks. Now on a three-game winning streak, the Wolves are back above .500 at 38-37 and sit alone in seventh place in the crowded Western Conference. They are half a game behind the Warriors for the sixth and final guaranteed playoff spot and just 1.5 games behind the Suns for fourth and homecourt advantage in the first round.