With Wolves in tight playoff race, Karl-Anthony Towns can't afford ejections
MINNEAPOLIS — It was the wrong time for the Timberwolves to lose their best player.
Trailing a hot Jazz team by eight points with 23 seconds to play in the first half in a raucous Vivint Smart Home Arena, and already without All-NBA guard Jimmy Butler, the Wolves needed Karl-Anthony Towns on the floor. But after scoring his 12th and 13th points on a shot from the block, he clamored for a foul call — one complaint too many, said referee Kane Fitzgerald.
Towns got his second technical of the night and was tossed. Video from the game suggested Towns didn't say much prior to his ejection, but it might've been more of a cumulative call.
"The second technical foul was for continuous complaint," Fitzgerald told a pool reporter in Utah after the game. "Three or four plays in a row he was complaining and a technical foul was given."
The Wolves went on to lose by eight, their second straight loss. While they're still on solid footing in the Western Conference playoff race, Minnesota is no lock to end its 13-year playoff drought. And, if it is to do so, Towns needs to stay on the floor.
"You're just trying to get me to give away my money," Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau joked when asked about Towns' ejection. "It's a tough game to officiate, and to decide what's a foul and what's not a foul is not an easy thing to do. (Towns) had some tough calls go against him, so sometimes that does lead to frustration, and obviously we have to handle that better."
Towns seems to feel as though he was wronged on Friday, March 2. It's an opinion backed by many, but that doesn't change the fact that he wasn't there when his team needed him.
"It's about making sure I don't put myself in that position to even give him the chance (to make that call)," Towns said. "I've got to be smarter at the end of the day, and that's my fault. I told my teammates that I feel bad.
"I've put a lot on me to be out there with them. For me not to be out there, to put them in a spot — myself in a spot — like that, to hurt my team is obviously not professional. And it's not the right thing to do."
No coach hollers at officials more than Thibodeau, but he rarely is reprimanded. That, Wolves forward Taj Gibson said, is because Thibodeau has built relationships with refs; he knows their names and takes time to have conversations with them.
"They have a real rapport with him, and that's how I feel most players should have it with (refs)," Gibson said last month. "I have the same rapport with them. I may yell at them all game, but we have a strong backing because (of) knowing them for years now. You're going to run into them every night, so it's best to have a good relationship with them."
It's not complicated, if you ask Jeff Teague.
"Just respect them; you respect them, they respect you," he said. "I always had a good relationship with the officials. Don't show them up, that's the biggest thing, man. Don't show them up. You talk to them the right way, they'll talk to you the right way."
Thibodeau said it might take time for players to get the benefit of the doubt from referees.
"Karl is very respectful towards officials," he said. "Maybe that hurts him. I see a lot of times guys are going off, and they tend to get calls. I don't know, I just want him to play and concentrate and stay disciplined."
Towns wasn't the only Wolves player ejected from Friday's game. Teague was sent to the locker room in the fourth quarter after he was assessed a flagrant foul 2 after checking Ricky Rubio in the open court.
"I didn't think I was going to get ejected," he said. "It was too good of a game, it was too close. When it happened, I was disappointed I let my team down."
Teague admitted he was "frustrated" after not getting a foul call on the other end of the floor, but he didn't intend to send Rubio into the seats. It's possible Rubio embellished the contact a bit.
"I was just trying to stop the play," Teague said. "I didn't think I hit him that hard. I think he put a little extra on it, but he made a good play for his team and I've got to be smarter in that situation, just make a common foul and not that aggressive, I guess."