The Timberwolves appeared to have a minutes restriction in place again for D'Angelo Russell in Friday night's 145-136 loss to Boston, since Russell again wasn't in the starting lineup nor the lineup that came out for the second half.
But when the game went into overtime, the minutes restriction became a little more flexible. It got to overtime only because Russell helped send it there with eight points in the final 90 seconds of regulation, including a banked-in, tying three-pointer with 9.7 seconds remaining.
It was the third consecutive game Russell hit shots down the stretch after helping the Wolves distance themselves from the Kings in a Monday win, almost led them back against Indiana on Wednesday and nearly did it again Friday against the Celtics.
Russell appears to be rounding into form after missing 26 games because of arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, and he has played almost as many games with Karl-Anthony Towns in the past week (three) as he did in the entire 13-plus months prior (five).
That pairing, according to the involved parties, seems to be going swimmingly so far.
"It's just great to be on the court with him," Towns said. "We've had this vision for so long. The universe just didn't want to see us together that quick. Finally getting a chance to show what we can do when we're both on the court. I think we've shown in these few games that we played together recently, especially tonight, when we're together on the court, there's something special."
Russell said he was doing Towns a "disservice" by not being healthy recently, to which Towns, who was seated next to Russell as he said this, shot back he was more "unhealthy" than Russell was since Russell came to the Wolves last year.
"The fact that we're both getting there, both healthy and got a few games left, this is a good opportunity for us to treat it like a preseason or the start of the season next year, trying to use this to build on it," Russell said. "
Coach Chris Finch has liked what he's seen from Russell so far, and said he's hoping the sometimes-methodical Russell is able to amp up his pace of play as time passes.
"When he does, though, it really unlocks a lot of great passing and obviously his clutch shotmaking down the stretch is going to really be helpful for us," Finch said.
Russell said earlier this week he was looking forward to working with Finch now that he's back around the team and playing again. Russell said he still has to be careful how his body responds to games, and said he's amenable to playing faster once his body is up to that kind of speed.
"That's all it is, I think," Russell said. "I feel like I'm capable of producing whatever the coaches may want, adapting to whatever they want. If that's me pushing the pace, slowing it down, feeding the post 99 out of 100 possessions, I'll adapt to it and figure it out. As far as playing at that pace, it's simply being healthy and knocking that rust off. I'm not worried."
Russell also isn't worried about the direction of the Wolves. Even after Friday's loss, he was confident about the group's trajectory even as it slogs to the finish line.
"I think the sky's the limit for this group. I like our progression, I like where we're going." Russell said. "I'm super excited for every game because I know we're getting better. Guys are coming into their own. We're starting to get some chemistry."
That would mean chemistry between him and Towns and among those two and the rest of the team, even without sharpshooter Malik Beasley. It took awhile just to get to the point where Russell and Towns were playing together. Now the Wolves can see what they really have for the future.