The stat pointed out at the end of the game broadcast tonight is a good place to start. The Minnesota Timberwolves had never before started 2-0 with both wins coming on the road. Now they have done so, winning their second game of the season 95-78 over the Denver Nuggets. In the end, it was a blowout, a bigger win by point differential than any game but Kevin Garnett's return in 2014-15. This was an occasion to be savored.
A review of this game starts and ends with the number one pick, Karl-Anthony Towns, who was dominant for large portions of the game against a Nuggets frontcourt that has given the Wolves nightmares in years past, albeit without Jusuf Nurkic. Towns finished the game with 28 points, 14 rebounds and 4 blocks in 33 minutes, more than anyone else on the team. He moved a bit slowly in the fourth quarter and had his ankle iced, but was effective enough to finish the game.
Towns was everywhere on defense, the rim protector that the Wolves have been lacking for years. Even when shots went unblocked, the perception kept the Nuggets far from the rim, taking bad jumpshots that did not often find their mark. The Nuggets shot barely above 30% from the field on the night, and their 78 points tonight were lower than any opponent's point total in 2014-15 besides Garnett's return. Partially this was bad shot selection by the Nuggets, but there was no Kobe Bryant in this game to take all the bad shots. For stretches of this game, the Timberwolves played legitimately good team defense. Really.
On offense, the feel was similar to Wednesday's game, with stretches of hot shooting and cold shooting. The Wolves were at their best when Ricky Rubio took his time to find opportunities for other players. Rubio only scored 12 points to go with his 8 assists tonight, but had several shots rim out, and the Timberwolves always seemed in control of the game when he was on the floor, which he was whenever the Nuggets got too close. The Wolves took the lead for good at 6:42 in the first quarter, and led by as many as 21. Even though the Nuggets got back within single digits in the fourth, this was never that close.
Andrew Wiggins had a better game tonight with 18 points, but his back is clearly still hindering him. He had some aggressive moves to the basket and nailed a dagger jumper late in the game, but he does not have the full repertoire he had developed by the end of last season at his disposal yet. Wiggins also received his second career technical foul for getting into a somewhat heated discussion with Will Barton after his dagger, which was very strange.
Really, though, it all goes back to Towns. Towns was the most consistent scorer on offense, both through his own creation and Rubio's assistance, and he anchored an outstanding defensive effort. This is the NBA-ready player that the Wolves knew they were getting, and have seen more and more of through the preseason. Now, Towns has truly announced his presence to the rest of the league. He's here, and he's good, right now.
- After seeing short time on Wednesday due to foul trouble for Nemanja Bjelica, neither Adreian Payne nor Damjan Rudez appeared in this game, which is no real surprise. The ten players the Wolves stuck with did just fine.
- Andre Miller also did not play in his return to Denver, and one begins to wonder how bad Zach LaVine has to be for him to be summoned from the bench. For now, Miller is there to mentor, not to play.
- The bench unit in general were less of a trainwreck tonight, but there remains very little structure on offense when LaVine is running the point. LaVine (10) and Kevin Martin (14) both scored enough and did enough to keep the Wolves at least even with the second unit on the floor, but this will not be good enough against better teams than the Nuggets and Lakers.
- An amusing anecdote from the game occurred in the third quarter. The game clock on one end of the court had not been working on and off throughout the quarter, causing multiple stoppages of play, and was off for the end of the quarter. Nuggets guard Will Barton recovered a defensive rebound at the end of a Wolves possession, took the ball up the floor and promptly jacked up a jumper from halfcourt. The problem was, there were still ten seconds left in the quarter. Barton had heard the announcer in the arena counting the shot clock down and assumed it was the game clock. It mostly just looked very silly.
- Even in a losing effort, Kenneth Faried had 15 rebounds, and the Nuggets actually won the rebounding battle 51-49. As good as Towns and Nemanja Bjelica can be on the boards, they and the rest of the Wolves must be better.
- Your leader in single game plus-minus? Tayshaun Prince, +22 to go with his 2 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. Prince is the most invisible of the five starters, but he does enough to be effective, and his defense on Danilo Gallinari was just enough.
The Wolves return to Target Center for their home opener on Monday against the Trail Blazers. They are 2-0, and play a winnable game next. Enjoy this.