Turning over a new leaf, starting a new chapter, whatever your preferred metaphor for a new beginning, the Wolves played their first game without Jimmy Butler tonight. However, the team was also without the newcomers Robert Covington and Dario Saric, so this game was more reminiscent of the early season when Butler was unable (or unwilling) to play.
The Wolves trotted out the starting lineup of Jeff Teague, Derrick Rose, Andrew Wiggins, Taj Gibson, and Karl-Anthony Towns. It remains to be seen how much of that lineup will change in the near future, but for tonight it sufficed.
This was certainly an odd game, featuring a few uncommon stat lines and an incredibly devastating injury to Caris LeVert.
The injury will be the main story coming out of tonight’s game. The Nets were playing the Wolves well in the first half and at times you could see the pieces coming together. The ball whirred around the perimeter in an endless loop of drive-and-kicks, the Nets were launching away from deep, and LeVert seemed to be at the center of it all on both ends of the court. Then, with just three seconds left in the first half, he got tangled up with Josh Okogie on a drive and looked to have suffered a serious injury similar to what Gordon Hayward or Paul George experienced. All at once, the excitement of the Nets season is likely over.
Both teams came into this game with thin rosters, as the Wolves were without their newcomers and the Nets were without Jarrett Allen. Without Allen, the Nets simply had no answer for Karl-Anthony Towns, as their only real center that got any minutes was Ed Davis. The Nets essentially started three small forwards with Joe Harris, Jared Dudley, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and pretended like that sufficed for a big rotation.
Towns racked up fouls on the Nets all game long, seemingly putting the Nets in the bonus within the first few minutes of every quarter. As a team, the Nets ended up with 29 fouls to the Wolves 17.
Due to the size differential, the Wolves tried to post-up Towns for most of the game with success. Towns ended up with a gaudy triple-double, 25 points on 9 of 11 shooting, 21 rebounds, and 10 turnovers. I did say that there was a lot of weird stats.
As a team, the Wolves turned the ball over an incredible 23 times, but yet the Nets only have two fastbreak points. This is because most of these turnovers were not live-ball turnovers, but rather random travel calls or the Wolves simply throwing the ball out of bounds.
The Wolves, as they have in many games this season, got pounded on the defensive glass and beyond the arc, giving up 19 offensive rebounds and 18 threes. The Nets were playing true to type, letting it fly from deep and playing five-out most of the game. D’Angelo Russel was almost the unlikely hero for the Nets, as he scored 31 points, which was mostly made up by his 9 three-point makes.
But yet, the Wolves still managed to find a way to win. The starters carried the load, with each starter scoring in double figures. Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague combined for 47 points and 17 assists. Rose’s hot shooting from beyond the arc continued, as he made 3 of 5 three-pointers. Jeff Teague was particularly good tonight in his first game back. He may have winced and cringed as he struggled through ankle injuries, rolling his ankle at one point, but he was instrumental in breaking down the Nets defense and he was able to get to the rim at will.
Taj Gibson was his normal self, providing solid defense and scoring in the paint. He ended up with 17 points and 9 rebounds.
One of the most fascinating things to watch in the coming weeks will be what the Wolves do with Andrew Wiggins. Now in the first year of his max contract, we have seemingly concluded that Wiggins may never take the leap we want him to. This game will only serve to bolster his detractors (myself included), but we can hope for signs that without Butler, the floor will open up for Wiggins to be at the point of attack.
However, like in other games this season, that role has been ceded to Derrick Rose. Even in the few crunch-time possessions of this game, the Wolves ran dribble hand-offs with Rose and Towns. Wiggins was relegated to spacing out in the corner.
Regardless, the Wolves new(ish) season has begun. 1-0 baby.