Hey! That was kind of fun! The Wolves outlasted the New Orleans Pelicans at Target Center tonight 107-100, and there’s a lot to talk about.
In many ways this was a tale of two halves, with the Wolves dominating the early going with fantastic ball movement, spacing, and shooting to take a 13 point lead into halftime. Karl-Anthony Towns was particularly dominant, with a 20-10 first half in which he thoroughly outplayed Anthony Davis, something we aren’t used to seeing.
The second half wasn’t nearly as pretty, with the Wolves scoring only 40 points. The third quarter was particularly difficult to watch, as the ball movement that was so impressive in the first half completely disappeared. For some reason, the Wolves decided to try to force feed Taj Gibson in the post early in the third quarter, which led to nothing good, and started a period of panicky isolation plays and a series of turnovers that allowed the Pels back into the game. Meanwhile E’Twaun Moore was on fire from all over the floor. He would finish with 31 points thanks to four threes and a variety of impressive floaters in the lane.
Meanwhile, as has been a trend, Towns was much quieter in the second half, with only five points. He was in foul trouble much of the way which interrupted him, but he was unable to get in a flow in the second half at all. Still, he bounced back to make several huge plays late, more on which in a minute.
The Pels would finally take a two point lead on a Jrue Holiday drive with 4:40 left in the ball game. Perhaps the most heartening part of tonight was the response from the Wolves, especially Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Instead of hero ball, there were a series of hustle and effort plays that would win them the game. It looked like this:
Wiggins hits a three off a Gibson drive and kick.
Wiggins grabs a steal off Wesley Johnson, makes one of two ensuing free throws.
Towns with an and-one off a pick and roll with Teague.
Crazy sequence with multiple offensive rebounds, including Wiggins missing a put-back dunk attempt that brought people to their feet, and ended with Gibson going to the line, one of two.
Finally, the killer sequence: Towns blocks Anthony Davis at one end, finds a cutting Wiggins at the other, who dunks and completes the and-one. That pretty much ended things, giving the Wolves a seven point lead with under two minutes left.
I go through this because it felt so much different than what we have been used to seeing, with Jimmy Butler taking over fourth quarters for better or worse. Tonight it was multiple guys, with Wiggins making several huge plays, but not by isolating. It can be tough to score late in NBA games, and it was, but the Wolves three biggest buckets—the Wiggins three, the Towns and-one, and the Wiggins dunk and-one were all assisted. Overall, the Wolves had 29 assists on 37 made buckets, and really only struggled when the ball stopped moving in the third quarter, though give some credit to a roused Pels defense.
It was of course the debut for Robert Covington, who started at small forward, and Dario Saric who came off the bench, and both of them showed at various times what they can bring to the table. Covington in particular was impressive despite shooting just 4-11 from the field. Three of his makes were threes, and he wound up with 13 points, seven boards, two assists, and two steals, really showing what he can do at the defensive end of the floor. He led the team in minutes (41) in his debut.
Saric played 20 minutes off the bench, and had his moments as well. It’s clear that he wants to be a playmaker out there; he’s always looking for the right pass. He finished with nine points, three boards, an assist and two steals. One of the things that was apparent with both guys tonight is they know how to play. They created space, positioned themselves properly on defense, and were active.
Although it wasn’t perfect, this was one of the Wolves stronger defensive performances of the year. Just a lot more active throughout, better help especially in the paint, where they made it tough for the Pels. Towns was excellent on Davis, who scored 29 points but shot 9-25 from the field. The Wolves finished with 14 steals, led by Wiggins and Josh Okogie who had three each, and also had six blocks. They held the Pels to 42.6 percent shooting and held their own on the boards.
It felt like a terrific team effort in which Wolves players were actually helping each other to be successful, and actually enjoying that success. You know what that is? It’s fun.
- Josh Okogie had a very strong game, with 11 points, five boards, three steals in 17 minutes. He made 3-5 from three, and had a monster sequence early in the fourth when the Pels had tightened the game. Steal-finish-defensive rebound (fouled)-three pointer. It was everything great about him.
- No Derrick Rose tonight, out with a sore ankle. Thibs has really been pushing his minutes.
- Anthony Tolliver was the odd man out tonight and got the DNP. With both Gibson and Saric, it’s going to be tough to find minutes for AT.
- When Rose returns, I would expect Tyus Jones to play even less or not at all. Only 11 minutes tonight, and his struggles continue. He does not look confident.
- Towns finished with 25 and 16 and if felt up and down. He’s such a massive talent.
- I thought this was Wiggins’ best game of the year despite mediocre shooting (8-22 for 23 points.) Six rebounds, four assists, three steals, and a block. He was pretty active throughout, and while not perfect, a lot more of an impact than we usually see. JVG was killing him all night for not doing more on a consistent basis. He wasn’t wrong, but it was a good night for Wiggins.
What caught your eye?