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The Wolf Morningcap, Vol. 1

One simply cannot write the Nightcap, Vol. 4 if they fall asleep after the game.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Minnesota Timberwolves
Kentucky on Kentucky crime.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — In a season of twists and turns, unpredictability has been the only apparent constant for these Wolves. You never know what you’re going to get.

Forrest Gump, eating a box of chocolates on a bench, was ahead of the curve.

Saturday night’s 110-106 win over the Pelicans on the home back-to-back—an essential victory in the name of riding positive momentum as they chase a playoff spot few people believe they can secure—reaffirmed that unknowing feeling over which team would show up. But these (Wolves) chocolates were delicious.

A night after rookie sensation Luka Doncic had the last laugh with another cold-blooded shot in crunch time—an eye-rolling transition dagger three that capped off a disappointing Prince Night defeat doomed by late turnovers—the Wolves made sure Ryan Saunders’ first two home games didn’t go down in the books as a woeful introduction to an audience dying to believe in the future.

New Orleans had two days rest after dropping 140 points in a win over the Cavs on Wednesday, and betting against the Wolves probably seemed like the wise play prior to tip-off.

Surely a shorthanded, volatile squad adapting on the fly with an unproven voice leading the show couldn’t overcome what many prognosticators might have labeled a schedule loss.

I guess that’s why they play the games. You never know what’s going to happen.

So, what actually happened?

Karl-Anthony Towns showed up locked and loaded after rolling his right ankle/foot on Friday, leading to a temporary absence in the locker room. KAT not only channeled his inner Cal Ripken by extending his games played streak to 289 consecutive appearances, but put his fingerprints all over the game. Towns outdueled the incredibly skilled Anthony Davis.

Viewers were treated to a little “Kentucky on Kentucky crime” in the process, as KAT jokingly described during his postgame availability.

Towns controlled the glass with authority all night. Everyone knows he can get buckets at will, but the way he collected tons of boards with an angry, physical attitude seemed to rattle the Pelicans. A career-high 27 rebounds was an unforgettable aspect of the win, a total that bested his previous mark of 23 (Nov. 24, 2018 vs. Chicago). It set a new high in the NBA this season, surpassing Anthony Davis and Enes Kanter (26).

Towns added 27 points, 3 assists, and 6 stocks (4 blocks, 2 steals) in a dominant, captivating two-way performance. It was his ninth career 20+ point, 20+ rebound game (fourth this season) and he became one of five players since blocks became official in 1973-74 to register a game with 27+ points, 27+ rebounds and 4+ blocks, joining Dikembe Mutombo, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (twice), Bob McAdoo and Elvin Hayes (h/t @Twolves_PR).

The unpredictable nature of the team is certainly still there, only it has shifted to an entirely new state under interim head coach Ryan Saunders. We say goodbye to the rigid, predictable Thibodeau rotations and hello to the reinvigorating adoption of an attitude the old POBO always preached but never delivered upon. The Wolves played with pace and space. They defended the perimeter with a real purpose.

Thibs consistently said “the game tells you what you should to do” during his tenure but those words began to feel hollow over time. He didn’t listen to himself in the end. But maybe Saunders was listening all along and perhaps now that sentiment will finally be capitalized upon under the flexibility of a youthful coach exceedingly willing to adjust to the modern times. The early results seems to indicate a shift in philosophy that can take advantage of the roster in ways that weren’t being taken advantage of.

Interviews & Notes

  • Josh Okogie matched his season-high of 17 points (Oct. 29 vs. LAL) in 42 minutes. He didn’t hit threes (1-8) but still played his ass off. 12 of his points were in the third quarter alone. The rook had 15 against Dallas on Friday. All of his teammates offer a similar type of statement when asked about the rookie: Okogie’s extreme type of motor and energy is contagious and nobody wants Nonstop to change his approach. His intense style isn’t something players can turn on and off. So, let Josh be Josh.
  • Jeff Teague scored only two points in 22 minutes. He hurt his ankle on a driving lay-up to end the first half. His 10 dimes (10th double-digit assist performance of the year) were key but the way Tyus Jones stepped up in the lead PG role in the second half, and in crunch time, was the real story (Rose sat out as a precautionary decision to keep him healthy moving forward). Teague is also an incredible teammate that always supports his guys, which shouldn’t go unnoticed.
  • Tyus was great. I will forever ride with the #WYOS (Write Your Own Story) hashtag that he lives by.
  • Luol Deng checked in at the 8:06 mark of the second quarter for his fifth appearance of the season and immediately matched his season high of five points on his first two shot attempts, including his first triple of the season. He was +12 in 4:30 on the floor.
  • Ryan Saunders and Andrew Wiggins (18 points on 21 shots ... though the 7!!! rebounds and defensive energy was beneficial) need to sit down and have an honest discussion about his decision making and shot selection moving forward. The constant settling for inefficient long twos hurt the Wolves again.
  • Mr. Clean (The Don, as some teammates call him) kept them alive in the first quarter. His guidance throughout the game, even on the bench and during timeouts, is an invaluable trait.
  • Julius Randle notched his 21st double-double of the season with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Randle had 33 points and 10 rebounds vs. Minnesota in their last meeting on Dec. 31; he is now averaging 19.3 points against the Wolves this season.
  • Hi, Kat. Keep being YOU.

Listen to the plus/minus MONSTER, Tyus Jones...

The Homie (Dario) bounced back with 14 points and 4 rebounds in 16 minutes.

A Refreshing Presser

Tom Thibodeau had his list of mantras and talking points. Anybody following the Wolves even mildly closely knows them. Do your job. The magic is in the work. Every day matters. Thibs repeated the same lines every presser.

In his first career head coaching win at Target Center, Drip Saunders/Suits offered much more to chew on.

The force is strong with this one...

Quotes

Saunders on Towns’ rebounding

“27 rebounds means you’re really playing to win. And you’re playing meaningful possessions where you understand that this was a win that we needed against a team that we’re going to be fighting with for playoff positioning. For Karl to say that and then to come out and do it, that’s a big testament to him.”

On Tyus’ play

“He gave us everything he has, what he usually does. It’s well-documented. I have a long relationship with Tyus. I trust Tyus and we all feel good when he plays well.”

On what the increase of three-point attempts

“A big thing we talked about today was shot preparation. So when we want to get into drive and kick basketball or when we do push the ball in transition, we talked about everybody just staying down and staying shot ready. We’re trying to do a couple things throughout practice and shootaround, just to improve with that, but our guys did a great job with that tonight.”

On 39 three-point attempts

“I like them. I’d say there’s a few in there that I’d say we could do away with, but that’s shot selection. That’s something that’s addressed in the film sessions and throughout individual development. But I like them. Everybody’s always talking about wanting to shoot more threes, right?”

On Saric and Deng staying ready

“Once again, that’s a credit to Dario. Just coming in, he could have hung his head. Even when he had three fouls early on, he could have kind of checked out of the game, but he stayed ready. We had so many guys stay ready. I don’t know if anybody’s going to ask me about him, but Luol Deng. I hope everybody realizes how great of a professional he is. For him to stay ready throughout the year. He comes in late at night, he’s there for all hours. For him to stay ready and then come in and play meaningful minutes like that and get five quick points, you just can’t say enough about him.”

Karl-Anthony Towns

On his performance

“I’ve said it before, I just want to be the energy my team needs on a nightly basis. If they need more, I’ve got to be able to bring it. My team is looking for me to lead, and I’ve got to be able to go out there and lead.”

On his late three-pointer and defending Anthony Davis

“I think there’s a lot of moments that led to us winning. I don’t think those are the winning moments. I think those are just moments that make things happen. Like I said, just trying to bring that energy. Fourth quarter comes, everyone’s looking at me to make those plays and dominate, take over. I just want to be able to do that. Not only on the offensive end, but the defensive end. Especially with a great talent, one of the best to play the game like AD. It was a lot of Kentucky on Kentucky crime that I had to go through.”

On Deng’s minutes

“That was probably one of the biggest moments of the game, when Luol comes in and brings that spark. The game was going a little topsy turvy, they had the momentum and he comes in and makes two humongous plays that put us in the position where we felt that we brought the momentum back to our side and gave us a lot of confidence.”

Josh Okogie

On getting an important win

“We needed this one so bad. It always gives you momentum going into the next game, we’re about to face a tough Philly team so we need all the momentum that we can get.”

On Towns’ sensational play

“He was playing like the player we need him to play. Big KAT. He’s a big man down low. That’s what he was for us. He provided us with some clutch shots down the stretch and that what he did. That’s what he does.”

On playing nearly 42 minutes

“I’m just happy I was able to be there for my teammates. We played pretty good defense. That’s a team that’s really high scoring and they’ve been scoring over 130, 140 for the last five games. We held them to 106 so that’s pretty good.”

Pelicans Head Coach Alvin Gentry

On the loss

“They outplayed us. They outcoached us. They were better coached, they played harder. They did everything they had to do to win the game and we didn’t. That’s the bottom line. We didn’t rebound the basketball. We turned it over. I’m as much to blame as anybody. It’s a game that was poorly coached, poorly played. Everything. We didn’t deserve to win and we didn’t. That’s the bottom line.”

On if the game would have felt differently if the Pelicans had made more shots

“It’s the whole overall approach to the game. If we make shots, okay, we make shots. There’s other phases of the game that you got to be good at, rebounding the basketball. Doesn’t matter if we’re still within reach, we can’t give up four offensive rebounds on a possession with less than two minutes to go in the game. As I said, they outplayed us and outcoached us and they deserved to win the game. There’s not a whole lot that can be said. Karl-Anthony Towns was great; he played really good. They had some other guys that stepped up and played, but the bottom line is if we want to be a playoff team, we have to change a lot of things that we’re doing.”

On what Minnesota did to win

“They played hard and competed. That’s what they did. That’s usually what you do if you win the game. You play hard and you compete at a real high level.”

Jrue Holiday

On the second quarter

“I think we just had a lapse in the second quarter. Honestly I think the first quarter we did well, the second quarter we kind of let it get away and the second half, we just played our game. If we skipped that lapse in the second quarter, then it’d be a different outcome.”

On Coach Gentry blaming coaching for the loss

“Not necessarily. I still felt like we lost by four and we did what we were supposed to do. We were up at the end of the game too. We were up at the beginning of the fourth. Obviously at that time, we should get better at closing out, but I think it was that second quarter. Using so many minutes and having that pressure of being down that much to make a comeback.”

And to end the night...