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NBA: Orlando Magic at Minnesota Timberwolves

Wolves 120, Magicians 103: Inception 2 (Or Something Like That)

Getting back to Another Throwback Night...

Tolly is a true pro and Towns is simply on another level.
| Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Maybe the Wolves are taking Throwback Night a bit too seriously.

That was my first thought after the Magic ripped 40 points during the first quarter that saw exactly zero three-point attempts (and no defense) from Thibs’ (but really Towns’) team.

It’s hard to explain how that happens in a league that demands treys. A league that will unquestionably leave those unwilling to adapt lingering behind in the NBA dust. Zero threes in the first. I have to say that again to remind myself that it’s real. I couldn’t help but think about these throwback nights throughout the game. They’ve all been bizarre and unexpected. They’ve all been wins, too.

Derrick Rose dropped a career-high 50 points on the Jazz out of nowhere on the last night of October. A stingy defensive effort and second-half surge—bringing back memories of the days they could lean on KG for stops—helped them erase a 14-point deficit to beat the Rockets in early December. Then there was this. Orlando in town and the Wolves are six-point favorites. They were wearing the all-black uniforms with green tree lining once again. And they come out and shoot zero threes in the first quarter. Talk about another throwback. Maybe the went too far back? (They still scored 31 points!)

While I was reminded of an old era of basketball, the Wolves’ three-point avoidance wasn’t even the worst aspect of the first quarter. That honor goes to the flat defense that showed up over the first 20 minutes or so. A “defense” that kept Target Center quiet and peaceful and certainly not advantageous. Again, they couldn’t defend simple drive-and-kick action. They continue to over collapse and get sucked into the paint, out of position to close out on threes. They hedge the pick-and-roll too hard, or not hard enough, or don’t fight through screens, or switch at the right time, or switch at all, or drop too deep.

The Wolves are vulnerable in about every way one could imagine defensively and especially in the ways (read: 3-point defense) that kill teams these days on a nightly basis. Yes, it’s true that Robert Covington—who has a bone bruise in his knee/plus a sore ankle and will be out an extended period of time—wasn’t around to clean up the messes, seamlessly patching up the gaping holes that have opponents oozing with offensive confidence.

While we’re discussing the impact of RoCo, what happened to the thrilling defensive leap the Wolves made after dealing the (still) disgruntled Jimmy Butler for Robert Covington and Dario Saric? (Incredible trade, by the way.) Was their short-term defensive revival only but a mirage? Was the schedule weak? Did the initial spark fade? Do the schemes actually stink? Perhaps RoCo’s injuries are worse than everyone initially thought and once his elite defensive production started to fall off, everything crumbled back into the norm. A mixture of everything?

We can chat all day about those questions. Right now, I’m trying to process the Wolves doing that thing where they look terrible for long stretches, inspire little to no hope for a win, totally flip the script, and eventually walk away victorious. They did that again. I know it’s the Magic. But still, file this under another game that didn’t make any real sense. Every quarter seems to brings something new and the way they turn the switch on and off makes the outcomes feel way more unpredictable. This is especially true on these nights that have left me a bit perplexed each time, trying to make sense of what we watched.

Getting back to Another Throwback Night...

The Wolves got punched in the face, went to the locker room, talked everything out as they’ve started to do post-Butler, and rallied to overcome a 19-point first half deficit to beat the Magic. The result certainly didn’t align with what the first few helpings of the game seemed to indicate. Nikola Vucevic (22 points) and Evan Fournier (21) were torching the Wolves. There wasn’t much life on the court or in the building to speak of. But neither of those Magicians (can we call them Magicians?) were able to leave their fingerprints on the game. Not like Towns or Teague did.

In his return to the lineup, after missing nine games due to inflammation of the left ankle, Jeff Teague recorded 23 points and a team-high 10 assists. He was the rare $19 million version of Teague everyone has probably been dying to see. Afterwards, Jeffrey Demarco Teague, The Man Who Doesn’t Like To Dunk And Wants The Wolves To Play Modern Basketball, said he still wasn’t 100% but good enough to suit up and play. You’d like to think Thibs could keep him healthy by divvying up the point guard minutes.

Karl-Anthony Towns recorded his sixth straight double-double (25th of the season) with a game-high 29 points and a game-high 15 rebounds, Taj Gibson had 14 points (7-10) and 10 boards in his ninth game shooting 70% or better this season. Anthony Tolliver filled in brilliantly and demonstrated why DNP-CD’s should not rest unquestioned next to his name on the box score. Tolly finished with a season-high-matching 11 points (3x prior). He was 3-5 from deep. He modernizes the team the second he touches the floor.

Gorgui Dieng helped control the glass with a season-high 10 rebounds, his first game with 10+ rebounds since playing Philadelphia on Mar. 24, 2018 (11 rebs). G is a more than capable player that (imho) doesn’t respond to his Old Yeller coach.

Josh Okogie was a bit crazy and out of control and was playing like a madman nearly overdosed on Red Bull. So, he was Josh Okogie. I thought he broke his nose landing on his face near the baseline late in the game. That was scary but JO is tough as nails and didn’t stop. I laugh when people question why we love Okogie in Wolvesdom. It’s not about the numbers. We have eyeballs. We can all see. This is a rookie who wants to make plays more than almost everyone else. That’s valuable. Hustle is a skill. Fire and desire! The other skills are there, too. They should develop over time with enough work in the gym, and nothing about Okogie suggests anything other than he wants to bust his ass to be the best he can be. On another note, JO also set a season-high in assists with five and his two-way energy and effort (buzz words the team loves to use) was a problem for the Magic.

The comeback victory matches the Wolves’ largest of the season. Another Throwback Night came and went, leaving my mind disoriented and very much in bewilderment over the results. The ‘19 Wolves are unpredictable from quarter to quarter. They’re both frustrating and fun. Tonight was fun after it initially wasn’t.

When they win in ways we can’t necessarily see coming, even in spite of their flaws, the spinning top that stays in motion in Inception comes to mind. When watching this team, I have a hard time, like many viewers, making sense of why they do what they do.

But I think it’s fine to accept the reality that the Wolves can look both like gold and dirt within the same 48 minutes. Maybe that doesn’t make sense. I’m not sure. Maybe it doesn’t need to. Just like Inception, or something like that.

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