In their final tune-up before the start of the real NBA season, the Minnesota Timberwolves had a lot to fix, improve, and improve. Tasked with the difficult assignment of legit MVP candidate, Luka Doncic and his 2-0 Dallas Mavericks, the Wolves would have their work cut out for them. What we ended up getting was The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
To start, It looked like it this going to be yet another Timberwolves Classic©. The Mavericks went 8 for 11 from the field, their only 3 misses being 3-point shots. Don’t worry, they did make 4 of 7 from perimeter (More on this later). Although Karl-Anthony Towns was relatively dominant on offense while providing a solid individual defensive effort (!), Dallas would still easily gallop to an early 10-point lead just 5 minutes in.
Enter: Anthony Edwards.
The game noticeably changed as soon as the first subs came in. What looked like yet another early night to bed for Wolves fans, Edwards (and Jarrett Culver) subbed in and figuratively said “Nah, ya’ll stayin’ up tonight!” He immediately made an impact by being the only successful player to stop Luka Doncic. No, this wasn’t some “stop” where Edwards happened to rotate out on a missed Doncic three-pointer. This was “Iso, iso! I got a rook on me and I’m gonna to put ‘em in the torture chamber (S/O Jim Peterson).” Luka pulled it back so that he could get a head of steam on his victim, but Ant Man was game. He got down in a stance and took a few calculated stabs at Luka, forcing him to regather and reassess his decision. On Doncic’s second effort, Edwards slid his feet beautifully to stymie the drive before Glovington-ing him, timing his prey perfectly by slapping the ball out of Luka’s hands. This forced Doncic into force an awkward floater, which he also strongly contested, that ended up as a missed shot.
This is what Anthony Edwards can look like on the defensive end when he's fully engaged. Quick feet, physical at 230 pounds, long-armed. Really nice 1-on-1 defense against one of the best players in the NBA. pic.twitter.com/ezzDcFWixj— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) December 18, 2020
That sequence foreshadowed the type of quarter Edwards would have. He continued to make an impact by doing the little things on defense while shooting the lights out on the other end of the court (11 points on just 6 FGA), as the Wolves erased the double digit lead and took a 37-33 lead heading into the 2nd quarter.
BACK-TO-BACK THREES FOR ANT— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) December 18, 2020
Poor Dick Carlisle and his basketball club would adjust.
Remember when the only Mavs misses to start the game were 3 three-pointers. Welp, Dallas would go on to make 7 shots from beyond the arc in the 2nd quarter alone (Finishing 13/24 for the half) as the Wolves would trade paint buckets for three-point buckets all quarter, consistently giving up wide open looks from the beyond the arc. The Wolves stayed within arm’s length of the Mavericks all quarter despite slowly allowing a lead to balloon up, but the big difference for the Wolves was that their 1st quarter avenger, Ant Man, was not there to save them. Edwards seemed to have been given the green light after his performance in the 1st quarter, but unfortunately for Minnesota, he would go extremely cold for the rest of the game.
The Timberwolves would enter the 2nd half in trouble as KAT picked his 4th foul with still 10:26 remaining. It’d noticeably bother him on the defensive end, giving up easy looks in the paint. To make matters worse, just less than 2 minutes later, he earned his 5th one which Ryan Saunders would challenge and subsequently lose. To be frank, both of these fouls were of the “ticky-tack” variety so I guess it’s fair to say that it’s also the preseason for the zebras. I also can’t honestly recap this game without mentioning Luka’s
annoying incessant barking for fouls every chance he can which finally led to a tech incredible ability to draw contact and whistles.
In response, Ricky Rubio would try to cut into the lead with mid-range jumpers to buy time until Edwards would reenter the game. With his team down just 7 points, Ant would come in and immediately begin firing off shots while trying to stay active on defense. Unfortunately for his team, he was ice cold and as a collective the Wolves would continue to give up wide open 3 after 3 (Seems like completely unlucky variance for Wolves opponents, no?), at one point hitting three in a row to push the league back to double-digits.
With their last 12 minutes to practice against another team, the Wolves trotted out a (future starting?) unit of Rubio, Beasley, Edwards, RHJ, and KAT. They would go out with a whimper though, still unable to contain a bench line-up of the Mavericks. With 7 minutes remaining in the game, that line was only able to whittle the lead down to 7 before the game turned into the Wolves 2nd unit versus the Mavericks 3rd unit.
Now this is what preseason fans really want to see.
Jaylen Nowell would commandeer the comeback by playing as the defacto
shoint scoring point guard. With just 2:30 minutes remaining in the game, Jaden McDaniels would locate Naz Reid for a layup on the break to finally tie the game at 112. Both teams would trade buckets as we witnessed the showdown of Naz Reid vs Boban Marjanovic, at one point literally going chest-to-chest. The final minute of basketball (and ensuing overtime) would mostly be a comedy of errors. Feast your eyes:
With the scoreboard stuck at 114-114 with 4.5 ticks remaining, Tyrell Terry would finally put and end to our collective misery by - NOPE! Culver would get the most clutch block of his career, sneaking up behind to pack the shot attempt, sending the game to OT.
Jarrett Culver with the block on Tyrell Terry to send the game to overtime. Just 1 of the many great plays from JC tonight. pic.twitter.com/ySt2frIYBa— Drippy Rubio (@Y0Leo) December 18, 2020
It didn’t take long for Culver to separate himself as the best player in overtime, making an impact on both ends of the court. He would score 6 of Minnesota’s first points in this period (1 three-pointer and 3/3 FTs!!!) before getting some much deserved rest. Nasty Naz and Nowell would control the rest of the period versus Dallas’ now mix of 3rd/4th stringers on the floor.
Oh, you’re still here? Didn’t have enough The Ugly yet? Well with a 5-point lead and just 22.8 seconds remaining, the Wolves were in midseason form. They effectively blew their lead and clung onto a now 2-point lead with 6.9 (nice) seconds remaining. The result? A wide open Marjanovic three-pointer that somehow caromed out.
And there you have it! Your 2020-2021 Minnesota Timberwolves, reporting for duty on Wednesday, December 23 versus the Detroit Pistons for their first official game.
72-0, here we come!
- I have to give Juancho Hernangomez a shoutout. Despite a poor effort in the first 2 preseason games, Hollywood Juancho would show that he could give a steady effort. Steady as in playing the exact same way he did in the prior outings. Unable to deliver on one of his seemingly only attributes on the court (shooting), he also did damage by constantly blowing defensive assignments while faking cuts to force his teammates into throwing the ball away. I’m rooting for Hernangomez to figure it out, but right now it does not look good.
- Jarrett Culver continues to look great, with a team high +25 (Not a typo). He played his usual impressive defense and remained cool & under control on offense, ending the night resulting in a well-rounded line of 18 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 stocks (6/6 FTs!). Aside from a blown dunk that could have potentially ended it in regulation, he made it clear that he is no longer the unconfident player he was last season. There’s absolutely no excuse for why he shouldn’t get more minutes once the season begins. Likely correlated, Josh Okogie made 2 of 3 from perimeter today and had some moments on defense, but he was a team-worst -29 (Not a typo). Something to monitor.
Ryan Saunders heaping praise on Jarrett Culver postgame.— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) December 18, 2020
Culver deserves it. Best training camp and preseason on the roster.
- Today was finally the much anticipated debut of Naz Reid this season. He played 26 minutes, tied for second most of the roster, thus Ed Davis didn’t leave the bench tonight which may also be an interesting storyline to watch as the season continues (Offense vs defense). Naz understandably looked rusty out there, most of his 3-pointers coming up well short (0/4), but still showed that he belonged out there. Welcome back, big fella!
- Malik Beasley was a mixed bag tonight. Most of his damage was in the 4th quarter when the game (9 points) was mostly out of reach, but his effort on defense is certainly there. Unfortunately for him, defense doesn’t only require effort, but technique and feel. The latter two of which he is still missing.
- After cutting the mid range shots down from roughly 15 (Game 1) to 12 (Game 2), the Wolves finally stopped the habit of bustatwos by just putting up 9 in a 53 minute game.