Well, how about that?! The first quarter was ugly, with many of this teams deficiencies being exposed, but Minnesota fought back for a gritty win, keeping the dream of 72-0 alive.
The best part about tonight? Each of the Wolves important core guys brought something to the table.
Karl-Anthony Towns was quiet early, but was everywhere in the fourth quarter, helping the Wolves put the game away on both ends of the floor. In all, KAT finished with 22/11/7/1/2 on 60/50/100 shooting. Pretty, pretty, pretty good.
As for Towns’ running mate, D’Angelo Russell, it’s clear that while he isn’t perfect, he just brings a level of shot-making to this team that they simply have not head in a really long time. He’ll take some bad ones here or there, but Russell has an incredible ability to bail Minnesota out of rough possessions by hitting a tough shot. It wasn’t his best night, but the Wolves will take the 18 points and 4 assists he gave them. In the second half, Russell even made a few nice plays defensively at the top of their zone (more on that later) that led to easy buckets.
NBA Star Malik Beasley had a putrid start to the game, but man oh man, did he ever bring it in the second half. Beasley finished with 23 points on 10-18 from the field, but more importantly he made big shots when it mattered most.
While we’re on the shot-makers, how about the rook? I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but Anthony Edwards sure as hell looked like the number one overall pick tonight. Ant was the Wolves most reliable source of offense in the first half, and he looks like he’ll be able to get a decent look pretty much whenever he wants to. He’s already really good at manipulating the PnR as a scorer, and even made a few nice passes out of it as well. There will be no complaints on a 15/4/4 debut from me.
SOURCES: Anthony Edwards is 19-years-old. pic.twitter.com/zp4VBHZzc8— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) December 24, 2020
Truly, the shot-making that this team has is just different than in years past. They have four guys who can go get a bucket whenever they need to, which makes your margin for error on that end so much wider. That’s going to benefit this group so much.
The other guys who really swung the game were (shocker!) Ricky Rubio and Jarrett Culver. Culver gave the Wolves 10 and 10, and while Rubio only had 3 points and 3 assists, it is no coincidence that he was on the floor during the Wolves two big runs, including the 22-6 run the Wolves used to close the game out.
I’ve been critical of Ryan Saunders, but I have to give him his shine tonight as well. The decision to switch to a zone defense in the second half really threw Detroit out of rhythm, and honestly swung the game. Detroit scored 57 points in the first half compared to just 44 in the second, largely due to the adjustment to go zone.
The closing lineup of Rubio/Russell/Beasley/Okogie/Towns will rightfully get a lot of credit for winning the game tonight, but the group that closed the first half is what gave them a chance. The group of Rubio/Beasley/Culver/Okogie/KAT closed the gap at the end of the first half cut into a double-digit deficit, and that’s what really gave Minnesota a chance to win. I’d love to see more of that lineup, and think it makes a lot of sense so long as Rubio and Culver are the first subs in each half. That group can guard and score pretty dang well if Jarrett Culver is as good as he’s looked early on.
Timberwolves trailed by as much as 14 earlier and now it's just a one point game at the half, 57-56.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) December 24, 2020
Awesome adjustment from Ryan Saunders switching to a zone.
The Rubio/Beasley/Culver/JO/Towns lineup fueled a 27-12 run to close out the half.
It wasn’t all perfect, though. Juancho Hernangomez still looked awful.
Cole Aldrich has earned more of his money tonight than Juancho Hernangomez.— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) December 24, 2020
Well, I'm a -5 (beers in my fridge)— Cole Aldrich (@colea45) December 24, 2020
Jake Layman was lost playing on the wing while Josh Okogie defended Blake Griffin. There is an increasingly real chance Okogie is the Wolves best option at power forward. In general, it would probably benefit the Wolves to play Culver more than Okogie moving forward, save for special matchups, like the Griffin matchup tonight.
All in all, the Wolves won behind a true team effort where many of their most important players in both the short and long-term contributed in big spots. That’s exciting as hell. The schedule the new week or so is brutal, but Wolves fans will at least have this one to hang their hat on.
One down, seventy-one to go.