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Warriors 123, Wolves 111: Culture Shock

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If you fell asleep before the end of Wednesday night’s game, well then... congratulations!

Minnesota Timberwolves v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Stop if you’ve heard this before — the Golden State Warriors outperformed the Minnesota Timberwolves (no, not in a trade or a draft selection — that’s a topic for another day). After falling to the Warriors 130-108 on NBATV Monday night, the Wolves... um... rebounded Wednesday night on ESPN by losing by only 12 points, not 22.

While this baseball-style mini series was pegged as must-see TV when the schedule was originally announced back in early December, a lot of the zest was quickly squeezed out of the double-header with the likes of Klay Thompson, Karl-Anthony Towns, and D’Angelo Russell all sidelined due to various injuries (and/or health & safety protocols).

Minnesota, the youngest team in the league, entered the season with numerous questions surrounding their ability to mesh on the fly and build chemistry, and that was before they lost their best player to both a wrist injury and then a positive COVID-19 test. Add in the recent cramps crash course on learning how to lose quad contusion for D’Angelo Russell, and a team chalk full of inexperience (from players to coaching staff) was left with an uphill battle too insurmountable to climb.

Speaking of Russell, he missed his third straight game due to an injury he apparently suffered back against the Atlanta Hawks last week (technically D-Lo missed Saturday’s game for “rest” but it was later announced that he did indeed suffer an injury). While Russell was able to practice on Tuesday, it was deemed by the medical staff that he would not be good to go Wednesday night for the revenge game against the team that signed him to a max deal back in 2019, leaving Ricky Rubio to start again in his place.

Back to the game — as the header states, if you missed Wednesday night’s nationally televised game on ESPN, well... congratulations! While the game was far more enjoyable than Monday’s contest (at least for a degenerate like myself), it still resulted in the same hollow, miserable result that has become far too common for most of us.

In the spirit of head coach Ryan Saunders, I won’t attempt to micromanage my analysis of the game and instead just provide a few super basic plays takeaways on Wednesday night’s performance.

The Good

Let’s start with one of the few bright spots this season and one of my favorite players (and people) to watch/cover — Naz “Big Jelly” Reid. In my time covering basketball, few players have shown more development in such a short period of time, and it’s a true testament to the LSU alum just how far his game (and body) have come since entering the league as an undrafted free agent back in 2019.

Over his last five games, Reid is averaging 15.4 points (on 58% shooting), grabbing 6.4 rebounds, and tallying 3.4 blocks in just 26.4 minutes per game. It should be noted that starting “the good” section of this recap with extensive words on the team’s backup center is probably a terrible sign for the current state of the franchise, but emotions aside, it’s important to acknowledge just how far the 21-year old has come in his two short seasons in the NBA.

For those of you who missed the game, Reid also suffered a fairly dangerous fall in the fourth quarter on this block against Kelly Oubre, Jr., and despite immediately leaving the game and heading back to the locker room, he somehow returned to finish the game later in the fourth. If his wrist isn’t cramping, I’d expect him to be back out there on Friday against the Philadelphia 76ers, but when it comes to injuries and the Timberwolves, your guess is as good as mine.

The other real bright spot on Wednesday night was the play of number one overall pick Anthony Edwards, who strung together his best half of (meaningful!) basketball since being drafted back in November of 2020, including plays like this:

And this:

And also this:

In regards to the “meaningful basketball” reference earlier, ANT did most of his damage in the second quarter, helping propel Minnesota to their biggest lead of the game. However, when he was subbed out at the 5:29 mark for Ricky Rubio, the Warriors immediately went on a 14-6 run, and despite Edwards returning for the last 1:55 of the first half, the damage was already done.

There’s no debate as to whether or not Edwards can score the ball at the next level — the question marks have always revolved around his ability (or lack thereof) to do so in an efficient manner. On Wednesday night, he tallied one point shy (25) of his career high, but did so on 48% shooting, including 5-of-8 from beyond the arc.

While I may be many things — gullible, optimistic, naïve, a degenerate, etc. — I do truly believe that Anthony Edwards will (and sort of already is) figuring out the right way to play basketball on the fly. Again, I may just be missing certain things or not seeing it as clearly through wine-tinted lenses, but over the last two weeks he’s shown a veteran-like ability for breaking defenders down and getting to the rim, he just hasn’t been able to finish in traffic at a high clip (and/or catch a break with the officiating). I believe those things will come with additional reps, but it’s been refreshing to literally see the gears in his head churn as he navigates screens and physically tells himself “no midrange jumpers... go attack the rim.”

The Bad

As is the case in most losses, there’s plenty of blame to go around here. Like many other Canis contributors and community members, I struggle to see what Ryan Saunders’ overall plan is for his offense — as Joe Hulbert pointed out over the weekend, the sets they run are not complicated and rarely aid this current roster is meeting their full potential. I’m not remotely as knowledgeable about the X’s and O’s of the game as Joe or many of you, so I’ll leave the proper criticism for the comment section, but my biggest gripe from Wednesday and from the season at large is simply just in-game adjustments.

For example, Anthony Edwards was absolutely cooking in the first half, playing the best basketball of his young career, and was subbed out (rather unnecessarily) with six minutes left. The Warriors immediately went on a 14-6 run before ANT was reinserted into the game, and while I’m no fool to believe that Edwards was going to play stout enough defense to slow down the Warriors, a simple eye-test could tell you that the kid was engaged and single-handedly keeping his team afloat. Instead, Ricky Rubio came in for Ant (more on Rubio in a second), the offense completely fell apart, and the game was inevitably lost in that small stretch of time.

By this point I think we all understand that Ryan is dealing with a shortened deck of cards right now — I get that. But if this team is truly trying to win — and they have no incentive not to — then the free-flowing discussion of rotations needs to be something that moves to the forefront of our analysis (even more so than it already is). You simply cannot keep trotting out lineups that don’t feature multiple shooters, and if you don’t believe me, take Jim Pete’s word for it:

The other most notable “bad” from the second straight loss to the Warriors is one that legitimately pains me to write about but the band-aid simply needs to come off — Ricky Rubio, one of my three or four favorite players of all time (not just with the Timberwolves), is playing the worst basketball of his NBA career.

Again, to put all (or even most) of the blame on one specific player right now is dull-witted, but it cannot be stressed enough how disappointing Ricky’s return has been this season. Not that anyone expected him to be a scorer, but it should be noted that in 15 games this season, Rubio has only achieved double digit scoring in one game, and for the month of January is shooting 7.1% (yes, you read that correctly — SEVEN POINT ONE PERCENT) from beyond the arc.

Rubio acknowledged after the game that his production simply hasn’t been there, and while there were excuses to be made early in the season when he was trying to find his place alongside D’Angelo Russell, these recent performances are extra disappointing as they’ve come when Rubio *should* be in his wheelhouse — starting games and playing a majority of his minutes as the primary ballhandler.

Watching Ricky Rubio play basketball during his first stint in Minnesota always brought joy to fans because he constantly found ways to make the right play and elevate those around him. While I stubbornly believe that unicorn magic is still somewhere inside of him, he will need to regain his mojo as soon as possible, otherwise a player with a 2-to-1 points-to-turnover ratio in January will sadly find himself watching more minutes than he plays.

Game Highlights

The Wolves will return home for two games against the 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers, before kicking off a stretch that includes 7 of their following 8 games on the road. The good news is that (maybe?) Karl-Anthony Towns will return sometime this weekend, and with Russell successfully practicing on Tuesday, it would seem more than likely that he too will suit up against at Target Center. Having a full squad isn’t something this team (nor this fan base) is used to this season, and if we’re being honest, having a full roster of healthy and able bodies is about all we have to hang our hat on right now as spectators.

Game Notes

  • Anthony Edwards became the fifth Timberwolves rookie in franchise history to score 25+ points and hit 5+ threes in a game, the first since Zach LaVine had 37 points with 7 threes on Apr. 11, 2015 at Golden State.
  • NBA Star Malik Beasley finished with a team-high-tying 25 points, his fifth 25+ point outing of the season. He also grabbed five rebounds accounting for his fifth 25+ point/5+ rebound game of his career.
  • In 15:56 minutes off the bench, Jaylen Nowell recorded career-high-tying numbers in points (12), rebounds (2) and assists (3), accounting for his first double-digit effort of the season and the first since Mar. 6 2020 vs Orlando.
  • Kelly Oubre Jr. (who fell victim to a flagrant two foul by Ed Davis in the first half) tallied 20 points, nine rebounds and three assists. This marks his second 20+ point game of the season.
  • Lastly, this tweet is pretty cool: