As Minnesota Timberwolves PA announcer Shawn Parker belted out the second-year sensation’s introduction, Anthony Edwards wore a big ol’ smile as he ran out onto the Target Center floor in front of the largest home crowd of his career on opening night.
Throughout the night, I don’t think he took it off, and for good reason, too.
The Wolves took down the Houston Rockets 124-106 behind the energy from a raucous crowd in Downtown Minneapolis that had to wait 336 days to see Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell in-person without COVID-induced capacity restrictions.
The team made sure Wolves faithful didn’t have to wait long for the highlights to start rolling in, either.
COAST TO COAST KARL pic.twitter.com/19PR6dFQJr— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) October 21, 2021
This coast-to-coast jam from Towns opened the floodgates for the Wolves on the offensive end after a disjointed first few minutes in the half court. Immediately following that, Edwards had a terrific down hill attack and Okogie slipped a hand-off for his first points of the game.
nonstopnonstopnonstop— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) October 21, 2021
Despite the Wolves’ slow start, the start for the Wolves’ defensive tone-setter was anything but slow.
“Josh Okogie, man. He brings a different kind of defensive mindset to the game,” Edwards said after the game.
Those two fed off of each other all night, culminating in the game’s most electrifying sequence:
Towns added that Okogie is a teammate he’s grown to really trust since the former Georgia Tech standout entered the league in 2018. The pair are the only holdovers from the Tom Thibodeau era, now beginning their fourth season together as teammates.
“I think that the trust lies on Patrick Beverley and JO, especially. JO has gained our respect since day one,” Towns said.
Okogie’s defense got the crowd into it from the start. He forced two turnovers in the first three possessions on Kevin Porter Jr., which were infectious as could be for a team who is looking to feed off its defensive playmaking this year.
It rubbed off on Jaden McDaniels rather quickly. The second-year stand-out registered three steals and two blocks before the end of the first quarter, before adding one of each in the second frame.
The mot encouraging part of tonight’s win was the way the Wolves turned this stout defense into points. Minnesota earned 38 points off 24 Houston turnovers and scored 31 points on the fast break. Both of those scoring marks bested last season’s single-game highs of 34 and 24, respectively.
Once the defense got the Wolves through the first quarter, Edwards and Towns took it from there.
the man's special. pic.twitter.com/FxjVLNidY1— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) October 21, 2021
The Atlanta native missed his first two triples before his his third attempt became a match that ignited the crowd as it ripped through the net midway through the first quarter. After seeing the third one drop, the rising star made four of his six second-quarter fires attempts.
After the fourth 3, he told Stephen Silas to take a timeout because he was hot.
Anthony Edwards postgame on calling a timeout for Houston:— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) October 21, 2021
“Yeah I was tellin the coach to call a damn timeout. You need a timeout. I’m hot.”
Edwards’ supreme showmanship sent the fans into a frenzy that only grew as Towns came alive in tandem with him.
Houston played Towns one-on-one in the post, which was a poor decision. Towns is one of the game’s most gifted passers — regardless of position — but is an even more terrifying threat when provided ample opportunity to attack without fear of being doubled.
After getting called for an early offensive foul, Russell told Towns to stop playing with his food. The Big Fella™ was thurski for buckets, so grabbed the seasoning out of the kitchen cabinet and went to work feating on the Rockets in the paint, where he shot 8/11 (73%). Towns also showcased his elite perimeter shooting we’ve been spoiled with for the last six seasons, connecting on 3/4 3-point launches.
While the Towns and Edwards synergy was bubbling over, it was palpable how much fun their teammates had cheering them on, whether it was on the floor or on the bench. Russell was a major driving force behind that energy, encouraging the fans to get louder on the court and walking the walk as a teammate on the bench. He stood for most of his time on the bench, constantly offering support for his teammates and asking other Wolves on the bench to do the same.
I asked D-Lo after the game if the amount of fun this team is having seemed similar to the playoff team he was a part of in Brooklyn.
“Yup, you hit it right on the nose,” Russell said. “That camaraderie allows you to put your guys first. It makes [the team] feel like no one is bigger than one another and makes you want to see the next guy succeed. It’s a contagious feeling. When I see Karl cheering and going crazy for Vando having a good stretch, I think Vando sees that and when he’s on the sideline, he wants to do it and then the next guy. It’s a domino effect of what’s brewing.
Russell also noted that with how strong the depth of the team is, it’s important that everyone is bought into that feeling.
“We want to see each other do great. Any guy can start on our team, so we got a hungry group and coach puts us in the best position to succeed,” he added. “Credit to them as well.”
It helps when the player leading the charge is also getting it done on the court. Russell poured in 22 points of his own on 4/8 shooting from deep and got to the line eight times, converting six of his free throws, to go along with seven assists, a steal and a block in 25 minutes. That included a flurry of treys in the third quarter, when it got chilly in Target Center.
When D’Angelo Russell gets going he REALLY gets going. He’s hit 3 threes in a row to get to 16 points pic.twitter.com/7yhaXOY3HO— Cooper (@CoopCarlson) October 21, 2021
The good vibes Wolves aren’t going anywhere, especially with Beverley coming back into the fold for Saturday’s tilt with the New Orleans Pelicans. Beverley was out tonight serving his one-game suspension levied by the league office for shoving Chris Paul at the end of the Western Conference Finals last season.
Beverley has been a vocal leader in practice and has a long track record of excellent veteran leadership that translates to winning basketball. We’ll see that on the floor for the first time in a game that counts on Saturday.
Whether it’s Malik Beasley making crazy plays in transition or Taurean Prince knocking down 3s in transition, the energy this team gives each other is infectious, and it’s here to stay.