“I’ve always been told and taught that stars show up regardless of how the game’s going the first three quarters,” Karl-Anthony Towns said after what felt like a must-win for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
After scoring 10 points on 5-of-15 shooting in the first three quarters, the stardust materialized in the final 12 minutes for the Wolves’ offensive fulcrum. Anthony Edwards exploded for 16 of Minnesota’s 30 fourth-quarter points, behind four isolation 3-pointers that came in pivotal moments, to get the Wolves to the finish line, earning them their fifth win on the season.
“He was frustrated. You could tell. Just couldn’t get into a rhythm going to the hoop,” Head Coach Chris Finch said after the game. “He’s a streak player. When he hits one or two, his confidence goes sky high. He had a great layup I think to start the fourth which maybe broke the ice a little bit for him.”
the nastiest hesi you'll see this week pic.twitter.com/lsrhUBS5Cx— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) November 18, 2021
However, Edwards wasn’t alone in his struggles throughout the opening 36 minutes, especially shooting the ball from deep. The Wolves shot a paltry 6-of-25 from 3 (24%), but stayed afloat in that time frame thanks to 14 points and five assists from Patrick Beverley. Despite the poor shooting, Minnesota found success getting into the mid-range and further into the paint as a result of heavy dose of two-man pick-and-roll (PnR) and dribble-hand-off (DHO) sets centered around Towns posting in the mid-range to set up those actions.
I asked Towns postgame about what he’s seen on film to help him get clean post positioning so that the Wolves can get into the offense sooner, which the team has struggled with recently.
“I don’t think the physicality will be allowed as much, so I have to adjust. So for me, I watched film on Dirk and KG on how to get to that free-throw line post-up,” Towns replied. “I think it’s really dangerous and tonight you saw a little bit of that where I was able to really attack and also no double team was able to come. [When] you’re in the middle of the floor, it’s gonna be very difficult to have that happen.”
That offensive framework not only led to 62% shooting from inside the arc on 37 attempts in the first three quarters, but was also the well Finch drew from to set the tone in the second half — and needs to draw from as the centerpiece of the offense from here on out.
Once Sacramento scored the opening basket of the second half, Towns fully throttled into attack mode, scoring the game’s next seven points on a straightaway 3-pointer, a ferocious downhill attack, and an easy lay-in, all coming out of sets that initially positioned Towns in the mid-post around the free throw line.
D’Angelo Russell rode the wave that KAT created early in the third into a rhythm that fueled one of his more subtly great quarters of the season. Russell blended together a beautiful display of table-setting playmaking with aggressive, smart scoring that created a palpable offensive flow his teammates fed off of. A large part of that was due to the space Towns’s gravity opened for him in the mid-range.
“I thought he had a really, really excellent floor game, particularly to help close that game. ... He’s an elite passer, an elite playmaker, super intelligent player,” Finch said. “We’re at our best when he’s the catalyst for our early offense with our pace and our early ball movement. I thought there was some really good flashes of that in the first half. Second half it was more about set play execution. He did a good job of quarterbacking that.”
Russell registered three key assists to go along with seven points. His scoring display featured a strong take to the rim, a fake resulting in free throws, and an in-rhythm 3 out of the two-man game with Towns that drew a big response from a mostly quiet Target Center crowd that had grown weary of an ugly game reminiscent of Monday’s loss to Phoenix. The Russell played off of how Sacramento defended Towns worked to keep the defense off balance, which helped create one-on-one matchups like this one for Towns.
From there, Ant took the Wolves home.
The sophomore sensation unleashed a scoring barrage that rained down on the Kings like a debilitatingly brutal cold November rain in Minneapolis. Edwards poured in a very efficient and self-created 16 points on 2-of-3 shooting from inside the arc and an impressive 4-of-6 performance from downtown, after going 4-for-21 since the end of his career-high 48-point night in San Francisco last week.
Edwards mentioned early in his postgame press conference that the Wolves’ cutting helped create driving lanes and space for him to work in isolations, so I asked why that cutting activity has increased of late.
“As far as cutting in general, coach showed a clip earlier this morning at shootaround of D-Lo setting a screen, then setting another screen, backslipping and going to set another screen,” Edwards said. “When you see that, it generates open shots, like even like watching Steph Curry, he plays off the ball all game long and gets 40 points every game just off screening and cutting. If we just do that then we’ll be a pretty good team. We’ll generate the best shots for our teammates.”
It may be a pretty tough ask to just do what Steph Curry does, but Curry’s effort off the ball is a controllable, and the Wolves need to do a better job of controlling those — especially with rebounding.
Minnesota was out-rebounded 30-17 in the first half, and it led to a ticked off Chris Finch in the locker room.
“You got Finchy in there yelling. That’s not him, know what I’m sayin. When he doin that we gotta tighten up. He bangin on the door, we gotta tighten up,” Edwards said. “We can’t have Fincy in here acting out of character. We for sure had to find a way to rebound. I felt like we did a pretty good job in the third quarter keeping them to one shot.”
“It’s a testament to everyone coming together and trying to rectify the situation,” Towns added.
If the Wolves carry a dedicated mentality of holding teams to one shot on every possession, they have the potential to turn things around in the standings rather quickly. But, they’ll have to show they can do it again tomorrow night before they can get anywhere.
“Like I said before, it’s about consistency with us. How much can we do this in a row and I think now we’re on a two-game streak of playing with this kind of energy,” Towns said. “Now we have to make it three, then three to four, four to five. It sounds good to say it up here and everything but it’s up to us to do it.”
Beverley stressed after the game in the locker room that in order for that to happen, they need to conduct themselves better than they did in Los Angeles last weekend.
“Pat said whatever y’all did on the back-to-back in LA, don’t do that tonight. Stay in the house, get on the game,” Edwards said. “Call a couple teammates, TP, PB, let’s play Call of Duty till you get sleepy. You get sleepy, go to sleep. It’s a different routine tonight, for sure.”
We’ll see if a different routine can yield different tomorrow night when the Wolves take on the 4-10 San Antonio Spurs.