MINNEAPOLIS — Hours after announcing the signing of a 10-day contract, veteran big man Greg Monroe walked out of the Wolves locker room and asked which way to get to the court for his first NBA game in 960 days. If there’s a true sign of the times around the league, that question from Monroe might be the simplest example.
Where’s the court?
With the entire starting lineup, plus three reserves, sitting out due to health and safety protocols and/or reconditioning, the Wolves once again faced a tremendous uphill climb against the Boston Celtics. (Yes, the Celts are also dealing with COVID like everyone else these days, but nowhere near the ravaged Wolves.) Coach Chris Finch was relying on a collection of bench players, including the newly signed Monroe, to figure everything out on the fly to stop another losing streak that looked inevitable.
The odds of winning were bleak. THE ENTIRE STARTING LINEUP WAS OUT AGAIN. Surely Jaylen Brown would score 40+ and Al Horford would dominate on both ends and Robert Williams III would have 18 blocks to set the NBA single-game swat record. I mean, certainly, the Wolves would never in a million years win this game with this particular group. Right? Wrong. Add this game to the Greatest Weird Wins Ever category. Two kids from Washington, a Moose on the loose, 1 Malik Beasley, the Knight in shining armor, MVP chants for Jake Layman, the Little Mac that Rubio’d, a wild Josh, and this guy named Silva got the job done.
Turns out, Finch and his staff pressed all of the right buttons in the second half, and those bench players itching for more minutes were capable enough. He had them believing they could win tonight, no matter the circumstances. Jaylen Nowell led the way, dropping a career-high 29 points along with 6 rebounds and 3 assists off the bench. His scoring confidence and swagger were on full display with a variety of buckets. He gets it. He has it. His unwavering confidence comes from within but also from the belief his team has in him.
“I mean, it really never wavers, even when I’m not playing,’ said Nowell. “It just never wavers; it’s gonna stay, remain the same. I attribute that to my team, for real. They always talking me up, always on me when I’m messing up, doing the wrong things. They’re encouraging me and staying on me, so I really appreciate that from everybody.”
In his first career start, Nathan Knight had 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 dimes, accounting for his second career double-double (both career highs). He briefly left the game before halftime with an ankle injury only to return with a literal rim-rattling bang and two treys that left the Celtics wondering why they didn’t respect him as a lefty threat from deep.
“He was phenomenal. He’s fearless,” Finch said of Knight. “I love how he’s rugged, he attacks the rim. He’s got the ability to step out and make a three, plays well off the catch. he’s really really a good basketball player and we’ve known that for a whole season, it’s just trying to find opportunities to get him in. Defensively he can guard pretty well. He takes the challenge of guarding.”
When asked about getting his first NBA start tonight, Knight said it was a childhood dream. “It gave me chills,” he said. But his massive dunks off the bounce warmed our hearts. Knight belongs, and he showed his worth by crushing the Celtics.
In short, Boston couldn’t stop either Nowell or Knight, and in the process, the Wolves might have realized what they already thought but might have wanted more evidence of. These two are ready for more minutes off the bench to supplement a starting five that has crushed opponents only to see leads evaporate without them. Perhaps Monroe isn’t far behind if his follow-up showings mimic his outstanding debut. Whether he can score a season-long contract will be a hot topic over the next week(s).
Speaking of dunks, Nowell’s poster dunk over Jabari Parker was a true turning point. With his mom in attendance, he took flight and totally shifted the momentum.
PUT SOME RESPECT ON HIS NAME @JaylenNowell pic.twitter.com/WXUQvcfLHH— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) December 28, 2021
“As I was going to the rim, I was going to lay it up for real,” said Nowell. “But with the time and the score, I knew that I had to do something crazy and get everybody rocking. Because once that crowd got behind us, I knew that we were going to have a way better chance of pulling this one out. I had to give a little scream and look at my mom. I looked at my mom and it was just a great moment. That was one of the sparks. I’m not going to say that was the spark but it was one of the sparks that we needed in order to pull this one out.”
Monroe, after a whirlwind of a day, was asked if he knew who all of his teammates were, another question that once might’ve not felt so normal. “Not gonna lie, Jaylen Nowell played awesome tonight, but I had no idea who that was,” he admitted. It’s been a long road back home to the NBA for the once household name. “I’ve been around the world and back, literally,” he said. “It felt great to be back out there, it’s just a joy.”
He was still digesting the entire day.
Greg Monroe kept it real after the game pic.twitter.com/V71u8hSQOx— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) December 28, 2021
Monroe’s passing and screening ability were eye-opening for a guy on a 10-day. How could it be, someone so readily available and truly valuable all of a sudden in the palm of their hands? There’s no way Monroe shouldn’t be on an NBA roster, let alone a Wolves team that has long craved exactly what he offers.
“Being able to play through Greg and his passing was huge,” said Finch. “He gave us a sense of calm out there. ... He’s so experienced. He gives us a different look, gives us some legit size, some beef. His rebounding was great and again you can just throw it to him and things kind of calm down. I also thought defensively he’s got a lot of savvy—man or zone, he was really good at being in the right spots the whole time.”
They may have stumbled into another legitimate rotation piece faster than COVID has taken its grip over the roster and coaching staff, but this leads into another conversation about Naz Reid and Taurean Prince. Because if Monroe and Knight are to get minutes they seemed to take big steps in earning on Monday night, which means DNP’s for others.
For now, Finch is “very, very, very proud” of a win before Thibs and the Knicks arrive tomorrow night. “Every day it’s like one more guy is not there, one more coach is not there, one more thing has the ability to affect your preparation and your mindset. They haven’t let that happen at all.”
Jaylen Brown struggled throughout, never really looking comfortable as the lethal scoring and playmaking threat he often is. He and starting point guard Payton Pritchard combined to shoot 16-46. “I was trying to get everyone involved, trying to win, trying to, you know, make the right plays, and I didn’t do that tonight,” said Brown.
“Overthinking the game, the game isn’t as hard as I made it tonight and I didn’t play the way I know I can play. That was probably one of my worst games of the season as well. My team needed me to make plays and step up and you know, I turned the ball over too much. I missed easy shots, easy reads and we lost.”
Monroe might not have known who Nowell was before the night, but “he does now,” as Nowell concluded after his postgame comments. The Wolves might not have been willing to compromise their style and approach until seeing how significant another big body that can screen, pass, and score on the interior might be either.
But maybe now they will. Monroe should stick around.
In his first start of the season (fifth career), Jordan McLaughlin tallied five points, a career-high-tying six rebounds, the fourth game he has grabbed five-or-more rebounds. He added a season-high 10 assists, his third career game dishing out 10+ assists, and the first time since he registered 10 assists on Feb. 23, 2020, at Denver. He becomes the 15th player in team history to have five-or-fewer points and 10+ assists in a game.
Greg Monroe saw his first regular-season NBA minutes since Apr. 10, 2019, registering 11 points, nine rebounds, and six assists in 25:01 minutes of action. This marks the 48th time in his career finishing with 10+ points/5+ rebounds/5+ assists in a game and the first time since Apr. 6, 2018, vs Chicago. “I’m not quitting. I believe I belong in the NBA. So I’ll just come out and play wherever it is as hard as I can.”
In his 14th start of the year (41st career), Jaden McDaniels finished with a season-high 17 points and five rebounds. The 17 points mark the sixth 15+ point performance of his career.
Minnesota trailed by 11 points (56-45) at the half before outscoring the Celtics 63-47 in the second half to pull off the comeback win and snap a nine-game losing streak against Boston. This marks the first victory against Boston since the 124-122 victory on Feb. 22, 2016.
Minnesota force 14 Boston turnovers, the 29th straight game forcing 10+ opponent turnovers, the longest active streak in the NBA. Following tonight’s win, the Wolves lead the NBA in opponent turnovers (16.8).
Led by six threes from Nowell, Minnesota connected on 14 shots from deep, the 32nd game this season with 10+ treys. Following tonight, the Timberwolves rank third in the NBA in three-pointers made per game (14.4).
A season-high-tying 30 assists led by McLaughlin’s 10 dimes, accounting for the third game of the season the team tallied 30 or more assists.
Minnesota outscored Boston 50-26 in points in the paint tonight. The 50 points in the paint mark the 11th time this season eclipsing the 50-point mark in the category.