Investing in the 2020-21 Minnesota Timberwolves has been one hell of a rollercoaster and tonight was no different.
After falling behind by as much as 23 in the first half, thanks to surrendering a franchise record 83 points in through the first two frames, the Wolves fought all the way back only to rip our (maybe just yours, since I have nothing left to give this team) hearts out in excruciating fashion.
Malik Beasley got off to an extremely slow start, failing to score in the first quarter. His inactivity, combined with head-scratching turnovers from Ricky Rubio and a general lack of fight from everyone on the Wolves roster set the team behind the 8 ball early on. The Wolves’ veteran players didn’t show up ready to play in the first quarter. Minnesota gave up 43 points and trailed by 19 after one quarter.
However, the young guns kept the Thunder from putting things out of reach before half.
Anthony Edwards came out of the gates strong. The #1 pick made his first two 3s, drove strong to the rim, and was active on the glass. He had eight points at the end of the first and thankfully remained engaged throughout the Oklahoma City thrashing. He carried that energy into the second half. Jaylen Nowell tallied 12 points on 5/5 shooting in the first half. His aggressiveness getting into the paint for easy looks, coupled with a pair of nice triples, propelled the Wolves’ offense to 38 second quarter points and ultimately kept the Thunder in the crosshairs.
Roseville, Minnesota native Mike Muscala torched his hometown team with 22 points in the first half, helping the Thunder eclipse their season average in bench points (37.6 points) in just 21 minutes of game action. His hot shooting, combined with the physicality of rotation players such as Hamidou Diallo and Lu Dort, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander controlling the game in the half court, put the Wolves in a 21-point hole heading into the break.
Our friend Dane Moore made an apt comparison at the half, raising a good point about pride. Outside of Edwards and Nowell, it didn’t appear as if anyone on the team had any in the first half.
The Wolves just gave up 83 points to the Thunder in the first half.— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) February 7, 2021
The last time the Wolves gave up 83 in a first half was against Jimmy Butler and the 76ers in the first Butler-vs-the-Wolves game since Butler was traded.
Two games where pride showed up on the scoreboard.
Naz Reid put that to bed from the jump in the second half.
He led the comeback charge to open the third quarter, scoring 13 points in the first six minutes, which fueled a 17-3 Timberwolves run to start the half. Oklahoma City was without a player bigger than 6-foot-9, 210 pounds (Al Horford and Isaiah Roby were out), and Reid came out of the locker room on a mission. He continually backed down smaller defenders for easy looks inside, setting a tone that the Wolves weren’t going away easy, despite the mess of a first half they played.
After Reid checked out, rookie sensations Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels, and a revitalized Jake Layman, picked up where he left off. Edwards was in attack mode all quarter, getting down hill and making great decisions with the basketball in his hands. He drew a foul shooting a 3, and had two strong scores, four assists, and three boards in the period.
McDaniels was everywhere defensively. He dominated 50/50 balls, cut off scorers on the drive (which led to turnovers), and enabled guys like Edwards and Layman to get out in transition and keep the team’s collective foot on the gas pedal.
Thanks to McDaniels’s on-ball pressure, Layman had a career-high five steals (four in the fourth quarter), which got his offensive game going. The second-year Wolf had 16 points on 6/9 FG (10 in the fourth quarter), including several huge baskets to bring the Wolves closer. Chief among them were two monster 3s that gave the Wolves a 104-98 lead with 8:39 to play.
Ryan Saunders pushed all the right buttons up until that point. He gave McDaniels and Layman extensive run, made sure the ball was moving, clearly emphasized pace, and had his guys jacked up. Minnesota had all the momentum in the world with a six-point lead at the 8:39 mark, and even for the next couple minutes. But..........
In Timberwolves’ fashion, the team gave up three leads of five or more over the final 8:39 and were outscored by eight during that stretch. SGA took complete control of the game in the final five minutes. The blossoming star had nine clutch-time points on 4/4 FG and truly made Saunders pay for his questionable closing lineup decision.
Saunders closed with Ricky Rubio over Jaden McDaniels, whose defense was a massive reason the Wolves retook the lead in the fourth quarter. The closing five was Rubio, Beasley, Edwards, Layman, and Reid. You’ll notice that lineup includes zero “plus” on-ball defenders, which SGA took full advantage of. Saunders had multiple stoppages of play over the final three minutes (when it was very evident SGA was going to attack in isolation) to make a change and he declined to do so.
Despite that, the Wolves had a terrific look at the buzzer thanks to a some great action from Saunders. Beasley flared out to the top of the key and Ant set a nice cross screen on Dort to get a mismatch for Reid. The big fella made a great, decisive ball fake to get SGA in the air, took a couple steps, and had a great look at the rim to tie the game.
The second-year big man from LSU finished the night with a career-high 29 points on 12/21 shooting, to go along with six rebounds and two steals in what was a truly dominant performance from him. The comeback he fueled ultimately came up short, but his ascension into a nightly contributor has truly been one of the brightest spots of this wretched 2020-21 season.
The Wolves are back it again on Monday in Dallas to take on Luka Doncic and the struggling Mavericks. The hope is that Karl-Anthony Towns, who has been on the bench for the first four contests of the Wolves’ five-game road trip, will be back in action with D’Angelo Russell for just the sixth time since D-Lo was acquired on this date one year ago.