Well, well well...
After limping into the 2021 All-Star break with a 33-point home loss to the Charlotte Hornets, expectations for Game 1 of the second-half of the season were at an all-time low. Hell, before many people could even get their streaming service of choice opened up Thursday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves found themselves in yet another first quarter double-digit hole, trailing Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans 26-10 midway through the first.
And then... all hell broke loose.
Despite falling behind to their opponent for roughly the 103rd time this season, the Timberwolves did something many fans (myself included) did not know was possible and/or legal for this franchise — they showed heart. After falling behind 26-10, the Wolves inserted Jayden McDaniels and Jaylen Nowell (more on them in a second), and in the blink of an eye (or more specifically 3.5 quarters), the Wolves would go on to outscore the Pelicans 125-79 (yes, ONE HUNDRED TWENTY-FIVE to SEVENTY-NINE).
Let’s recap the good and the bad:
Outside of the first handful of minutes, the answer to this one is simple: everything.
Let’s start with the two players who were literally #RaisedByWolves (technically Huskies) Jaylen Nowell and Jaden McDaniels, who both finished the game with career-high scoring nights. The Washington duo combined for 48 points on 19-of-22 shooting, including 10-of-12 from beyond the arc. They also tallied a combined 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 blocks, 3 steals, and approximately 14 heat checks:
Jaylen Nowell's spin + sidestep three pic.twitter.com/CB2mm94tMt— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) March 12, 2021
Seriously, it can not be overstated how well Jaylen Nowell played against the Pelicans. With D’Angelo Russell and Jordan McLaughlin both sidelined, the Wolves were left with one healthy point guard (Ricky Rubio) and were forced to hope that Nowell could simply hold his own against the Pelicans feisty backcourt — which he did and then some.
I have not watched an NBA basketball game in a long time where a player was hotter than Jaylen Nowell was tonight.— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) March 12, 2021
28 points on 11 of 13 shooting...
Back to McDaniels for a hot second — I tweeted out (half-jokingly) a few weeks back that the list of things Jared Vanderbilt does better than Jaden McDaniels is literally an empty piece of paper. Because it’s Twitter, I naturally received a lot of pushback, but Thursday night showed yet again why it would be simply criminal for JV to get more minutes going forward than Big Mac/Gumby/whatever we decide on for a nickname.
For being just 20-years old, McDaniels just does so many smart things on the defensive end while simultaneously being the stretch-four this team so desperately needs. After a 4-of-5 performance from three, McDaniels is now shooting 34% from deep on the season, which isn’t world-beating by any means, but it gives this team just enough space for guys like Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards to attack the rim without congestion (or at least LESS congestion).
Speaking of ANT-Man, his first dozen or so minutes Thursday night had him queued up for a long-rant in the “BAD” section of this game recap, but then something quite impressive happened: he finally realized he may be MUCH better suited in the NBA as a less heavy Zion Williamson than he would as a more heavy Steph Curry.
when Ant gets downhill...— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) March 12, 2021
get out the way.
Instead of settling for one bad jumper after another, the former Georgia Bulldog did what he does best: attack the rim and use his strength as a weapon. Once Edwards got rolling a bit in the second quarter, his energy on defense picked up, which allowed him to flash the two-way ability that many fans (myself included) can become the norm, not just an outlier:
In a night where career high’s were more available than Juancho Hernangomez on the trade block, Edwards finished one point shy of tying his career high, scoring 27 points on 10-of-22 shooting, while also tallying 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists. ANT also got to the line for 6 FTA’s, which was also one shy of his season-high.
It wouldn’t be a proper recap without also mentioning guys like Jake Layman and Ricky Rubio, both of whom excelled in what was asked of them Thursday night and provided just enough support to allow the youth movement to hold serve.
So after setting basketball back decades over the first half of the 2020-21 season, the 7-29 Timberwolves did something very few thought was possible coming out of the All-Star break: win a basketball game in deciding fashion. New head coach Chris Finch finally secured his first win as the leader of Minnesota’s pack, and will now turn his team’s attention to a mini home series against the Portland Trailblazers.
A new era, indeed (at least for one night).
In a 30-point win? Nothing.