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Wolves 136, Nets 125: A Beautiful Balance

The Timberwolves got back to .500 behind a fourth quarter barrage from Karl-Anthony Towns and Taurean Prince.

Brooklyn Nets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

On a cold and snowy January Sunday, the thousands of Timberwolves fans who made the trek to Downtown Minneapolis were expecting to see the one of the most prolific scoring trios in NBA history, composed of Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden.

Instead, the raucous Target Center faithful were treated to arguably the Wolves’ most balanced performance of the season, and much of that can be attributed to head coach Chris Finch’s leadership style.

Finch understands the necessity to talk to players differently; each player has a unique communication preference, role expectation, and ultimately, relationship with the head coach. Nearly every role/fringe rotation player who has spoken with the during this season has praised Finch for his ability to connect and be real with players.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Franchise cornerstone Karl-Anthony Towns said postgame that everything clicked for the team, especially its role players, after a meeting just past the 10-game mark.

“I think one of the biggest moments in our season was, 10-plus games in, having a team meeting and just clarifying what everyone’s role is so everyone knows what their role is – you’re our shooter; you’re our defender; you’re our energy guy,” Towns said postgame. “I think a lot of times there’s always confusion and people truly don’t know the role we envision of them or the coaches have for them. Putting that out there in an open, honest conversation in the format as a team, I think it grew us as a team, we grew as friends and brothers as we say. We grew. And just to have that open communication led to us defensively being that much better of a defensive team.”

He doesn’t offer false promises or map out misleading paths to playing time. Role players, especially, know what the expectations of them are in practice, and thus, what they are tasked with when entering games; because of this, role players have largely thrived when Finch has called upon them during games.

Tonight, it was Taurean Prince who answered when Finch dialed his number. Prince drained an in-rhythm, off-the-dribble jumper in the mid-range on his first offensive possession of the game late in the first quarter, and his confidence grew from there. The internally revered veteran added five more points during his second quarter minutes before saving his best for last.

Prince buried arguably the game’s biggest shot to not only quell an Irving flurry, which brought the Nets within four, but also detonate a palpably anxious crowd that was locked in to help get the Timberwolves back to .500 down the stretch. Prince dove on the floor to force a Brooklyn turnover on the next possession — which fellow bench engine Jaylen Nowell paid off to extend the Minnesota lead to nine. The energy the former Baylor standout infused into the game was pivotal not only on the scoreboard, but also in terms of feeding his teammates’ confidence.

Towns struggled to get anything going offensively in the first three quarters, despite drawing single coverage from one of Day’Ron Sharpe, LaMarcus Aldridge, or old friend James Johnson. Prince breathed a certain energy into the crowd that made Towns feel it was his time to put his stamp, in the form of a dagger, on the game.

Towns positioned himself at the elbow to receive a pass from D’Angelo Russell on a side-out play after Towns drew a foul on Johnson in the post. Just like Russell has of late, he delivered the ball in Towns’s shooting pocket, and the Big KAT let out a huge fist pump seeing his first made 3 of the night fall threw the net.

On the next trip, Towns paid Prince back. Towns drove middle in isolation to draw James Harden into the paint, opening a corner pocket 3 for Prince that you knew was good before it left Prince’s hand.

28 seconds later, Prince checked out to a roaring ovation from a home crowd — whom has fully embraced its favorite team’s role players — with a final stat line of 15 points on 6/6 shooting, and a sense of gratitude for his time in Minnesota.

Brooklyn Nets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

“This is [a team] where everybody has defined their role and come in and do it every single night. You know what you’re getting from guys,” Prince said, pointing out that there are no surprises. “So I think that’s an A+. ... You’re not taken back because guys are doing things out of character. Everybody stays in character and plays as a team.”

Towns’s teammates know that he’s not going to go away quietly, especially after a tough opening 36 minutes. So, it was no surprise when the Wolves’ All-Star center dominated on the block, drawing fouls and making tough finishes through contacts, before taking his talents behind the 3-point line. Towns scored 15 points shooting 3/5 from 2 and 2/3 from 3, and added a steal and an assist in the fourth, thanks to his mindset:

Wolves fans have never truly seen a team full of guys who consistently play within themselves and produce such a balanced output when fully optimized.

Nowell becoming a constant scoring force and steady hand for a bench unit that has drawn inquisitiveness from Finch as to whether or not the bench unit can play without one of Minnesota’s Big 3 on the floor at a given time.

Jaden McDaniels has fouled less and become a true defensive Swiss Army Knife that can also attack closeouts and finish at the rim on offense. Tonight, he held Harden to 13 points on 13 shots and helped force Harden to commit six turnovers on the heels of a 37-point triple-double.

Brooklyn Nets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Russell’s half court playmaking excellence unlocks a new level: the No. 1 offense in the league since his return from COVID protocols, during which he re-evaluated how he can impact the team.

“I could see myself missing. I could see myself getting guys the ball when they haven’t touched the ball in multiple possessions. I see that guy frustrated because he hasn’t dribbled the ball,” Russell said. “Things like that, I feel like I recognize it and I try to attack it the best way I can to keep guys on board and not lose them in the process.”

No one has been lost in the process, least of all Anthony Edwards, who threw came back into the rim after halftime throwing nothing but haymakers in the half court, where he made it a point of emphasis to pressure the rim as a means of unlocking his 3-point game. He used that to make sure Steve Nash called a damn timeout.

Image courtesy of the Minnesota Timberwolves Twitter / @Timberwolves

Edwards’ 3-point shot has become a historic weapon for a Timberwolves team that remains unsurprised by anything the sophomore sensation has been able to accomplish. Tonight, the former No. 1 pick became the youngest player in NBA history to make 300 career 3-pointers.

The best part? He may not hit his ceiling for another 10 years.

The main takeaway from tonight is that this squad is dangerous when they all contribute. Unselfish team basketball is the Wolves’ path to sustained offensive success they can pair with an aggressive defense that defines their identity.

The collective character of this Wolves team has been a tough, hard-nosed team willing to dig in and fight unlike Wolves teams of the past. Towns knows that and believes that’s why this team can finally be the one to put Minnesota on the map.

“Those guys are amazing, and there’s a reason why we’re able to find some success this season and have the record we have, even with the peaks and valleys we’ve had in our season, with the winning streaks and losing streaks – it’s the character in that locker room that has kept us glued together and focused on the prize and what we want to accomplish.”

Game Highlights

Next up for the Wolves is a visit to the Rose Garden in Portland for a showdown with C.J. McCollum and the Blazers on Tuesday at 9 PM CT.