The Minnesota Timberwolves have long been strangers to explosive offensive moments that swing the momentum closing out halves, but came through in a major way tonight.
Following a solid punch from Minnesota that got them out to a 33-24 lead early in the second quarter, the Utah Jazz punched right back with a big ol’ hook in the form of a 24-8 run to retake a 48-41 lead.
Then, Chris Finch’s group effectively decided the feeling out process was over. His group didn’t panic, collected themselves, and landed a few key strikes that just before the break.
It was a mostly low energy first quarter and change at Target Center, largely a result of Utah missing head coach Quin Synder (health and safety protocols) and stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, while Minnesota was without their starting back court of D’Angelo Russell and Patrick Beverley.
Jaden McDaniels and Karl-Anthony Towns changed that when they drained back-to-back 3s late in the second quarter before a McDaniels lob to Jaylen Nowell got Wolves faithful off their feet and rockin’ heading into halftime with a four-point lead.
V8 BLOCK— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) January 31, 2022
On the other side of the break, Towns stepped out onto the floor like a preacher walking to the podium — calm and ready, determined to spread the good news on a Sunday in such a way that left those in attendance talking about it all week long. The second half was his Sunday Service.
The hyper versatile big man launched the ball into the air with such a feathery touch that left it gently falling through the halo like the moon meeting the horizon. The crowd responded by rising like the sun, understanding the significance of each bucket more impactful than the last.
His post-ups turned into at-rim baptisms; his dribble drives drew singing praises like a chorus; his assists spread like communion; and his pop-out 3s took the place of offering one another peace — a quick break from the action before getting back to the good stuff.
And like a long-winded preacher during a sermon lasting too long, there was nothing anyone could do to stop him.
By the time Towns completed the long walk back to his seat, to the sounds a rousing ovation, he had tallied 18 points — on 5-6 shooting from 2 and 2-2 shooting from 3 —, four assists, three rebounds, a steal and zero turnovers in the third quarter alone, all while working to hold the NBA’s top offense to 27 points.
At one point, Towns went scored 16-straight Wolves points and went on a personal 16-9 run in just over three minutes of game-time. Missing a player like Gobert forced Utah to play lineups with unconnected defense that led to foul trouble among the contingent acting coach Alex Jensen tasked with guarding Towns. The Big Fella made them pay — and fined Rudy Gay a bit more than the rest.
Perhaps the best aspect of undoubtedly one of the best quarters of Towns’ professional career was that he didn’t force the issue.
“[I was just] taking what the defense gives me,” Towns said postgame. “I think the third quarter came around where they’ve seen so much facilitation that it gave me some chances to really be aggressive offensively, make some points, hit some shots.”
Hitting those 3s from atop the key is what truly unlocks everything else for the soon-to-be three-time All-Star.
“I thought we did a great job in our 15 pick-and-roll high. Me, Jaylen Nowell or Ant, just kind of that 15 pick-and-roll high, pop, gave me a lot of options,” Towns said. “I had some 3s that I hit. Also had some driving from 3s that I hit. It gave me a chance to be aggressive going downhill.”
The Wolves need more of aggressive KAT down the stretch of this season.
We see these dominant stretches all the time from Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid because it’s what their team needs from them. For Towns, at times he can be so focused on making the right play and getting others going — which, for the record is not a bad thing by any means — that he forgets to work on getting himself going.
Tonight, an ultra-aggressive Towns recorded a triple-double of 31 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, with just one turnover (his last pass of the game, a lob to McDaniels).
If the Wolves can unlock the most aggressive, “I know no one can stop me” version of Towns down the stretch, the six seed could become the destination rather than the dream.
When the former No. 1 pick was focused on getting others involved, however, it paid dividends, especially with McDaniels.
McDaniels turned in the best offensive game of his young career tonight. The Federal Way, Washington native scored a career-best 22 points — on 6-6 shooting from 2 and 3-3 from 3 — to go with four assists and two rebounds, and was a team-high +24 in 27 minutes.
He put on display everything he offers as an intriguing prospect, from his off-dribble creation for others, transition scoring, attacking off the catch, and 3-point shooting.
“Particularly when he comes off the bench, he’s been playing with a lot of pop. The thing I like about him is everything he’s doing is very decisive,” Finch explained. “If he’s shooting, he’s committed to it. If he’s driving, he’s playing off the catch. He’s so long, he beats his guy on one dribble and unfolds and he’s at the rim.”
McDaniels is attacking off the catch and scoring at the rim particularly well off of feeds from Towns, who assisted on five of McDaniels nine assists.
“I think that he was collecting the fruits of his labor from being in the right spots and giving me windows to pass it to him,” Towns said. “[He] finished 9 for 9. He was feeling it. And it wasn’t hard for him. It wasn’t difficult shots. It was wide open transition 3s, moving up from the corner to the wing, relocation 3s, cuts to the basket dunks, easy buckets and got himself going really well.”
Finch said after the game that an interaction the two had earlier in the season felt like an inflection point for McDaniels’ confidence.
“He was down on himself and down on his shot at times. I just said to him, ‘You’re not a shooter, you’re a basketball player. So go make plays and the shots will go in. Don’t define yourself on whether you miss or make shots,’” Finch said. “That resonated with him, because he is a basketball player. He’ll do a little bit of everything, and that’s what we need him to keep doing.”
If McDaniels keeps bringing a little bit of everything to the table, with making life easier for Towns on offense and playing stout perimeter defense chief among them, there’s no way he’ll be traded at the deadline.
Taurean Prince joined the party and turned in yet another terrific game off the bench for a unit that is really finding its stride as it seizes more opportunity due to injuries.
The Timberwolves bench tonight:— Real Super Dave (@SuperStatsDave) January 31, 2022
23/30 FG (77%)
5/9 on 3’s (56%)
Prince turned in 10 points on 4-5 shooting to go with six rebounds and two steals in 24 minutes of action. His best minutes came in the early part of the fourth quarter while playing alongside Anthony Edwards — who after the win against Portland last week dubbed himself “Black Jesus” — and the two maintained an energy, derived from getting stops and turning them into points, that buoyed the Wolves to sustain whatever the Jazz threw at them.
The cushion Edwards and Prince helped build allowed Patrick Beverley to step away from the huddle during a timeout in the fourth quarter to make a young fan’s night.
For Edwards, he’s proud of the way role players like McDaniels and Prince have overcome rough patches in their season and been major contributors of late.
“For us as a team, it’s a great thing to see, just due to the fact that they might be in a drought and then they might come out and have a good game. For me, I got all they backs on the floor, whether they playin’ good or playin’ bad,” Edwards said.
Even at just 20 years old, Edwards understands that the team can only be as strong as they are balanced, and that everyone needs to contribute nightly if the team is going to get to where it wants to. The best way to do that? Wanting each other to succeed and celebrating one another.
“I think we’re starting to love to see each other succeed. In the beginning of the season it was always ‘I want to do this, I want to do that.’ We’re starting to become a real team now and be excited for each other and I’m loving that.”
Now that his teammates are finding a rhythm, it’s only a matter of time before the team regains health and starts to go on a run.
“If they get in that groove and start playing good, now it’s like ‘Aw, we here now. Every team we gon’ play is in trouble now’ cuz I got my guy TP playing good, Beas playin’ good, Jaden gettin’ his swag, Jaylen Nowell gettin buckets,” he said.
“Everybody is doing what they supposed to do, so every team is in trouble now.”
If Black Jesus concludes a Sunday Service by saying your team is in trouble, you better start saying your prayers.
News and Notes
Ingles Suffers Serious Injury
While Jazz forward Joe Ingles was driving to the basket in the second quarter, he tried to plant, but his left knee buckled and he went down screaming and rolling in pain.
According to Tony Jones of The Athletic, it is feared that Ingles has suffered a very severe knee injury that will end his season. Ingles will undergo an MRI tomorrow upon the team’s return to Salt Lake City.
Update: Ingles has suffered a torn ACL in his left knee, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. He is expected to have surgery in the next couple of weeks.
“Seeing Joe at halftime, that took a lot out of guys. Seeing him in pain. Seeing him in tears that was tough. We knew how much this meant to him,” Jazz point guard Mike Conley said after the game. “All we could do was tell him that we loved him and tell him to keep his head up.”
Western Conference Playoff Race
The Timberwolves currently sit eighth in the playoff race (the seeds above come from basketball-reference and do not account for tiebreakers), but are just 3.5 games out of the fifth spot and 4.5 games out of the fourth spot.
Next up for Minnesota is a home game on Tuesday at 7 PM against the surging No. 5 seed Denver Nuggets that will serve as a terrific measuring stick opportunity to see how the Wolves stack up against a long-time rival that continues to win games despite being extremely shorthanded.
The Wolves remaining schedule is rather favorable. Only Portland has an easier remaining schedule among teams competing for the Nos. 4-10 seeds.
Towns knows that the Wolves need to carry a constant sense of urgency from here on out.
“We gotta worry about what we can control. And I think every game we gotta look at it as like a do or die situation and get a win.”