MINNEAPOLIS — Tom Thibodeau was once again welcomed back to Target Center with a collection of boos from the hometown fans during the open introductions on Monday night. The boos, as usual, made Thibs smile. Then, his Knicks walloped the Wolves.
Julius Randle scored 15 of his game-high 31 points on five threes in the first quarter alone, and the Knicks were off to the races; they dropped 38 points on 10-19 from deep in the opening 12 minutes.
“31 points on 15 shots is tremendous,” Thibodeau said of Randle, who hit eight threes after making 10 on the season entering the evening. “There was no hesitation, if he was open, he would shoot. Even without the ball, I thought his minutes were really good. Jalen [Brunson] was terrific, our starters, the bench. Jericho [Sims] did a really good job for us to start the game.”
Before long, those same boos raining down from the crowd weren’t being directed at the former leader — instead, they were meant for the listless and lost home team after an initial 25-25 start quickly spiraled out of control. Over the next 7-plus minutes, the Knicks went on a 33-8 run, fueled by unforced turnovers and sloppy offensive execution.
The Wolves were throwing the ball around the court without a care in the world (an unfortunate theme of bad passing and ball control) and it was another rough game for their starting backcourt. The D’Angelo Russell/Anthony Edwards duo needs to hit refresh on a tough 11-game opening to a season with massive expectations and tons of questions after a tumultuous 5-6 start.
They allowed 76 points in a first-half blowout before ultimately gaining a bit of life, even if the runs weren’t all that believable. The 120-107 loss looks better on the surface but it was another bad, bad loss similar to the two Spurs’ games where they were clearly outworked. They didn’t play smart. They didn’t play hard before the break. They were messy in transition, weak on the defensive glass, and contested poorly on the perimeter. They looked like an unprepared, disjointed team with questionable chemistry and lacking a clear identity.
“It’s a shame when you’re 11 games in and talking about competing and playing hard,” assistant coach Micah Nori admitted during his courtside halftime interview. Head coach Chris Finch described an individual-first type of attitude in his postgame presser. “Too many guys are out there a little bit worried about what’s going on for them that night,” said Finch.
“We have to find a way to play through adversity.”
"It's a shame when you're 11 games in and talking about competing and playing hard" - Micah Nori interviews always deliver pic.twitter.com/NPCUujlD4x— CJ Fogler AKA Perc70 #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) November 8, 2022
They were lacking in competitive fire, overwhelmed by the Knicks, and without any real juice to squeeze out. So, is it time to sound the alarm, or just another early season road bump, this time without Rudy Gobert in the lineup after being placed in the league’s health and safety protocols on Saturday?
Jalen Brunson, as Thibs noted, was excellent on his way to 23 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds. He’s a patient driver and crafty lefty finisher in the lane. The ball was moving easily and the threes (19 for 48) were going down for the Knicks. “Julius Randle, Julius Randle, and Julius Randle,” said Brunson. “He was big time for us tonight. He kind of got our energy going and everything. He was a big part of what we did tonight.”
RJ Barrett added 22 points, while Obi Toppin led the New York bench with 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 steals.
“By the time we finally found some physicality on defense we were able to try and compose ourselves for the moments that we were, which were few and far between,” said Finch. “Our shot contesting just wasn’t there, guys didn’t feel us and they were shooting shots with too much space on them.”
For the Wolves, Karl-Anthony Towns led the way with 25 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists. Russell and Edwards combined to shoot 9-26 with six turnovers. Naz Reid was the only other player in double figures for Minnesota, and Jaden McDaniels fouled out in 17 minutes on a night to forget. The only bench player that offered much of anything to be positive about was Austin Rivers, who scored nine points and defended his ass off to make the final look a bit more respectable.
“I feel like we didn’t do all the little stuff. I’ve harped over a couple of years now that the little stuff is the big stuff. We didn’t buy into the things that we needed to buy into to get the W tonight,” said Reid.
Finch isn’t without blame, either. He needs to rally the group, figure out how to get everyone locked in from the jump, and fix a stumbling offense. “Right now, I think we’ve got to find a combination of guys who are going to play much harder and give themselves up for what we’re trying to do,” Finch explained.
With a little more than two minutes remaining in the game, Edwards left the bench. He headed to the locker room early. The question is whether or not that was out of disgust, maybe illness, injury, or something else that points to a deeper issue with this team.
The week is only getting started with games against Phoenix, Memphis, and Cleveland on the docket. They’ll need everyone fully engaged and ready to roll to make sure they don’t spiral into a losing streak.