When the game starts with Luka Doncic spraying the ball around to shooters, you start to wonder if it just might not be the Minnesota Timberwolves night. Forced to play primarily their high-wall pick-and-roll coverage against one of the NBA’s biggest and most adept passers, the Wolves could’ve been in a precarious if they were not sharp defensively. Turns out, the Wolves would put together one of their most complete performances to date, led by ferocious, active defense.
Jaden McDaniels is a magnificent defender, and this was likely his best game of the season on that end. He was tasked with guarding Luka tonight, and he was nothing short of dominant. Doncic was eventually ejected, but before that, he was held to 19 points on 5 of 17 shooting and 4 turnovers. There was nothing easy for Luka all night, with even most of his makes being of the contested step-back variety. Doncic simply could not get free from McDaniels, and that frustration eventually boiled over, leading to two technical fouls and an ejection in the third quarter.
I would try to get kicked out of the game too if Jaden McDaniels were guarding me— mike o’hagan (@mikleohagan) December 20, 2022
How about some love for Jaden McDaniels.— Alan Horton (@WolvesRadio) December 20, 2022
His defense on Luka Doncic tonight was sensational.
When he was the primary defender, Luka had...
In 4 career matchups, Luka has...
5 TO pic.twitter.com/gU8Eh6geUf
McDaniels was the star of the game defensively, but not enough can be said about the job Naz Reid did as well. He was outstanding offensively, per usual, scoring 27 points on 11 for 19 shooting to go along with 13 rebounds, but that may not have even been the most impactful part of his game. What makes it so easy to cheer for Naz is that he just always plays hard, but tonight he combined that effort with expert timing and precision, staying with ball-handlers just long enough to take the Dallas Mavericks offense out of rhythm before recovering to his man or rotating out to a shooter. Minnesota won this game in large part because Reid severely outplayed Christian Wood on the other end.
Naz Reid transition dunk pic.twitter.com/OFi6ggRIVo— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) December 20, 2022
That last piece, rotating out to shooters, is what Minnesota did as a team all night, and is the biggest non-McDaniels reason why they had the Dallas offense in the mud all night. The entire roster was precise and intentional, communicating rotations and switches with regularity. Simply put, the entire team hard as hell tonight.
Austin Rivers, once again, was outstanding. He continued his recent streak of good play, once again adding some offensive punch to his usual strong defense. Rivers battled when switched onto Doncic, and knocked down some really important shots to help the Wolves build a lead. Rivers finished with 16 points on just 6 field goal attempts.
With all of that said, the man of the hour is undeniably Anthony Edwards, who has very much taken on the challenge of leading this team without Karl-Anthony Towns or Rudy Gobert and run with it. Edwards only made 7 of his 21 shots tonight, but he was undeniably the best player on the floor. He got to the line frequently and made 10 of his 11 free throws to get him to 27 points, but it was the 13 rebounds, 9 assists, and 2 steals that really put his stamp on this game.
All of a sudden, Edwards has seemingly realized that on any given night, he can be the best scorer, the best rebounder, the best passer, or the best defender on the floor. He has been absolutely sensational of late, and looks to really be inching towards “the leap” that we hoped to see this year. He is controlling the game even on nights when his shot isn’t falling. He is rotating defensively and, most importantly, closing out possessions. Trying to finish possessions with a defensive rebound has been a nightmare for this team for several seasons now, and Edwards consistently being an asset in that department would go a long ways to to correcting that.
He simply looks like a superstar right now, and there isn’t much reason to think this can’t continue. You can see him learning on the fly how much gravity his scoring ability holds, and exactly how he can take advantage of that to get his teammates easy looks. He will likely never have the same type of usage as his counterpart tonight regularly does, but there’s just no way you can put this type of playmaking responsibility for Ant back in the bottle. He has thrived with this added responsibility, and it should only grow from here. The rebounding, the defense, and the playmaking improvements of late are, by far, the most important things for Minnesota’s present and future success. He’s just in total control in every facet of the game lately.
The Year 3 leap is officially happening… pic.twitter.com/M8XguhMBIC— Kyle Theige (@KyleTheige) December 20, 2022
With Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kyle Anderson, Taurean Prince, and Jordan McLaughlin sitting on the end of the bench, unable to play, Anthony Edwards put together an All-NBA level all-around performance to lead his team to maybe their most complete win of the season. A1, indeed.
This man is becoming a nightly triple-double threat who's communicating and executing at a high level on the defensive end— Jace frederick (@JaceFrederick) December 20, 2022