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Sunday Cup of Canis: The Morning After

Wolves back, Jack.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Memphis Grizzlies - Game One Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

I know it’s becoming repetitive (and quite possibly even annoying) to keep saying this over and over again, but...

Yesterday was the biggest win for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 18 years.

The one and only Brendan Hedtke did a great job recapping yesterday’s 130-117 Timberwolves victory against the Memphis Grizzlies, but I wanted to jump on here quickly and share a few additional thoughts (as well as get some “day after” opinions from everyone in our community).

There’s approximately 101 different storylines to take away from Game 1 in Memphis, but to me, nothing is more important than the play of Karl-Anthony Towns. After putting together the worst performance of his professional career, KAT was absolutely dominant yesterday, and did so in a way that let his production (not his mouth) do all the talking. Towns obviously finished with 29 points and 13 rebounds, but it was one OTHER statistic that really stood out to me from yesterday’s performance.

KAT had zero fouls in the first 24 minutes, which according to Basketball Reference was 98 less fouls than he had in the first half against the Los Angeles Clippers during the play-in game. Towns was able to exert his dominance on both ends of the floor without hacking on defense or going full Heisman Trophy on offense. To play like THAT a few days removed from playing like THAT, well... THAT’S huge.

The other item that really stood out to me from Game 1 was the play of Jaden McDaniels. I tweeted this out on Saturday, but while Anthony Edwards got most of the credit for the team’s victory (and deservedly so), I thought it was the Timberwolves “other” second year player who should have taken home the game ball.

For what it’s worth, Anthony Edwards agreed:

Timberwolves fans (myself included) know how good we have it when it comes to Anthony Edwards, but I think it speaks volumes that a 20-year old kid — a KID — went out of his way to congratulate his teammate after a historic playoff debut, not take all the credit for himself. The 2020 NBA Draft will go down in history as a pivotal moment for this franchise, and one that may have finally elevated this franchise from the basement of the Western Conference for good.

So now what? The Timberwolves have two days off in Memphis before tipping things off on Tuesday night for Game 2. I fully expect Taylor Jenkins and his staff to make some important adjustments and “punch back” on Tuesday — after all, you don’t win 56 games in the regular season by accident.

With that said...

A few narratives entering this series are now on serious life support. The idea that the Memphis Grizzlies had an advantage in the experience category made little sense leading up to Saturday, and it makes even less sense now. Again, I want this to be VERY clear — I’m taking nothing away from this Grizzlies team, the year they’ve had, or the three year build up they’ve put together since selecting Ja Morant back in the 2019 NBA Draft. 56 regular season wins is a lot more than 46 regular season wins.

But... there’s a reason the Timberwolves (and their fans) felt confident about a playoff series against Memphis and not so much against other teams like the Phoenix Suns or Golden State Warriors.

This current iteration of the Suns has been to the mountain top. The core of the Warriors has won multiple rings. This Memphis team? They had a truly amazing season, and deserve all the accolades they can handle, but their core has accomplished about as much as the Timberwolves core (specifically Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, who entered Game 1 with just as much playoff experience as Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, and Jaren Jackson, Jr.).

Again, I’ve been solely focused for the last 12 or so hours on mixing in as many waters as possible, but facts are facts. Fresh off of beating the Clippers despite their best player having his worst game of the season, the Timberwolves won a road playoff game in which their starters shot less free throws combined (18) than Ja Morant did by himself (20), turned the ball over more times than Memphis (18 vs. 11), and were doubled up in fast break points (Grizzlies: 18, Wolves: 9).

From a purely basketball perspective, and removing all fandom or attachment to the team, that’s a pretty dicey situation for the 2-seeded Grizzlies. They will definitely respond and they will definitely punch back. They are too talented and too well coached. But the Timberwolves won Game 1 of this series without even playing their A+ type of game, and while I expect Memphis to make some smart adjustments, I also expect Chris Finch and his staff to do the same. Game on.

tl;dr — NBA playoff basketball is awesome and I cannot wait for Game 2 on Tuesday.