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Wolves 128, Raptors 126: D’Angelo Russell Comes Alive in Fourth Quarter of Comeback Win

Minnesota trailed by as many as 18 on Thursday night, but fought back for one of their hardest earned victories of the season

Toronto Raptors v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

It would have been understandable if, after arriving back in Minneapolis closer to brunch than a normal bed time, had mailed it in after falling behind by as many as 18 points on Thursday night. This was a schedule loss if there ever was one, after tipping off in Denver last night at 9pm CST.

Apparently, this team has more fight and resolve than many, including myself, have given them credit for.

Your Minnesota Timberwolves, after giving up 76 points in the first half and 64% shooting to a Toronto Raptors team that looked like it was going to just manhandle them all night, locked down in the fourth quarter to gain a huge, huge victory. Let’s go down the road of how the Wolves stole this one.

Kyle Anderson, the Connective Tissue

When asked about the play of Kyle Anderson after the game, Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch called Anderson the “connective tissue” and a “perfect fit” for this team. There is no better way to describe Anderson than that. Nearly every issue this team has can be answered with inserting the for UCLA Bruin into the game. He is a nightly threat for a triple-double at this point, as he was tonight, finishing with 20/10/6/2/1 on ridiculous efficiency. Minnesota won Anderson’s minutes by 15 points.

He just does everything. He makes his defensive rotation with precision, he fights for rebounds, and most importantly he gets the ball moving. The ability for Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell to get off of the ball early by giving it up to Anderson, while knowing they’ll likely get it back in a better position to score, is such a weapon for this team. There were other standouts who took this one to the finish line, but this game gets out of hand early if not Anderson keeping the Wolves in striking distance. He is everything the Wolves could’ve hoped he would be when they signed him to a two-year deal, plus so much more.

Jaden McDaniels’ Two-Way Stardom

It has sort of happened slowly, and now all at once, but Jaden McDaniels has officially cleared the “3-and-D super-role player” idea. Who knows what heights he will reach, but it would be foolish to think of Jaden as anything but a star in the making. He’s probably never going to be someone you throw the ball to on the wing and consistently expect an isolation bucket, but his offense is no longer something dragging down the impact he makes on the other end of the floor.

McDaniels finished tonight with 18 points and 7 rebounds on 7-14 shooting, including 4-7 from three, which now puts him over 40% from deep on the season. You expect his threes to go in, now. It is more shocking when those don’t go in than when they do, now. Aside from just the threes, though, as he took OG Anunoby to the rim twice in the first half when the Wolves were threatening to let go of the rope. He’s a legitimate two-way terror now.

Defensively, he just did what Jaden McDaniels does. He, like the rest of the day, was a step slow in the first half, but when it was time to lock in, he did exactly that. His ability to snake his way through multiple screening actions in succession is unrivaled, and with Anthony Edwards on the ball more, he was a disruptive force in the passing lanes as well. He is just so good. So, so good.

Anthony Edwards’ On-Ball Defense

Nobody would suggest this was a marquee offensive game for Edwards, but his defense on Pascal Siakam in the fourth quarter was nothing short of special. He slid his feet, kept his hands to himself, and got into Siakam’s body without fouling in order to make life miserable for him. It was another one of those moments that had you dreaming about the kid’s limitless potential. Finch mentioned that he and Edwards spoke after the game in Denver on Wednesday night about getting Ant back on the ball more defensively, and we saw the benefits of that in the fourth quarter.

Putting Ant on the ball has one major ripple effect throughout the rest of the team, which is that it allows McDaniels to play as a help defender more often. That combination, when Edwards is locked in defensively the way he was tonight, is a defensive recipe that can take Minnesota places.

D’Angelo Russell’s Clutch Shooting

Nobody should feel better about themselves tonight than D’Angelo Russell. This team loses this game without his poise and shot-making down the stretch. Russell finished with 25 points on 15 shots, highlighted by 16 points in the fourth quarter. He was exactly what this team needed him to be down the stretch, an elite shot-maker without commandeering the offense.

Finch noted postgame that he loved the way Russell let others create his shots for him, and that is certainly a recipe for success moving forward. Every time the ball found Russell with an opportunity to make a big play down the stretch, he made it. His clutch play sent the Target Center into a frenzy, and played a major role in helping the Wolves snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

That’s not a familiar feeling for this team, but it is absolutely one they could get used to. Next up, a home-and-home with the Houston Rockets.