Minnesota Timberwolves superstar big man Karl-Anthony Towns made his preseason debut following his battle with an undisclosed illness that sidelined him for the first week of training camp, and his teammates made good on it.
After Minnesota fell behind by as many as 18 points to an insanely versatile Los Angeles Clippers squad mid-way through the second quarter thanks to a sloppy, isolation-heavy start, they immediately fought back with a greater intensity. Coupled with a free-flowing offensive mindset that generated easy, open looks in transition, head coach Chris Finch’s group prevented the game from getting out of hand before the half.
Bryn Forbes continued his red hot shooting streak by connecting on a pair of back-to-back 3s, before Anthony Edwards took over the half-court with an unrelenting hunger for buckets in the paint. Edwards was too conservative picking his spots in the first quarter while Towns was re-acclimating to live game action, but flipped the game script by taking it upon himself to soften the defense for his teammates.
The Timberwolves closed the half on an 17-8 run over the final 4:35 of the half to get within nine, 62-53, at the break. Finch expressed his displeasure with his players’ effort level defensively in his interview with Wolves new play-by-play man Michael Grady out of the half, and his team certainly responded.
Led by Edwards’ two takeaways, Minnesota created five live-ball steals in the third quarter that stimulated an unselfish, confident offensive rhythm. The Wolves assisted on 11 of their 16 made field goals in the third frame, led by three makes apiece from Jaden McDaniels, Jaylen Nowell, Edwards and Towns, who connected on a massive trio of triples to pull his team even with the Clips at 79-79 with 4:06 to play in the quarter.
That 3 capped off a 19-4 run in 4:28 of game time highlighted by fantastic defense that included consistent effort to run Los Angeles shooters off the line, gang rebounding, sitting down in a stance, and contesting without fouling.
Towns exited for the night at the 3:11 mark of the third, yet surprisingly, that’s when the night really took off. Enter Naz Reid.
The fourth-year combo front-court fixture is quietly entering a contract year with plenty of uncertainty given the All-NBA centers in front of him on the depth chart, but tonight loudly announced his campaign for a consistent spot in Finch’s rotation.
Reid joined forces with his long-time teammate Jordan McLaughlin — with whom he has maintained a strong chemistry since their days running with the Iowa Wolves — to play a sweet song in the half-court. Following a made floater in PnR alongside McLaughlin, Reid came out firing to start the fourth. He scored the team’s first four points of the frame to retake a 95-94 lead.
Clippers head coach Ty Lue let John Wall cook and create five quick points for the Clippers before Wall turned in for the night; but the momentum he gave the Clippers fueled a 15-5 run and got LA out to a 108-100 advantage. Then, everything changed.
A classic NFT (Naz Ferocious Tomahawk | s/o @jakesgraphs) reignited a Wolves offense that struggled to keep up with a spread-out, unselfish Clippers lineup. Reid then dimed up Austin Rivers for an and-1, freed up Forbes for a 3 with his gravity, grabbed a board, made a layup over a smaller defender, and got a block all within 1:30 of game action, willing the Timberwolves back within two, 112-110, with 6:21 left to go. Two minutes later, he assisted on another Rivers bucket, this time to tie the game, and promptly checked out to a massive living room applause from the sickos who stuck around for a Wolves comeback that pushed midnight in Minnesota.
Not sure anyone has done more for themselves tonight than Naz.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) October 10, 2022
Dude is annihilating the Clippers in the paint with J-Mac behind the wheel of the offense.
Game-high 20 points on 9/10 shooting on 2s in addition to his 9 rebounds, 2 dimes, and 2 stocks.pic.twitter.com/dqIuqh0iKQ
The LSU product registered a team-high 20 points on 9/11 shooting inside the arc, a game-high 11 rebounds, two dimes, two stocks in just 23 minutes of action. After struggling at points in his first two preseason games, Reid badly needed a resurgent performance, but delivered one in a major way that should give him some confidence heading into the regular season.
Once Reid exited, the Denver Nuggets import helped get it to the finish line. Forbes responded to a go-ahead Terance Mann 3 with a banger of his own to tie it at 115. Rivers then dropped in a layup on a wonderful play call from Finch, and Iowa legend Luka Garza got it to the finish line with a magnificent two-way display.
Luka Garza with the biggest defensive play on one end with a clutch block, then scores the most important bucket of the game on the other end.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) October 10, 2022
Pretty incredible how ready these guys are to enter the game in crunch time and make crucial playspic.twitter.com/qJOLYUie2y
As far as returns go, Karl-Anthony Towns’ preseason debut went about as well as could be expected.
Towns looked noticeably thinner from the 258-pound frame he played in last season and struggled to get his legs under him in the first quarter. On the bright side, he successfully lasted the first 9:51 of the game, more time than anyone could’ve predicted. Again, Towns was not cleared to walk until last Saturday (a little more than a week ago). That appeared most clearly on his jumpers early on. Towns missed both first-quarter 3-point attempts short, and struggled to find a rhythm with the ball in his hands.
He found it in what became his go-to last season: the drive.
Across four drives in the first frame, he attacked the rim to convert two and-1s to go with a separate trip to the line, scoring eight points to get a flow and buoy a sluggish Wolves offense in the first.
As Edwards and Forbes took control in the second quarter, Towns took a back seat, but did still battle on the boards and find open teammates. The three-time All-Star shined in the third period, where he went 3/4 from beyond the arc and dished out four key assists without turning it over. He scored or assisted on 20 of the Wolves’ 28 points scored while he was on the floor in the third: superstar stuff.
Towns finished with a final line of 19 points on 5/11 shooting (2/5 2-point, 3/6 3-point) and 6/6 from the line, six rebounds, and six assists across 26 minutes.
The Timberwolves have an argument to be made for them as the NBA’s deepest roster and only strengthened it on Sunday night.
From Reid to Kyle Anderson, to Nowell, to Forbes, to Garza, Finch and Co. received big plays in key moments from several different role players on the team. Everyone mentioned above is fighting for more minutes in the everyday rotation, yet plays unselfish ball — which starts by supporting their teammates from the bench before they enter the game — and makes those around them better.
Anderson was terrific on the defensive perimeter and shined when tag teaming the Clippers’ ball-handlers alongside McDaniels in the third quarter. Each player picked up a steal on back-to-back trips in the midst of Minnesota’s big push.
Nowell was as responsible as anyone else for getting the Wolves their first lead. He entered the ball game in the third frame ready to hoop. He assisted on a Towns 3 before drilling one of his own from Chaska, off a DHO with Towns, to pull within one. Nowell then followed it up with a tough layup finish off a feed from D’Angelo Russell to put a cherry on top of a 5-2 personal run to claw within one, and later went coast-to-coast after pulling down a rebound for a lead-taking transition finish.
All in all, it was a clinic from a collective that will not be guaranteed minutes every night over the course of an 82-game grind against opponents of varying play-styles. The promise of this team lies within how its coaches can string together lineups to counter and take advantage of nearly everything that is thrown its way, which puts them in extremely rare air in today’s NBA.
Next up for the Wolves is another LA showdown with the Lakers on Wednesday. You can catch the 9 PM CT tip on ESPN.