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Wolves 111, Lakers 102: The Taurean Prince Game

Prince delivered 13 points and three steals that became momentum-turning inflection points in a rock fight win.

Los Angeles Lakers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Minnesota Timberwolves took their home floor on Friday night against a depleted Los Angeles Lakers team missing All-Star forward Anthony Davis — as well as key rotation pieces in Thomas Bryant, Dennis Schröder and Juan Tuscano-Anderson — with a clear expectation: take care of business.

That’s exactly what head coach Chris Finch’s group did, defeating the Lakers 111-102 behind 29 points from Anthony Edwards. The Timberwolves delivered balanced effort on both ends of the floor that exhibited plenty of reasons to believe they are trending in the right direction.

“I see a ton of growth opportunity within [our group] on both sides of the ball, with the bench, with everything with the lineup combinations,” he explained. “I’m a ‘prove it to you’ guy. I still want to see more.”

It also marked the first time beloved folk hero Patrick Beverley returned to Target Center since he was traded to the Utah Jazz as part of the deal that brought Rudy Gobert to Minnesota.

Given the choppy, rock fight nature of tonight’s game, let’s switch it up with a few observations, beginning with the man of the night.

Los Angeles Lakers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

1) The Game Called and Taurean Prince Answered

It’s hard to find a player more well-liked in the Timberwolves locker room than Taurean Prince, precisely for the reasons you saw tonight. He’s consistent; he works extremely hard; he supports his teammates flawlessly as a player and leader; and, simply put, he just plays the right way on both ends of the floor.

“Man, I thought he was awesome tonight. He made a ton of big time plays, energy plays, hustle plays, plays when we needed it,” Finch said postgame. “Got a steal, got out on the break, dug out a rebound here and there. ... He’s playing with a lot of pop.”

The beloved vet got rode the wave of that transition layup to connect on a corner pocket 3 early in the second before getting involved more in transition with a tough finish through and around LeBron James. When in for Jaden McDaniels, he played fantastic defense on James, especially in the third quarter, during which the Wolves held the King to two points on 1/6 shooting.

Early in the fourth, Prince connected on the game-changing triple immediately after a huge solo block from McDaniels in transition on Westbrook, sending the sold out Target Center crowd into a Friday night frenzy. Moments later, McDaniels picked up his fourth and fifth fouls six seconds apart trying to guard James, and Finch called upon Prince to step up.

After Troy Brown Jr. made a pair of 3s to cut the Wolves’ lead down to six, Prince lurked in the back-court to steal an outlet pass from Brown Jr. Instead of pulling up for 3, something Prince did earlier in the game after a steal and missed, Prince took it right at Wenyen Gabriel and drew a foul. The home crowd — and his teammates — were quick to acknowledge his effort when the game got hectic.

It’s part of how Prince leads with his actions.

“Just showing the consistency it takes to be ready in any position, whether we’re down or up. Always being available for my teammates,” Prince said. “Putting in the work, and trusting in it when it comes time to come play the game, and I think other guys see that.”

With this Wolves squad, seemingly every quarter or half has a different contributor step up and become the main character, whether it’s catalyzing a run with energy plays, carrying an offense in times of poor offensive process, or making plays that fill in the cracks. Prince epitomizes that “always ready” aspect of the team’s culture.

“That’s what happens when you got a lot of firepower. That can be a gift and a curse. But I think we have a lot of selfless guys on the team and they realize what your end goal is trying to be,” Prince told Canis Hoopus, nodding his head. “So, the fact that we have so much firepower, we got to sacrifice a little bit and I think that’s what makes all of us gel. We do that, the more we’ll win ball games and the more we win ball games, the further we’ll go.”

Los Angeles Lakers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

2) Anthony Edwards is Learning the Game at a Prodigious Pace

Finch often refers to his third-year superstar in the making as a “home run hitter.” Edwards has the power to change the game at a moment’s notice, but he’s beginning to understand that to achieve the level of success he desires over the course of an entire season, singles, doubles, and triples are more sustainable and can produce even better results.

Edwards isn’t trying to force his offense early in games. Instead, he’s feeling out the game from a scoring perspective while ensuring his teammates can find the flow in the half-court. Tonight is a great example; Ant scored six points on 3/6 shooting in the first frame with two assists and zero turnovers — a far cry from his 15-point, three-assist opening stanza on Wednesday. So, what did he do in the second? He took a back seat, got his teammates involved, played hard defensively, and grabbed three boards, biding his time for when the game called for his offense.

Early in the third, Minnesota tried to play through Karl-Anthony Towns on the left block and use his post passing to move the defense, stimulate off-ball player movement, and help the ball find Edwards; to no fault of anyone, that strategy didn’t yield the same success it has for stretches so far. Edwards and the Wolves sensed it was time.

D’Angelo Russell continually got him the ball on a left elbow post-up before forcing a switch for Edwards by setting a screen.

Then, when the Lakers put Austin Reaves on him, Edwards went to work.

He scored unassisted buckets at all three levels, in part due to a growing chemistry in the two-man game with Rudy Gobert. Ant has improved his “snaking” around Gobert’s screens, as he is learning in real time how defenders react in those situations. After seemingly only using Gobert’s screens as a means of getting downhill in the first few games of the season, he is now more confident in looking for Gobert and feeding him the ball inside.

Edwards exploded for 16 points in the frame with only two of those points coming from the free throw line.

But from there on in, he settled for jumpers a bit too much in ball-stopping, dragged out 1-on-1 fashion.

“It’s part of the beauty of him, I guess, right? He’s a big game hunter and he wants those shots and believes he’s going to make them,” Finch said with a smile postgame. “But what he has to continue to learn, and I see it evolving, but when he got off it to make the plays for KAT when we needed him to do that.”

“That’s what you want your stars to have, what is your highly repeatedly skill? But it can’t just be iso jumpers,” Finch continued. “Probably the biggest play of the game that maybe sealed the win was he drives and gets the foul. We need a little bit more of that, too.”

It’s all part of the continual learning process for Edwards. The good news is that even on nights like tonight that aren’t perfect, he scores 29 points on 58% true shooting and makes absolutely bonkers plays like this:

Los Angeles Lakers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

3) A Superstar Fourth Quarter From Karl-Anthony Towns

Towns will have amassed north of $400 million in career earnings by the end of his career for a damn good reason: he’s the greatest shooting true big man that has ever played the game.

After his shot wasn’t falling early in the game, the unselfish star focused on creating flow in the offense with his passing. He amassed eight rebounds, six assists, and two stocks through three quarters, before coming out firing in the final frame.

The three-time All-Star scored the Timberwolves’ first five points of the quarter in just 40 seconds of game time. Instead of just chucking up shots because he found a rhythm, he used that shooting gravity to put the ball on the deck and drive to create for himself and others. That infused some kinetic energy in the half-court.

Given Edwards’ explosiveness and Gobert’s interior dominance, the Lakers had decisions to make when the Wolves’ ball movement forced the defense into rotation. That created space for Towns to connect on his next four jump shots, including a back-breaking 3 out of a Finch timeout that put Minnesota up nine with 3:16 to play.

Towns scored 14 points on 6/9 shooting without forcing a thing. He didn’t turn the ball over, either, and connected with Gobert on a massive dunk that put the exclamation point on a dominant fourth quarter for the former No. 1 pick.

That assist gave KAT his seventh of the night, marking the third time Towns has dropped seven or more dimes in a game this season just six games into his 2022-23 campaign; he had eight such games all of last season.

Los Angeles Lakers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

4) The Stifle Tower is Finding His Footing

For whatever reason, Darvin Ham’s Lakers thought it would be a good idea to test three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert at the rim early and often on Friday night.

*narrator voice*

It did not go well for them.

Gobert repelled seemingly anyone who came at him, highlighted by an excellent block on Kendrick Nunn.

The three-time All-Star continued his rebounding spree, in addition to his excellent rim defense, by effectively cleaning the defensive backboard and quickly hitting guards up the floor to spur several transition possessions for his teammates throughout the night. By the time the final buzzer sounded, Gobert had hauled in 21 rebounds.

Minnesota outscored Los Angeles 22-16 in transition and a good share of that can be attributed to Gobert’s authoritative presence as a rebounder and outlet passer.

Beyond the standard he sets as an excellent defender and rebounder, Gobert is working hard at evolving his offensive game. The Wolves, lead by Karl-Anthony Towns’s efforts, are working to help maximize that process. But, there has been a significant adjustment period for Gobert, who wasn’t asked to impact the game offensively beyond screening, rolling and rebounding during his time as a member of the Utah Jazz.

“We talk about KAT’s adjustment all the time, and that’s a fair comment. But Rudy is making an adjustment too. They played spread pick and roll almost exclusively in Utah. And that’s not necessarily what we want to do all the time,” Finch said postgame.

“We love KAT up there (above the break). We want [Gobert] down in the dunker. We want him to be way more dynamic than just being a screener and a roller. And I think sometimes when we fall too much into empty pick and roll, we get static. So we just try to get him to the bottom of the floor way more than we could, in the fourth quarter in particular.”

That approach proved to be a killer down the stretch for the Lakers, who were playing without a true center.

Towns took advantage of a soft, pack-the-paint defense with his perimeter jump shooting, while Gobert parked under the rim to generate extra possessions when Los Angeles sent two to contest on the drive. Gobert’s success on the offensive glass also helped him get to the free throw line, from where he shot 8/12 for the game en route to a season-high 22 points. Tonight marked Gobert’s eighth 20-point, 20-rebound performance of his career.

San Antonio Spurs v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Despite Gobert being asked to do more than he’s used to on offense, Towns can see his new teammate’s confidence soaring.

“Come on, when you [ever] seen Rudy catch the ball in the post, face up, rip, going into the basket trying to hit a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar running hook? He’s getting confident fasho, and he needs to be,” Towns told Canis Hoopus postgame. “I want him to be as confident as he’s ever been offensively in his career with us and especially with me. I’m gonna be looking for him, and like I said, utilize him not in a way where he needs to do so much but where he knows that if he gets open the ball will come to him.”

Towns has made a very clear, concerted effort to find Gobert whenever he can. Whether KAT is posting up and hits Gobert diving from the elbow or the dunker, or Towns is surveying from the perimeter and hits Gobert after the Frenchman seals in the lane, expect effort to continue.

As the pair’s chemistry continues to strengthen, their multi-pronged offensive impact will only become more apparent and more repeatable. Tonight was a good first taste of how devastating two of the game’s top bigs can be for their opponents when they have it clicking.

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