A primetime matchup against the best team in the Western Conference team on national television? What could go wrong.
After playing an up-and-down seven games against conference foes who were all expected to be bottom-dwellers, the Minnesota Timberwolves had the opportunity to cut their teeth against a playoff-proven unit full of certified All-NBA caliber players. I truly expected this to be a Phoenix Suns clobbering from the get-go, but instead it was both teams that came out flat. It took about 2.5 minutes and an 0 for 10 start before the Wolves put the ball in the hoop, and boy, was it a beauty.
RUDY BLOCK. ANT OOP.— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) November 2, 2022
this sequence is *chef's kiss* pic.twitter.com/XwetxLF3t7
Spoiler alert: That may have been the best play/part of the game.
The sloppy basketball continued all throughout the first half of the game. Reckless turnovers and flying bricks came from both sides, giving me PTSD of the Lakers-Wolves game last week. It wasn’t long before Minnesota’s struggling starters coughed up the ball five times in the first quarter, leading to a double-digit Phoenix lead. Just like clockwork though, the bench unit, which now featured a healthy Jordan McLaughlin, helped to slice the deficit back down to a more manageable size. Most notably, the speed and efficiency of JMac, Jaylen Nowell, and Naz Reid forced the Suns to reinsert their starters.
yeah, you can't stop the bucket. pic.twitter.com/dRp1OkSc9y— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) November 2, 2022
This would be a theme of the entire game.
When it was Phoenix’s first string versus Minnesota’s, it was no contest. The Suns would immediately pump their lead back up to double-digits despite a poor shooting half. Both teams shot under 38% from the field, but the Wolves 9 turnovers compared to the Suns 2 turnovers was the difference, building a 7-point lead that felt fortuitous to Minnesota.
Unfortunately, the second half must always open with a third quarter, something head coach Chris Finch has yet to figure out. More slow, sloppy, and mechanical half court offense by the Wolves was compounded by the Suns reverting back to their typical offensive efficiency. The result was a 18-point advantage for the home team and all hope seemed lost.
100 Hoopus Points for whoever can guess what happened next.
The dichotomy of D’Angelo Russell’s methodical, but ineffective, style was starkly contrasted by the smooth, swift ball movement induced by JMac at the helm. A surprise 11-2 Minnesota run got them within 6 as they appeared to survive the dreaded third period. Bridge that with another strong Naz Reid showing to kick off the final quarter, sprinkle in Anthony Edwards waking up with back-to-back three pointers, and miraculously, the Wolves were only down 85-87 with well over eight minutes left in the game.
HE'S LITERALLY HIM. pic.twitter.com/nJfmy9MHqN— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) November 2, 2022
Double or nothing those Hoopus Points if you can figure out the next sequence.
Coming out of a Phoenix timeout where they promptly subbed their starters in again, Finch decided to give his starters another chance to redeem themselves after they had repeatedly dug holes in this particular match, let alone in multiple games this season. Naz Reid went to the bench and in the next 5 minutes and 19 seconds, the Suns went on a 18-6 run thanks to 6 — SIX — Wolves turnovers.
Though there were some positives that came from this game like the will to fight back, miniscule defensive improvements, and the important return of JMac, it resulted in just another L. When asked about substitutions in the post game presser, Finch appeared a little perturbed and answered with a generic answer about Towns’ regular minutes and how he doesn’t want to keep second guessing every move. Maybe he was frustrated with the question. Maybe he was frustrated with his starters. I’d like to think he was frustrated with himself for not following through on this word just 48 hours ago.
Losing to the Phoenix Suns is nothing to hang your head about. They’re an elite team who are in year three together with the same core (Minus DeAndre Ayton, who did not play tonight). However, the fact that the Wolves starters have not made any progress through eight games is much more alarming. Those were Finch’s words, not mine.
I asked Finch about what type of improvement he's seen from the starting unit. His answer:— YoLeo (@Y0Leo) November 2, 2022
"Well, there haven't been a whole lot growth with that unit just yet." pic.twitter.com/G9ObjTEsHg
Optimistic take? The Wolves are still .500 and haven’t lost a game by double digits all season!
Omega - Karl-Anthony Towns
Though KAT looks like he had a strong showing with 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists, 6 of those points game in the final minute when the Suns already stopped playing defense. The most impressive part of his night were his passes which drew the compliments of Shaquille O’Neal during the TNT halftime show, but his 4 turnovers were still way too much. At least he’s looking a bit more comfortable out there in his new role.
Delta - Jordan McLaughlin
What a breath of fresh air JMac is. As mentioned earlier, the team around him almost always seems to play better when he’s on the court. Having him out there pushing pace was sorely missed and may have likely changed the outcome of some of the previous losses. JMac’s night consisted of 9 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, and 0 turnovers.
Beta - Anthony Edwards
Ant had another inefficient game tonight, but he also came alive when the game was in the balance. During his post game presser, as he sat next to JMac, he lamented how terrible the starter’s box score numbers were. He repeatedly pointed and chuckled at how he has to be better. I had a chance to ask Edwards about his lack of dunks this season and his answer may have pointed to a larger issue - Spacing. Ant finished with 24 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, and 4 stocks.
I asked Ant about why he hasn't had a dunk this season. His response + insight from JMac:— YoLeo (@Y0Leo) November 2, 2022
"Every time I get to the rim I have no chance to dunk. Everybody is in the paint... I can't just jump over everyone... I gotta get a good lane to dunk. Every time I drive it's 5 people." pic.twitter.com/90W8YV27fd
Alpha - Naz Reid
13 points on 83% shooting in just 16 minutes of action seems great, but Naz was actually the primary driving force of good things tonight. The fact that he hasn’t shown an ounce of negative body language despite getting the hook to no fault of his own is impressive. Naz deserves better.
Naz Reid shows off his handle and draws the foul— NBA (@NBA) November 2, 2022
Suns lead the Timberwolves 38-29 in Q2 on TNT. pic.twitter.com/ZJKpo3MgVi
Canis Hoopus Comment of the Night
Minnesota will get to lick their wounds at home for their first two-day break since the start of the season. They won’t have long to dwell, as the only remaining undefeated team in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks, will be in town on Friday 11/4 @ 5:00pm CT. This will be the front end of a home-home back-to-back. Hopefully “Good D’Lo” will be back.