The Minnesota Timberwolves came out of the halftime break needing a spark after a low-energy first half drew boos from the Target Center crowd and had the team in a 60-47 hole against a depleted Miami Heat team playing the on the second night of a road/road back-to-back.
Man, did they get it in the third quarter. The difference, according to Anthony Edwards?
“Jordan McLaughlin, pretty much. Yeah, he gave us the energy we needed.”
Jordan McLaughlin entered the game shooting 3/24 (12.5%) from 3. You’d have no idea based on how confidently he let it fly last night. J-Mac made back-to-back-to-back 3s to give Minnesota an eight-point lead after trailing for nearly the entire game before that.
His teammates went absolutely bananas.
“I was super excited to see him make all those shots tonight,” Edwards said in the locker room. “I was cheering, [I was] the biggest fan, for sure.”
Despite the slow start, McLaughlin believes in his offseason work and understands the importance of continuing to let it rip from beyond the arc.
“It’s a long season. We’re only 17, 18 games in. So, still got 60-plus to go. You just got to stay confident. Games come quickly. If you dwell on it, you’ll stay in that slump,” he added. “But continue to trust your work and things will happen.”
As for the response from his teammates, the veteran guard couldn’t help but crack a smile.
“It was great. We all support each other. Whether somebody’s down or somebody’s up, we try to stay together as a team no matter what. Like I said, it’s a long season and it’s great when you have your brothers cheering you on like that,” McLaughlin told Canis Hoopus. “Everybody works just as hard and when you see somebody’s work come to light like that, you appreciate it.”
Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch surely appreciated his trusted floor general’s performance, too.
“We all know, this is J-Mac. J-Mac plays winning basketball all the time. He makes a team really hum,” Finch said postgame. “When he gets the ball moving and gets the ball back in the flow, it looked like the way he finished last season, with the confidence he had in his stroke. An absolute game-changer.”
The Wolves have outscored their opponents by 70 points in the 237 minutes Jordan McLaughlin has played this season.— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) November 22, 2022
The next best plus-minus on the team is Anthony Edwards at +33, and he’s done that in 618 minutes
McLaughlin, who scored a season-high 12 points (all off made 3s), received a standing ovation for his efforts when he left the floor after completely turning the game around. Just look at every fan in this photo. Everyone is so eager to explode in excitement cheering on arguably the team’s most consistent player.
“I always appreciate it. Appreciate the fans here, they’ve vouched for me since Day 1. I just go out there and play hard and that’s what they want to see. So, just playing hard and they love it.”
J-Mac credited Edwards for lighting the match that set up the powder keg explosion McLaughlin caused. After scoring a home season-low four points in the first half, Edwards emerged from the tunnel determined to right the ship.
Edwards scored at the rim on the first possession before teaming up with fellow third-year rising star Jaden McDaniels on back-to-back 3s that cut the Heat lead from 12 down to six. 90 seconds later, A1 made his presence felt on the defensive end of floor.
As if Heat wing Max Strus hadn’t already had a tough night with having to guard Karl-Anthony Towns, Edwards had to climb and destroy his shot at the summit. Then, coming down the other way, did you have any doubt of what was coming next?
“I just knew I was going to shoot the ball, for sure, no matter what,” Edwards said postgame.”
He called a clear-out iso and hit a step-back 3 in Strus’s face. The bucket was Edwards fourth of the period, during which the young star created 18 of the team’s 36 points.
“It was huge. Those type of plays, they get us going. They get the crowd going. When you get the crowd into the game, it helps us a lot,” McLaughlin explained. “They give us a lot of energy and we’re able to translate that onto the court.”
The Wolves desperately needed to get the crowd into the game in the second half because, frankly, they didn’t have much to get excited about in the first 24 minutes.
Outside of Karl-Anthony Towns, who scored 20 points on 7/10 shooting, grabbed five rebounds and dropped three dimes across 18 minutes, Minnesota couldn’t find any consistent contributors.
Towns set a fantastic tone early, draining a corner 3 on the team’s first possession before continually attacking Strus on the drive, a matchup he salivated at. Outside of KAT, the Wolves shot a mind-boggling 1/20 (5%) from downtown in the first half. Most of those looks came against a 2-3 zone defense, a scheme that has given Minnesota issues of late.
“I expect teams to play more zone against us just because of the fact that we don’t we’re not hitting the 3 as well to counter the 2-3,” Towns told Canis Hoopus in the locker room. “We just got to figure out ourselves getting into the middle, penetrating the defense in the zone and finding our outlets and you know, making teams have to respect us and get out the zone.”
Finch deployed Towns all over the zone, but he found the most success in the middle, a spot the big man is comfortable operating from, since he is a true triple threat when given space. He can shoot it with ease, throw an accurate laser to any of his teammates, or take a defender off the dribble to finish with a floater over, or layup through the defense.
While Towns is more used to playing atop the zone and shooting defenses out of it, he wasn’t able to do that tonight. But he’s not worried.
“Today, I missed what, three, four of them that I did exactly what I wanted to, catch the ball in the middle, fake a pass to a wing, make them have to pre-rotate and just take a wide open 3,” he explained. “I’m comfortable in it and I’m not worried about the shot because I know it’s gonna fall, I put the work in. Like I said, we’re 17 games in.”
Outside of Towns, Finch would like to see the team, particularly his wings and guards, get more active in zone offense.
“That was one thing we showed them at halftime, is there’s a lot of opportunities to penetrate. ‘Yeah, these are open threes, but we can also put the ball on the deck because there might be nobody for about 20 feet,’” Finch told Canis Hoopus. “Go in there and drive it and collapse the defense, make another play. So it could be anybody. We did a good job of finding KAT in the zone for a while, kept us kinda like alive offensively.”
The Wolves passed up driving lanes, didn’t force the defense to rotate, and set limited screens, instead opting to continue launching 3s when the rim seemingly wore a lid, and didn’t get back in transition defense all half. As a result, Miami destroyed Minnesota 17-2 in fast break points.
“That was the story of the first half,” Finch said.
That changed out of the locker room. Minnesota moved the ball exceptionally well and confidently stepped into shots, especially in transition.
McDaniels was particularly effective with quick decision-making. The 6-foot-9 swingman connected on all three of his second half 3-pointers and mixed in buckets in the mid-range and at the cup, too, en route to an 18-point scoring night.
But most importantly, he dominated defensively. His primary matchup, Heat point guard Kyle Lowry, shot 5/16 from the floor. Lowry didn’t make a shot inside the 3-point line until there were 29.0 seconds left; that came on a transition layup.
“Jaden did a great job on (Lowry). On a back-to-back, so they’re beat up, [Lowry] had to play 44 minutes. [McDaniels] just kept making him work,” Finch said. “He’s become a bit of a tone-setter for us now, at the point of attack on defense.”
McDaniels is working to embrace that role.
“I’d say picking up 94 feet, trying to pressure the guy, make sure they have an off-night,” he said.
The rest of the Wolves dug in defensively, locked in on their off-ball defense against an excellent cutting team, and forced stops at a much better rate after the break. Minnesota forced 10 second-half turnovers they converted into eight points and held Miami to 15/42 (35.7%) over the final 24 minutes.
“Yeah, that’s what this team hadn’t been doing a couple weeks ago,” Finch said. “This is the first deficit that we’ve overturned at halftime to go on and win, so very pleased with that.”
Despite limited usage on offense against the 2-3 zone, three-time All-Star Rudy Gobert kept his focus on the defensive end and made several key plays in late in the game. When Gobert re-entered for his final stint with the game all square at 99 with 3:11 to play, he immediately made his presence felt.
The three-time Defensive Player of the Year forced a tough shot on Heat All-Star center Bam Adebayo before heavily contesting a Caleb Martin shot seconds later, drawing an appreciative roar from the home crowd. D’Angelo Russell paid him off with by scoring his first bucket of the night on the other end, giving Minnesota 101-99 lead. Gobert took it from there.
On the first offensive trip after Towns fouled out with 1:37 to go, Gobert got great positioning inside, which forced Adebayo to foul him. The career 69.3% free throw shooter calmly stepped to the line and drained both to give his team a four-point lead with 1:11 left.
After an Edwards missed 3 resulted in a Miami transition layup on the next trip, Strus inexplicably fouled Gobert when he didn’t have to late in the shot clock. So, Gobert stepped to the line with a chance to secure a four-point lead with 9.2 seconds remaining.
A palpable tension fell over the arena.
But once Gobert knocked down the first one, “RU-DY, RU-DY, RU-DY” chants rained down from the Target Center heavens. He wasn’t about to miss after that. Gobert put the game on ice with four free throws after not attempting a single shot for the entire game.
“He’s got a lot of confidence in his free throws. He’s been working hard at it,” Finch said. “Rudy is an absolute pro. He changed the game with his defense. Crazy he didn’t have a shot attempt. We have to do a better job of finding him there. But he stayed in it mentally and he was big when we needed it.”
After shooting 19/34 (55.9%) from the line in October, the Frenchman has responded by draining 37 of his 45 free throws in November (82.2%).
That growth is incredibly for a player like Gobert, who is scoring nearly 30% of his points from the free throw line. Minnesota surely needs to find more ways to get him the ball, whether that’s in the two-man game, or in dialed-up actions like we saw at the end of the Wolves’ victory over the Orlando Magic last Wednesday.
But moments like last night’s are exactly why the Timberwolves paid such a steep price for the four-time All-NBA big man: he finds ways to make monster plays that win games. It’s as simple as that. That’s all you can ask for from your star players.
Minnesota’s two other star players didn’t let the work stop at the final buzzer. Edwards ran stairs in the arena following the game after joining Towns for a shooting workout on the floor.
It’s 10:12 PM and ANT is out here running steps pic.twitter.com/SUPlvQ3t1Q— Real Super Dave (@SuperStatsDave) November 22, 2022
Can’t imagine that NBA fans and national media will run with that, though.
never quit.— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) November 22, 2022
KAT - 25 PTS / 8 REB / 9 AST / 1 BLK / 1 STL
Ant - 22 PTS / 7 REB / 4 AST / 4 STL / 1 BLK
Jaden - 18 PTS / 4 REB / 3AST
JMac - 12 PTS / 3 AST / 2 STL pic.twitter.com/oCsu5YMrTK
The Wolves will travel to Indianapolis on Tuesday for a Wednesday night matchup with reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Tyrese Haliburton and the Indiana Pacers. You can catch the 6 PM CT tip on Bally Sports North.