The Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans fought tooth and nail in an edge of your seat affair, resulting in a 119-118 win for the home team. New Orleans entered the night with the best record in the NBA against sub .500 teams at an impressive 13-1, according to Jen Hale of Bally Sports New Orleans.
As for Minnesota, they were ripe off of three consecutive losses, looking to re-enter the win column and firmly entrench themselves in it.
Ready to make it 13-2, the Timberwolves asserted themselves on defense from the onset. Anthony Edwards forced a shot clock violation on the first possession of the game. The next time down, D’Angelo Russell collected a strip steal, and then Rudy Gobert forced a turnover on Jonas Valanciunas. The latter two resulted in five points on the board for the Wolves and an early timeout for Pelicans head coach Willie Green.
You couldn’t have asked for a better start to the game. The defense was composed, but one thing that could’ve been improved upon was the Pelicans getting the step when heading to the rim.
On the other end, the Timberwolves waged a varied offensive onslaught in the first, relying on a combination of pick-and-roll plays, as well as face-ups, which favored Edwards and Gobert. Russell gave Wolves fans a fleeting headache when he marched up the floor and went from a drive, to a post up, to a pick-and-roll all in one possession. No other teammate touched the ball, before he hoisted up a bad shot that missed everything.
Save lambasting Russell for one ill-advised play, he was otherwise poised in the half-court sets that Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch called, and was finding effective ways to score.
As expected, Williamson was the major defensive focus for Minnesota, and they played up high off of the catch on most defensive possessions. CJ McCollum was met with hard showing from Gobert and Naz Reid out of screens, and Minnesota did a good job of running the Pelicans off the 3-point line, allowing only 11 attempts at the break.
Jaden McDaniels was a menace on the offensive glass in the first half, collecting three second chance opportunities — more than the rest of his team combined. Naz Reid complemented McDaniels’ hard nosed play with 13 points on 5-7 shooting from the field. Reid further added to his rock solid case for a major payday in the offseason by showcasing versatility, hitting 3-pointers, taking defenders off the dribble, and contributing to a healthy flow of the offense.
Particularly in the second quarter, Jose Alvarado got comfortable driving in the lane, and absorbing contact in attempts to finish contorted shots. While he squeezed out an and-one in his first attempt, he quickly got cold thereafter.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, there was no answer for Williamson throughout the match. He and Edwards took turns jousting, getting big and asserting their man-child frames on opposing defenders. But Zion made sure to stand out.
He found such a wealth of success going downhill and finishing with craftiness at the rim, that coach Green opted to have him bring the ball down as the third quarter ensued. Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch had no answer for the Duke product. Doubles came, but they also went, and if it wasn’t McDaniels on Zion, it was Reid, and what one lacked in girth and strength, the other lacked in foot speed.
Throughout the night, Zion walked that walk, and he most definitely talked that talk as well, informing his defenders that they were no match for him. No matter, for Minnesota maintained a single digit lead, thwarting off the heroics of one Mr. Williamson for the time being.
Ultimately as the lights shone the brightest, the baton was passed from Williamson to McCollum, who put his stamp on a valiant fourth quarter comeback. CJ was rising up from distance, and making plays. He dished a beautiful assist to Jaxson Hayes, who connected on an impressive catch-and-shoot triple.
Unrelenting, Jaylen Nowell is to be commended for his play in crunch time. Most redeemably, he played smart, made good decisions, and didn't take the air out of the ball. He made timely shots for the Wolves and gave his star teammates much needed help.
Nowell was everywhere late. Most notably, he hit a euro step layup that maintained the lead with just north of three minutes to go in regulation, and a key pull up jumper that was smooth as silk.
But Williamson put an exclamation mark on a night to remember with ten consecutive points inside of three minutes — among which a wide open 3, a floater that tied the ball game, a scoop layup, and a breakaway dunk to give the Pels a lead they would turn into the win.
Albeit a loss, there are a select amount of positives that can be drawn from last night’s battle with the Pelicans. When looking at the face value stats, six Timberwolves scored in double figures. They excelled with 58 points in the paint, and shot over 50 percent from the floor for the game.
There are just some nights when generational talents take over, and that just so happened to be the case in this one. Zion Williamson erupted for a career-high 43 points on 67 percent shooting from the field, and the Pelicans as a team dominated from beyond the arc, and in transition.
The Timberwolves won’t have much time to rest on their laurels, or woes at that, as they are slated to take on the Milwaukee Bucks Friday night at 7 PM CT.
Milwaukee is reeling, having dropped four straight. They’ve since been usurped by the red-hot Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference standings, and may be salivating at breaking their dry spell against an equally struggling Minnesota team. Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday are both expected to be sidelined until Dec. 30 at the earliest according to CBS Sports, leaving Giannis Antetokounmpo on an island to fend off the Timberwolves’ attack.
Meanwhile, the Wolves will be forced to fend for themselves without Karl-Anthony Towns, and a host of reserves including Kyle Anderson, Jordan McLaughlin and Taurean Prince, all battling injuries.