The Minnesota Timberwolves returned to stateside preseason action on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Knicks after two opening wins in Abu Dhabi over the Dallas Mavericks last week.
Despite a pair of games and plenty of practice time under their belt, Minnesota opened very sluggishly, allowing the Knicks to jump in front 11-2 as a result of a couple RJ Barrett and-1s and an inability to knock down open 3-point looks. The Timberwolves’ offense then settled in by running several Mike Conley/Rudy Gobert pick-and-rolls, which generated clean looks and an off-script flow that unlocked better ball movement.
New York responded by continuing to attack the paint and swarm the ball defensively. The Knicks drew eight shooting fouls and out-scored the Wolves 10-0 on the fast break in the opening quarter, resulting to a 30-28 lead after 12 minutes.
Naz Reid wasted no time making his imprint on the game after stepping onto the floor to start the second quarter by drawing a shooting foul and then knocking down a three (!) 3-pointers in the first three minutes of the frame to give the Wolves their first lead of the game at 35-34. He’d go on to add a fourth a couple minutes later.
Naz letting it FLY. pic.twitter.com/T9AagHjjJL— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) October 15, 2023
While Reid shared the front-court with Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota shared the ball extremely well and consistently created efficient shot opportunities, but also struggled to contain defensively. Knicks sharpshooter Evan Fournier added 10 points of his own at the tail end of Reid’s explosion to rebuild a New York lead.
After Reid checked out, Kyle Anderson and Anthony Edwards took their games to another level, scoring the final nine points of the half. Edwards was up-and-down all half, missing wide open 3s, but attacking the rim hard, and making highlight plays before leading by a personal 7-0 sprint to halftime from Edwards to give Minnesota a 57-54 lead at the break.
ANTHONY. EDWARDS. pic.twitter.com/ztc4hAnsTM— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) October 15, 2023
Towns then set the tone and came out of the third quarter firing, atoning for a quiet seven points in the first 24 minutes with seven quick ones in the opening 1:36 of the half by way of a free throw and two 3-pointers that ballooned the Wolves’ lead to eight.
The Knicks fought back by playing through Barrett as a driver. He was fantastic at relocating and spotting up after finishing drives that got the ball moving, and continued to draw fouls in the paint that slowed the game down and disrupted the Wolves’ offensive rhythm.
Minnesota’s offense struggled while Towns and Gobert shared the floor in the first stint, but came back to life when Reid, Anderson and Shake Milton re-entered midway through the frame. Slow-Mo was phenomenal in organizing things in the half-court and generally making decisions on when to look to score versus look to create for others, while Reid and Milton filled in behind him as scorers and ball movers that added to the rhythm of the offense. All three delivered important, pressure releasing buckets to help Minnesota maintain momentum entering the fourth quarter tied at 84.
From there, a unit headed by Jordan McLaughlin, Milton, Troy Brown Jr., Anderson and Reid delivered a lightning quick 9-0 run (eventually 13-0 after substitutions) to put the game out of reach for a Knicks deep bench unit that evidently hadn’t played much together. The Wolves young players almost gave it back, but made enough plays to eventually get the win to the finish line, 121-112.
Reid led the way with 22 points on 8/12 shooting, while Towns and Edwards each scored 17 points on a sub-50% shooting.
FINAL: Wolves 121, Knicks 112— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) October 15, 2023
MIN's 13-0 run to start the 4Q is the difference
Ant/KAT: 17 pts each
Naz: 22 pts on 8/12 FG
Milton: 12 pts, 6 ast
Slow-Mo: 6 pts, 8 ast
• Lost 26-5 in FB pts
• 20/48 3PT (41.7%)
• Lost 30-15 in FTAs
• 10 OREB -> 21 SC pts pic.twitter.com/gBHgiJnFW4
Let’s get into the biggest takeaways.
A Wrecking Ball Bench Unit Steps Up
We all knew entering the season that the Timberwolves bench was loaded on paper, but seeing it thrive in live game action was a treat on Saturday night. Naz Reid, Kyle Anderson and Shake Milton are going to be a three-headed monster that second units really struggle to slow down given how complementary their skillsets and play styles are.
- Reid: 22 points on 8/12 shooting (5/8 3PT)
- Anderson: 6 points on 3/3 shooting, 8 assists, 0 turnovers, 3 rebounds
- Milton: 12 points on 5/8 shooting, 6 assists, 0 turnovers, 2 rebounds
All in all, the trio delivered 40 points on 16/23 shooting, 15 assists and just one turnover in a collective 60 minutes played. It’s hard to ask for more production or better efficiency from a group that will only get better as the game goes on.
Reid obviously shot the lights out from three with his four 3-pointers to open the second quarter, but he looks so much more comfortable operating as a 4 alongside either Towns or Gobert than he did last year. Not to mention that when he switches back to the 5, destroying the rim and mismatch hunting are still the only two things on his mind.
Anderson mixed timely scoring with connective passing much better in this one than he did in either of the team’s first two preseason outings. Guards got off the ball early by finding him in the middle of the floor, where he put the defense in a bind all night long. Whether it was stepping up and faking a floater before kicking it out to a shooter, collapsing the defense on the drive, or diving in the pick-and-roll game, seemingly every decision he made was the correct one; when he’s rolling, there aren’t many Wolves who breathe more confidence and rhythm into the offense.
Milton continued to shine in a dual on-ball, off-ball guard role off the bench. Just watch his buckets from tonight, clipped below. He can score it in a variety of ways and never forces it.
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More impressively, Milton fit seamlessly alongside all three of Gobert, Towns and Reid, mostly because he doesn’t need to change the way he plays. As a lead guard, he gets off the ball early and is efficient in pick-and-roll both as a scorer and distributor. When he shifts off of it, he is as good as bench producers get as an off-the-catch player; his spot-up 3-point shooting is consistently good, and he’s not afraid to put it on the deck before making the right play, either. This play to get Reid his third consecutive make stood out as an incredibly smart decision to give up a good shot for a great one, taken by the hottest shooter on the floor.
It was also great to see Jordan McLaughlin put on a vintage J-Mac performance in the fourth quarter. He flew around at full speed setting up his teammates in the half-court, played competitive and chaos-creating defense, and even connected on two of his four attempts from beyond the arc, which has been a pain point for him throughout his career.
These types of impactful sequences are why J-Mac will always earn opportunities to play. It spurred a 13-0 run to open the 4Q that the Wolves rode to the finish line.
The Timberwolves will come home to Target Center for their lone home game of the preseason to take on Israeli team Ra’anana Maccabi Ra’anana on Tuesday at 7 PM. It will also be the first game called by TV battery Michael Grady and Jim Petersen on Bally Sports North, who will also carry the final preseason game on Thursday against the Chicago Bulls.