The Minnesota Timberwolves returned home to Target Center on Monday night following a grueling five-game Western Conference road trip that included a fight, a scheduled loss, clutch fourth quarter heroics from Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards, and, most importantly, four wins that vaulted the Wolves to the top of the conference standings at 9-3.
On the other side, the New York Knicks came into Downtown Minneapolis winners in six of their last seven contests, looking to push their win streak to four as hoped to put a ribbon on a five-game road trip of their own.
Wolves Head Coach Chris Finch spoke pregame about the necessity for his team to bring intensity early against a quick-starting Knicks squad (seventh in first quarter net rating at +10.7). Minnesota played through Towns on the offensive end while also crowding the paint for New York drivers to accomplish that.
Towns, coming off a nine-assist, zero-turnover game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday, made a point to try and involve Rudy Gobert right away. After a turnover on a post entry, KAT found Gobert on a baseline dump-off for an easy bucket before making a nice extra pass for a wide open Mike Conley corner 3.
Defensively, Minnesota packed the paint to show length to and make things difficult for key New York drivers in Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett. That became especially important after Jaden McDaniels went for a rebound and came down on a player’s foot, badly turning his right ankle. He left at the 7:30 mark and was promptly ruled out with a right ankle sprain. Like he did to start the year, Nickeil Alexander-Walker replaced him. But unlike the first part of the season NAW buried a pair of corner 3s and looked confident offensively in important minutes.
The Knicks responded to that defense by taking it outside, they shot 4/11 (36.4%) collectively in the opening frame, led by two from Barrett.
To close the quarter, Minnesota relied upon the mountainous Kyle Anderson/Naz Reid/Towns trio to play inside against a New York lineup of four guards around Isaiah Hartenstein. The team went back to the Towns well and he paid it off; KAT made good, quick decisions while facing double teams, including a beautiful play by Shake Milton to create the second of Alexander-Walker’s 3-pointers:
Nickeil Alexander-Walker corner 3, created by Karl-Anthony Towns + Shake Milton pic.twitter.com/u6gOD3Fy70— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) November 21, 2023
Minnesota led by three, 31-28, after the first quarter.
The Wolves carried their high energy level into the second quarter, where they thrived in transition. Led by a Milton and Anderson duo, Minnesota did a great job pushing the pace off of stops, which led to easy baskets, good offense early in the shot clock, and the best highlights of the night:
THIS SEQUENCE >>>>> pic.twitter.com/siseXA8dR3— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) November 21, 2023
THE TOWER OF POWER pic.twitter.com/W9Tp03lCjF— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) November 21, 2023
The early second quarter minutes were some of the best of the year for Milton, who added a pair of scores and three assists in his 7:45 of action.
New York kept hanging around, though, because Minnesota had ill-timed turnovers over when they got into the half-court and couldn’t close out possessions with rebounds. As our Tyler Metcalf wrote about in the preview for this game, the Knicks entered as one of the top offensive rebounding squads. Minnesota struggled to contain Mitchell Robinson, who was incredible active on the glass in creating opportunities for guards to crash and generate second chances. New York corralled six offensive rebounds in the quarter alone, which helped them win the quarter 28-27 despite shooting 10/28 (35.7%) from the floor.
Randle took advantage of the non-Towns minutes and scored nine points efficiently, while Immanuel Quickley added a pair of scores and a pair of free throws off the bench to buoy the New York offense. Seven Knicks scored in the period, largely because of how they shared it in transition, which was a surprisingly important part of this half (Minnesota won 15-14 on the break).
But a key storyline in this second quarter was how passive Edwards was. He took three shots (two 3-pointers) and didn’t even try to get down hill into the paint to score or create for others. As a result, The Wolves struggled to score in the half-court, which was why their lead wasn’t any bigger than two, 58-56, at the break.
Edwards’ passive nature was certainly part of the message in the halftime locker room. The All-Star came out more aggressive and more determined, scoring more points in the first 1:37 of game time (six) than he had in the entire first half (four), by way of downhill scoring.
Ant makes it look easy. pic.twitter.com/nheZ2QbwVv— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) November 21, 2023
Towns added a trailing 3-pointer atop the key, and it was a 9-0 Wolves run out of the break to give them an 11-point lead at the 10:23 mark of the third. From there, the Timberwolves executed in the half-court at a completely different level from the first half.
Minnesota played off the catch and shared the ball exceptionally well, which moved the New York defense around and created open shots left and right, especially from beyond the arc and at the rim. The Wolves in the quarter shot 5/8 from deep, with each make coming from a different player, and 5/11 in the paint, while getting to the free throw line five times as well.
Alexander-Walker was particularly good at attacking close-outs and running the baseline to get the ball to the opposite corner and into the paint. NAW in the period dropped three dimes, all for scores at the rim, including two key scores for Edwards that helped the young star in a rhythm after a poor first half.
Timberwolves Head Coach Finch decided to keep Alexander-Walker in his backup point guard role, while inserting Troy Brown Jr. to replace McDaniels’ minutes at the 3, which was an underrated subplot to the great spacing and ball movement. Brown Jr. made a triple late in the quarter and played solid defense, especially off the ball following cutters and defending screens actions.
The Wolves paired their efficient offense with tremendous half-court defense. Minnesota held the Knicks to 19 points on 6/22 shooting (4/12 on 2s, 2/10 on 3s), and swarmed the paint to try to help rebound. While the Timberwolves still surrendered six offensive rebounds, the Knicks were far less productive on those second chances than they were in the first half. Gobert was tremendous in his effort on the defensive glass, making things very difficult for Robinson and Randle to earn put-backs and second chances for the rest of the team.
Rudy Gobert is deservedly getting a huge roar and "RU-DY, RU-DY" chants for his work boxing out Mitchell Robinson on the glass.— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) November 21, 2023
He draws a foul there getting Robinson on his back, leading to a Thibs timeout and challenge.
78-65 Wolves at the 5:43 mark of the 3Q.
Brunson, Randle and Barrett all scored three point on 1/3 shooting or worse, and the Timberwolves did a tremendous job forcing them to take perimeter jumpers instead of getting into the paint.
Minnesota rode a 13/24 (54%) shooting quarter to a 35-19 frame that broke the game wide open, with the Wolves leading 93-75 after three.
The Timberwolves didn’t have to sweat much in the fourth, as the game never got any closer than 12 points. It wouldn’t have even gotten that close if it wasn’t for a foul fest that prolonged the inevitable for far too long. Edwards and Towns added another eight points apiece to help get it to the finish line, 117-100.
All in all, it was a very impressive bullying from the Wolves, who move to 10-3 and remain in first place in the Western Conference standings. Towns, Gobert and Reid were all competitive in the paint, while Edwards and Anderson collectively took advantage of smaller defenders all night long. This play from KAT just about sums it up.
This is the meanest thing KAT has ever done... BULLYING! pic.twitter.com/JAWlGBZyac— CJ Fogler account may or may not be notable (@cjzero) November 21, 2023
Edwards finished with a team-high 23 points on 9/21 shooting, while Towns added 20 points, five boards, four assists and five stocks, and six Wolves scored in double figures, as Minnesota out-assisted New York 30-16.
And on the other end, Minnesota held an opponent to below 40% shooting from the floor and 30% from deep yet again, while not compounding mistakes and holding New York to 14 second chance points off of 17 offensive rebounds.
Another stellar defensive effort.— Alan Horton (@WolvesRadio) November 21, 2023
Wolves held the Knicks to...
100 PTS | 34.8% FG | 23.7% 3PT
It's the 6th time this season MIN has held an Opp < 40% FG% & < 30% 3PT%.
No other team has done more that more than twice.
12 teams have yet to do it. pic.twitter.com/dzqaEgx3OX
As if we needed another example, this Wolves defense is as good as there is in the NBA, but it will certainly take a hit without McDaniels. Being ruled out within minutes is never a good sign, and neither is losing your top defender with Tyrese Maxey and De’Aaron Fox coming to town this week. But the Timberwolves are deeper now than they were a year ago, so making up for that loss shouldn’t be the task it once was. Not to mention, winning 10 of your first 13 games while nearly 100% healthy makes a few losses in McDaniels’ absence more palatable.
This story will be updated throughout the night following player and coach media availability.
A Very Well-Timed Great Bench Game
From the moment Alexander-Walker entered the game in the first quarter, he was ready to roll. He drained a catch-and-shoot corner 3-pointer just 12 seconds into his opening stint and let everything flow from there. NAW provided his usually excellent defensive effort, but his confident, opportunistic scoring is what makes him from a useful bench player to a two-way weapon that makes the game easier for his teammates on both ends. He scored 11 points on 4/8 shooting and dished out three dimes, too.
“Mentally I was ready and prepared. (My) teammates are going to give me confidence, knowing that Finch trusts me to replace Jaden and the things that Jaden does for this team, the caliber and the contract he just signed for,” Alexander-Walker said postgame. “It gives me confidence to know that i can come in and be the next man up to do that job.”
Finch not only shouted out his bench stopper for his “hounding” perimeter defense, but also for that offensive punch NAW provided when comparing it to Alexander-Walker’s play a season ago.
“I think more patience. He’s playing hard. He’s definitely pushing the pace, he’s putting his stamp on things. But he’s not forcing stuff,” Finch said, comparing Alexander-Walker’s desire to turn one good play into another to Ant’s. “Start of the season, he wasn’t knocking them down, and now he’s more confident in his shot and he’s got a lot of really good looks out there.”
When NAW is confident in his shot, it unlocks more of his pump-and-go game from the corners, which enables him to run the baseline and create corner kicks that get the defense in rotation. Add that into Nickeil’s regular hustle plays like this, and you have yourself quite the eighth man.
NAW's puttin' in WORK. pic.twitter.com/gCjwvWNNkf— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) November 21, 2023
Finch said that moments like these are what you need a deep team for. Beyond Alexander-Walker — and the always reliable Anderson and Reid — Milton and Brown Jr. provided important minutes to give the Wolves a shot in the arm they haven’t had all season.
Milton did a great job playing in transition, while Brown Jr. was highly competitive on the defensive end and played well on the second side as a ball mover and spacer.
“I think he’s definitely comfortable in an open floor,” Finch said of Milton. “Yeah, I think he can get to his spots that way, and we want him to be able to be aggressive early. And when he gets into the paint, he’s a really good decision-maker and he’s got that nice touch.”
The pair scored 11 points and added 10 rebounds and six assists among them, which was valuable on a night that the starters weren’t scoring as well as they have in recent games.
Now, the task shifts to continuing this style of play as the Wolves are set to face arguably the two quickest guards in the league in Maxey and Fox, who will give Minnesota all they can handle later this week. But if the bench can put up 43 points and extend leads when the starting unit has an off-night offensively, they can surely help if those two stars get theirs.
Rudy Gobert Appreciation Night
Remember when Jarred Vanderbilt earned his ‘V8’ nickname with all of his chaos-raising effort plays that helped define the culture of the 2021-22 squad? Gobert serves a role similar to that this season, but instead of the hustle plays that sent Vando flying, Rudy is doing all the little things that we gloss over in the flow of a game.
Boxing out a capital P Pest in Mitchell Robinson on the offensive glass.
Fighting to make defensive rebounds tougher so the Wolves’ wings can crash.
Setting highly productive screens unique to the tendencies of the ball-handler.
Keeping players out of the paint simply with his presence.
Throwing down lob dunks on the roll.
“Rudy was awesome. Again, you know, just kind of controlling the paint. Just from a deterrence point of view, they really want to go in there when he was there or commit to the rim,” Finch said. “Then he really put his body on the line and against Robinson. Robinson had five offensive rebounds in the first (half), two in the second, so all credit to Rudy. Another really strong performance.”
Gobert did it all on Monday, which drew multiple standing ovations and chants of “RU-DY, RU-DY, RU-DY” from the home crowd.
The three-time All-Star appreciated that love.
“It was cool. It’s always good to get a little love. I try to be the best Rudy I can be, and I’m going to keep doing so,” Gobert said. “But it’s cool to see that the fans appreciate the effort that I bring. I try to give 200 percent every night. ... So I appreciate that.”
Finch has been outspoken in his appreciation of (and campaigning for) what Gobert brings to the Wolves, especially because so much of how Rudy impacts the game can go unnoticed by most fans. He repeated that after the game.
“The building has been great all year. I’m really pleased that our fans are enjoying Rudy’s play this year. He’s been playing at All-Defensive Team performance, you know, just doing everything, all the dirty work as well,” Finch added. “And I think it’s really resonating with the crowd, and I’m really pretty proud of that.”
The Wolves will once again host a game the night before Thanksgiving, this time welcoming
probably not Joel Embiid since it’ll be the second night of a back-to-back Tyrese Maxey and the Philadelphia 76ers. Fans can watch the 7 PM CT tip on Bally Sports North.