The last time the Minnesota Timberwolves faced off against a familiar face in Jimmy Butler, a skirmish between him and 20 year old Anthony Edwards broke out in an eventual Wolves win. That was November 21, 2021.
On December 18, 2023, Minnesota matched its biggest comeback win of the season.
Jimmy Butler and Anthony Edwards getting chippy pic.twitter.com/ai5Jrg505W— Fanatics Sportsbook | PB (@fanaticsbook_pb) November 25, 2021
A finally-healthy Miami Heat squad saw Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo play in their first games back from injury. Yet, ironically, the end game result from 2021 ended up being the same in 2023. Similar to that evening, Edwards, on the back of 32 points, ended up having the last laugh on Monday night.
Anthony Edwards Jordan-esque fadeaway midrange jumper, wow pic.twitter.com/zuG1UfS0s1— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) December 19, 2023
But in a matchup of playoff teams, and a game that gave the Wolves three straight wins, they came out once again with an unserious first quarter performance that bled into the second. It culminated in being down by as many as 17 points at one point. But just as the formula has been recently, the comeback was on.
First Half Woes Continue
Following suit from the previous three games, the Wolves fell behind in sizable fashion out of the gate, specifically in the first quarter.
The Wolves spent most of the time defensively feeling the Heat out. Rudy Gobert again was getting drawn out of the paint due to Bam Adebayo’s perennial threat from mid range. The paint softened up, and Miami found easy ways to get points on the board.
“I didn’t like us in the first half, we were soft,” Head Coach Chris Finch said afterwards. “We looked confused.”
Tyler Herro in his first game back:— Playbook Sports (@PlaybookSN) December 19, 2023
The rationale on the defensive end is understandable, especially against a team that hasn’t played with each other for awhile. Offensively, it was a completely different story.
Minnesota refused to take care of the ball, and the starting five had a hard time solving Miami’s zone. The spread pick and roll skip passes were attempted a few too many times, and it resulted in 7 first quarter turnovers (more than half of their game total of 13), and just 22 first quarter points. They trailed by 11 at the end of it, which was their largest deficit coming out of a first quarter this season.
Slow starts like this have not yet killed the Wolves this season, but are bound to at some point against a good team like Miami.
But Monday was not one of those nights, and it was a true team effort that spurred the comeback in a hostile environment. Contrary to to the main theme from this season, big performances from the bench and role players that both did, and didn’t always show up in the box score was the x-factor in pulling it out.
On a Role
Anthony Edwards’ 32 points look great. Karl-Anthony Towns 18 points are also pretty fun to look at. But Minnesota does not win this game without the collective effort of Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Mike Conley, and Kyle Anderson.
Anderson specifically finished with just five points and five assists. Perhaps not the most beautiful box score of all time, but he was absolutely instrumental in slowing things down offensively and helping find the holes in Miami’s zone with his playmaking from the nail. He was also massive in his paint defense and helping out Gobert down low.
Miami scoring in the paint by half— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) December 19, 2023
• 36 PTS on 18/26 FG (69%)
• 18 PTS on 9/24 FG (37.5%)
Give a ton of credit to Rudy Gobert, Kyle Anderson and Co. for a hell of an effort after HT
Conley and Alexander-Walker played big roles in converting passes into assists in big spots down the stretch. Conley finished the game with 12 points and 6 assists, with the Timberwolves needing everything single one of both. His efficiency in the fourth quarter was incredibly important, as he knocked down two of his three fourth quarter three point attempts, including perhaps the biggest shot of the game in swinging the momentum.
Mike Conley transition pull-up 3 to take the lead pic.twitter.com/w4KKKhw2XG— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) December 19, 2023
Minnesota turned the ball over just two times in the second half. The ball finding Conley’s hands was a big part of that.
Alexander-Walker posted 5 of his 8 points in the 4th quarter. He hit a massive three pointer down the stretch, and was instrumental in chasing Jimmy Butler around screens and making his existence uncomfortable around the basket. Butler finished the evening 4-9 from inside the arc, and posted just 15 points.
The effort was truly from top to bottom. It’s hard to emphasize properly how much of a big boy win this was. Going into opponent territory and coming back from 17 down to pull it out against a full strength, bona-fide playoff team is incredibly impressive.
But this stretch of this schedule is a gauntlet, and another challenge awaits them just a few states north on Wednesday night.
The Wolves will head to the City of Brotherly Love and look to make if four straight wins against the Philadelphia 76ers. Wednesday will mark the two teams’ second meeting of the season. The first time the two teams met, Joel Embiid was ruled out off of a back to back, and Tyrese Maxey carried the offensive load en route to the Wolves blowing Philly out.
That doesn’t look to be the same scenario this time around, as a red-hot Embiid is expected to play.
Fans can catch the 6 PM CT tip on Bally Sports North or NBA TV.