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Wolves 124, Pistons 117: Sleepwalking to a Victory

Minnesota exorcizes their demon from last season with a relatively easy, but unimpressive, victory in Detroit.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

On December 30th, New York made a trade with Toronto. That same day, the Pistons faced the short-handed Raptors and won.

On January 14th, Detroit made a trade with Washington. The next day, the Pistons faced the short-handed Wizards and won.

On January 16th, Tim Connelly astutely did not make a trade leading up the game.

The Minnesota Timberwolves entered this game with a bone to pick. They notoriously struggled against the league’s bottom-feeders last season, including two double-digit losses to the league-worst Detroit Pistons. Would Minnesota once again follow that trend?

The Start Ant’s Thunder Dunk Not Enough

If you’ve seen any highlights pop up on your social media feeds, it’s likely you already saw this lightning bolt that Anthony Edwards (27/5/8; 3 TOV) threw down in downtown Detroit.

Unfortunately, that did not appear to do enough to wake up his team’s defense. Sure, the Wolves got mostly whatever they want on offense, peppering the Pistons inside. They easily scored 33 of their 39 first quarter points in the paint or at the free throw line. However, Detroit seemed scored even easier, delivering a massive 40-point quarter from all different sources. Medium Player Explosion (MPE) candidates Bojan Bogdanović (20/5/3) and Alec Burks (12/1/1) led nine — NINE — different Pistons who all scored in opening period. The home team cruised along with a very nice 69% mark from the field. To make things even more tense for the visitors, Edwards earned his seventh technical (third in the league) by, you guessed it, clapping his hands at the refs after scoring a difficult reverse layup.

You could collectively feel Wolves fans around the world begin to tighten up as Detroit held a one point lead heading into the second quarter.

The Meat Sleeping Walking Wolves

Would Chris Finch light into his team enough to get them to play some semblance of defense? It sure seemed liked it. It was a bit of a continued lull to start the period, as Mike Conley (8/3/7; +20) was really struggling to guard the younger, fresher legs out there. However, the Pistons were bound to slow down after their blistering start. In a blink of an eye, Minnesota ripped open a double-digit lead thanks to limiting their opponent to a 38.5% shooting quarter.

Offensively, Karl-Anthony Towns (27/6/4; 5/5 3P) continued to score with relative ease, but it was Jaden McDaniels (23/1/2) who chipped in a strong 10-point quarter with a number of gorgeous dribble pull-up triples.

Just when it looked like Minnesota was finally rolling out of bed, they decided to hit the snooze button again. They saw a brief 11-point Wolves lead, took one big yawn, and cuddled back into bed. Edwards and Towns, in particular, appeared to get into a sort of pissing contest where they took turns playing selfish isolation basketball. This gave the Pistons the chance they needed to slowly whittle the deficit down to just three points with 2:16 left in the quarter. A pair of timely paint makes by Nickeil Alexander-Walker (7/0/1), who had an excellent game on both ends, helped Minnesota maintain the same eight-point lead they had entering the second half with. Things felt ominous though, as they were only able to keep that lead due to 10 more field goal attempts.

The Finish Leave it to the Vets

There’s been more moments than I can remember this year where a certain unit full of veterans have come in and polished things up. Whether it’s regaining control of a game, building a lead, or whatever is necessary. A line of Conley, Alexander-Walker, Kyle Anderson, Naz Reid, and Gobert did exactly that.

They embarked on an immediate 8-0 run which helped the lead swell up to as much as 17. The professionalism and confidence that the vets brought swiftly put the game away. Just when it looked like we would see the main rotation get some early rest, Finch gave the starters one more chance to wake up. Jaden Ivey (32/4/6), who tied his career-high in points, hit shot after shot, but Edwards and Towns once again hit the snooze button. They failed to get any rhythm going and despite some of their final box numbers looking great, they allowed the Pistons to inch as close as six points with 3:56 remaining. It was actually McDaniels who made some of the biggest plays to close things out.

Sure, would it have been nice for the Wolves to staunchly extinguish the worst team in the league earlier with the several opportunities they had. Resting the rotation before a back-to-back is always ideal. But what’s most important are the wins and losses and at the end of the night. They accomplished what mattered against a team that has surprisingly had their number.

With this victory, Minnesota now holds the all-time record over Detroit, 34-33.

Finally.

Game Highlights

Lead Tracker

NBA Courtside

Canis Hoopus Comment of the Night

mnem recognizes the best shooting big of all-time

What’s Next

The Wolves pack their bags and return home to finish their back-to-back versus the injury-riddled Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday, 1/18 at 9:00pm CT. The late-tip is due to the fact that they will be the second part of a TNT double-header. The last time these two team’s met, there was plenty of talk in the Memphis locker room about “not letting them punk us.”