Mo Wagner found himself backpedaling into the basket with 4:56 left in the second quarter. He had recently come off the bench and was assigned by Orlando Magic coach Jamahl Mosley to guard a percolating Karl-Anthony Towns, and the position he found himself in a that time ended up being a giant mistake.
Contrary to Towns’ typical tendencies in driving to the basket, he rose off his left foot, brought the ball back behind his head, and glided towards the basket with malicious intentions. What ensued was an expedited burial of the caught-off-guard Wagner.
It was a pristine foreshadowing of the events that would follow for the next two and a half quarters. The 15-point lead that came from Towns’ jam would only grow as the night went on, as well as the physical tone that was set on both ends.
The writing was on the wall from the beginning. Towns and company jumped out to an 11-0 lead early in the first quarter, and he and his post counterpart were a massive reason why. They had no choice, as not only were the Magic without sizable starters Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr., but Anthony Edwards picked up his third foul in just 8 minutes of play.
It had to be a game where the Twin City Towers dominated, and they did.
Towns went on to score 23 of his 28 points in the first half, and Gobert solidified a first half double double (15 points, 10 rebounds), on his way to a final line of 21 points and 12 rebounds, two alley-oop posters, and a controlling of the entire floor defensively from the interior.
“I thought we were pretty big at the rim,” Head Coach Chris Finch said afterward. “I thought the first half we showed a great presence.”
Rudy Gobert one-handed lob dunk, assisted by Kyle Anderson pic.twitter.com/SJbrRwjD9H— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) January 10, 2024
The closest the game got was 11-8, the product of an 8-0 early Orlando run the first quarter to come back from being down 11-0. The run was also the beneficiary of four straight Minnesota turnovers, which probably gave fans tremors and flashbacks of how many recent games have gone.
Except Tuesday night didn’t end that way. Orlando never led, and the Wolves led by as many as 35.
Emerald City Lockup
Jaden McDaniels had been struggling mightily heading into Tuesday.
After putting up just two points on 1-10 shooting in Dallas on Sunday and failing to do much against Luka Dončić or Kyrie Irving defensively, it was time to officially be concerned about the ongoing stretch for the most essential perimeter defender on the team. A matchup with fellow Seattle native and Magic star Paolo Banchero awaited, and McDaniels answered the bell in every way with a near-flawless bounce-back performance.
“I thought Jaden was really, really good tonight on Banchero,” Finch said.
Finch pointed out that whoever ended up matching up on Banchero at any given time throughout the game did a great job at the point of attack and excelled in preventing the big, strong wing get downhill to the basket on free runs.
Most of the time, it was McDaniels.
He held Banchero to just 2-12 from the field early on in the game, and 8-22 when the final buzzer sounded, but Banchero did most of his work in the third quarter when McDaniels was on the bench.
Banchero typically gets his offense going at the rim by fighting through bodies and drawing contact, in a similar fashion to Anthony Edwards. Not only did McDaniels get physical at the point of attack, but what it forced Paolo to do was settle for outside shots. He’s normally able to hit them as a compliment to other aspects of his game, but it clearly made him uncomfortable on Tuesday that most of his offense was going to have to come from it.
Jaden McDaniels defense on Paolo Banchero pic.twitter.com/wv6824N7TQ— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) January 10, 2024
It’s often been said that McDaniels is often a barometer for ball movement in the offense. The coaching staff doesn’t call plays for him. A lot of his offense comes naturally through the flow of the game, and perhaps some of his recent struggles stemmed from that.
To pair with his near-flawless defensive game, he found himself once again on the other end. He finished the game with 15 points, and almost more importantly, shot 40% from three. He was also refreshingly active on the glass, grabbing nine rebounds, which tied his season high.
“I’m a big believer that when the ball moves, people shoot better, and that’s what you saw tonight,” Finch said. “It was good to see [shots] go in, but I think it was the result of guys wanting to make the next play for each other.”
It didn’t quite start out like that, either. Jaden missed his first two 3-pointers, and started out 2-5 from the field. It often feels like the gravity of his shots carry more in the offense. Sometimes, it’s a potential game-tying shot in Dallas. Other times, it’s the wide open corner three that can help bring his team back into the game. Especially in the second half, he started to look at little bit more like the player that so often his team lives and dies by.
For the second straight game, the scoreboard reflected that.
The Wolves will fly out of Orlando and move further up the coast for a back-to-back against the league-leading Boston Celtics on Wednesday. The C’s are coming off of a loss to the Indiana Pacers. My guess would be that they want to get back in the win column, and are on a day of rest.
“It’s a big game, great opportunity to test ourselves against a very good team,” Rudy Gobert told Lea B. Olsen after the game.
The last time the Wolves played a back-to-back against an elite team (the early-season Phoenix Suns), it wasn’t pretty. Can they avoid that this time around?