I watched Karl-Anthony Towns‘ post-game interview last night and I came away absolutely amazed by his ability to perform under the most difficult circumstances. The Minnesota Timberwolves opened their 2020-21 season with a win over the Blake Griffin-led Detroit Pistons. The game was far from a masterpiece. We weren’t witnessing anything along the lines of Van Gogh’s Starry Night or Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, although, at times, it did feel more like my man Eddie Munch’s The Scream. That transition defense had me wanting to cover my eyes on more than one occasion. And the half-court defense wasn’t much better as the Pistons splashed wide-open three after uncontested three.
Blake Griffin seemed to score with relative ease on the block. Although I think Josh Okogie deserves major props for making things as tough as possible on the big man who is six inches taller and outweighed JO by 30 pounds. It didn’t help that KAT picked up two early offensive fouls and DLo would get off to a slow start, which I’m guessing wasn’t aided by being benched for violating pre-game COVID protocol — whatever that means. But it’s something to keep an eye on as this team will go as far as KAT and DLo will commit to carrying them. And after all, this is a piece on the value of the intangibles inside of leadership.
If Russell becomes a regular distraction, then the ship and all of our Timberwolves’ dreams will most certainly sink. But I witnessed something quite antithetical to that once Russell finally entered the game to replace Ricky Rubio. The Wolves are lucky to have a back-up point guard of the caliber of Rubio, who was an excellent draft day pick-up. Ricky has a sterling reputation as a floor general, but he was largely ineffective early on and thus the squad was a disorganized mess and down double-digits before they knew it. DLo came into the game without any apparent lingering issues with his head coach and rallied the Wolves to within a point at halftime. We had a game.
We had the size and brute strength of the Pistons against Ryan Saunders’ zone defense and multiple guard line-ups on offense. The Timberwolves would once again fall behind by double-digits but would fight back to take the lead at just over the three-minute mark on a three-pointer by Towns. There would be another minute of back and forth between the teams before back-to-back three-pointers by DLo and Malik Beasley, which signaled the end for Detroit, who would go scoreless the remainder of the game.
The Wolves would win this hard-fought tilt with a combination of talent and grit. Each of their young leaders made consequential plays down the stretch on both ends of the court and showed a will to win when it mattered most. The Timberwolves made all of the crucial plays at winning time. The pairing of Okogie and Culver looks like it could give this team some perimeter toughness. The rookie is proving to be anything but intimidated by the big stage. In fact, he may have been the best player on the floor early on in this game. Ant would finish with an impressive 15 points in his NBA debut. Rubio would pair nicely with Beasley and Russell to close out the game in typical Rubio fashion by playmaking and being disruptive on the defensive end. For as good as Towns and DLo were, this was a complete team win — barring the less than stellar performances from Jake Layman and Juan Hernangomez.
This brings me back to KAT’s post-game interview with Marney Gellner. I’ve recently lost someone near and dear to me. It can be a load to bear. In less than a year, KAT has lost seven members of his family, and yet there he was, proclaiming that no matter what was going on in his personal life, he would always be there for his teammates.
Before the tip off the Timberwolves paid their respects to the legendary Sid Hartman, their beloved Tom Hanneman, and Towns’ mother, Jacqueline. One can only imagine the flood of emotions rushing through that man. But one thing seems rather obvious after just one game: This is no longer a one-man team. KAT’s teammates seem eager to be there to pick him up. And while it’s important to temper expectations for our squad because the West is a murderer’s row, this will make the Wolves’ immediate goals fairly modest.
I do, however, believe this team can squeak into the play-in tournament at the season’s end. If that indeed comes to fruition, it would result in a definitive commitment to leadership, and inside of that commitment, you will find all of the things that matter.
RIP Debbie Duncan