Chris Finch’s Minnesota Timberwolves are the latest NBA team to go through a COVID outbreak. Recently, the Wolves had as many as eight players at once on the health and safety protocols list. What they’ve been able to muster during the chaos has already shown they can stay afloat during impossible times.
On Monday night, the Wolves welcomed in the Boston Celtics. Finch’s starting five was Jaden McDaniels, Nathan Knight, Josh Okogie, Malik Beasley, and Jordan McLaughlin. That’s correct; all five starters for Minnesota were out. There would be no judgment if Boston had come in and boat-raced an undermanned Timberwolves squad trying to solve a nearly impossible puzzle. Instead, Minnesota came out in the second half after finding itself in an 11-point hole at the break and rallied to win 108-103. The night’s hero was Jaylen Nowell, who poured in 29 points on 6 of 9 shooting from downtown.
This game was more than just a typical win for the Wolves.
Beating Boston while missing all five starters proved that the Timberwolves can get it done in the most unlikely of circumstances. COVID outbreaks have beaten many teams to the ground. But not many, if any, have gotten to the point of missing all five starting players. Minnesota was able to shrug it off and beat a Celtics team that’s been hovering around .500 all year. Thriving in chaos is a box the Wolves can now check off.
The Wolves signed Greg Monroe to a 10-day contract due to their roster shortage, and his path to get to Target Center on Monday night was a wild one.
But Monroe turned his chaotic situation into a fruitful one. He won over many fans glued to the game in his Timberwolves debut, finishing plus-13 in those 25 minutes he played off the bench. Afterward, he noted not even knowing all of his teammates before the opening tip.
“I’m not gonna lie, Jaylen Nowell played awesome. I didn’t know who he was. But you know, everybody else…there’s one more person (he didn’t know) I won’t say who it is….but man, Nowell, hell of a game.”
The career-high 29 points for Nowell didn’t seem to surprise him. He was one of many to get ample opportunity given the nature of the roster, and he grabbed ahold.
“I’m a very confident person. Not a talker, so you guys won’t really know, I’m not going to say it to your face, but when I get out there, the confidence is always going to be there,” Nowell said. “I do feel like I’m that (go-to) player, but we also have great guys around us. So at the end of the day, it really has nothing to do with me. It has something to do with every player, top to bottom.”
Go figure that after a grind-it-out win with a shredded roster that the Wolves would be playing on back-to-back nights. No break, no time to enjoy the win over Boston even a little bit. The schedule got the last laugh in this instance.
On Tuesday, Minnesota came up eight points short against the New York Knicks. Expecting another win stacked on top of Monday might’ve been a tad too greedy given how thin the roster is and that they were once again without their three best players.
While Minnesota wasn’t sluggish against New York, the Wolves did give up 15 offensive rebounds to the Knicks. And at one point, they trailed by 17 points. They continued to churn away, and the game hung in the balance up until the last two minutes of the fourth quarter.
The good news is that some reinforcements were back on the court — most notably Patrick Beverley. Anthony Edwards has cleared protocols but was not in action while D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns remain out. There’s constant shifting and a lot to keep tabs on as all leagues, including the NBA, continue to try and hang on for dear life amid a significant uptick in positive tests.
The first thought for many was likely “oh no,” as players started producing negative tests on Dec. 18. Instead of caving in and sinking, they started this week with an eye-opening win against the Celtics.
It may not seem like much. But if the Wolves were to find themselves in this stage again, they know now even without the starting five, they have a puncher’s chance at minimum. That confidence of knowing what can be accomplished even without their best can go a long way.