The Phoenix Suns rolled into town Monday night and were greeted by the first glimpse of Minnesota winter. The first snowfall of the year came this weekend. For the Minnesota Timberwolves, early signs suggest that they will likely be in for a long and arduous cold season. The Wolves are 4-9 after losing to the Suns, and the journey to contention in the Western Conference will be worse than your grandfather’s walk to school. It’ll be through three feet of snow and uphill both ways!
It may be wintertime in Minneapolis. But the Wolves and their fans brought the heat in Monday night’s 99-96 loss.
The Suns were the Western Conference champions last season and are a highly competitive and competent team. We saw that they consistently created open midrange opportunities for Devin Booker and Chris Paul down the stretch when the game was on the line. The way that Phoenix dissected Minnesota’s defense when it really mattered was a masterclass in clutch play. The end result may have been another loss for the enfeebled Timberwolves team in the middle of a 1-8 run over their last nine games. But the process was encouraging.
In a notable tone shift, Chris Finch and Karl-Anthony Towns spoke about this loss’s positive aspects. Finch “loved the shots” the Wolves were able to create last night, categorizing the shot diet as “really, really good.” A rare turn for Finch who has spoken at length thus far this season about poor shot selection and the Wolves’ inability to run his stuff. Unfortunately, that great shot selection and commitment to the scheme was accompanied by 36.5% shooting from the floor. If the Wolves hope to turn the corner, they desperately need more nights like tonight.
Not only were the Wolves creating good shots for themselves, but they were also playing with the intensity of a team hungry for a win. Towns noted “the energy, tenacity, and effort” the Wolves played with as a positive sign. For those who were in the arena, the energy was palpable. The building began to roar in the second half as the referee’s whistle seemed to go against the Wolves time and time again. It climaxed with technical fouls against Towns and Anthony Edwards. As the fans were screaming “Refs you suck!” Naz Reid turned toward the media section and smiled in disbelief. It was as if he had no idea the Target Center could be this loud.
To think, a 4-9 team could inspire their fanbase to the point of pandemonium. There is something special about this team that has Minnesota basketball fans inspired and engaged. Whether it’s the electricity of Edwards, the team’s new defensive identity, or the massive amounts of potential bubbling from this roster, there is something that is giving fans a glimmer of hope that there is competitive Timberwolves basketball on the horizon.
The fans are invested. The Wolves just need to show up and win some games. We can ignore the Twitter bozos who want to trade KAT. Towns was in top form last night, putting up 35 points and 13 rebounds. However, the rough shooting nights from Edwards and D’Angelo Russell can’t be ignored. The Timberwolves have yet to really find their groove between their Big 3, and it’s been hard for them to consistently have good shooting performances. To start the year I wrote about the power and importance of the Wolves three stars. When one star is having a rough night, there are two others who can help pick up the slack. But it’s hard to overcome a situation when two of the three stars struggle to put the ball in the basket consistently.
Edwards certainly showed up in other ways, though. He could only add nine points to the scoreboard but managed to grab 12 rebounds, dish six assists, and added three blocks and a steal. That’s what Towns is talking about when he says “energy, tenacity, and effort.” It’s the want-to. Malik Beasley was 4-of-14 from the floor, but hit a couple of big shots and was barking up and down the floor to get his teammates going. Jaden McDaniels is yet to find his rhythm offensively but fought for a clutch rebound down the stretch. Had Russell sunk his 3-point shot, or gotten the foul call, after that offensive rebound by McDaniels the Wolves would’ve been up by two with 20 seconds left in the game.
Last night, the process and the effort were in line with the standard to which Finch and Towns hold the Wolves. Shooting woes are fleeting. Playing good basketball, creating good shots, and giving effort on defense, are the things that lead to sustained success. If the Wolves keep playing like they did last night, the shots will fall and the wins will come. But it’s going to be a long winter.