The toughest, meanest, nastiest team in the NBA. No, I’m not talking about the Miami Heat, who have loudly proclaimed their toughness this season. I’m talking about the once meek and lowly Minnesota Timberwolves. Tuesday night’s “brawl” one minute and 43 seconds into the game against the Golden State Warriors was a gift to the Wolves. It was an opportunity to cement a narrative that had been growing early in the season.
I had a short fuse when I was young. I was an emotional child without a lot of tools to manage those emotions. I had my tears, and I had my hands. Far too often, I found myself fighting, or rather, getting punked by kids I had no business fighting. I didn’t engage with older kids because I thought I was tough — I did it because I had no self-control. The switch in my brain that is supposed to say, Hey, that guy is going to kick your ass didn’t work quite right. But after all the licks, I turned out alright. Sometimes, people must learn hard lessons to get themselves straightened out. I learned to keep composure. To keep my head on straight.
For years, it has seemed like the Karl-Anthony Towns Wolves have never been able to keep the necessary composure to find the long-vaunted level of success they have espoused. Timberwolves Twitter (or X as you may know it) has adopted “trap games” as a term for games against teams missing their best players. The Wolves have never been able to get out of their own heads and win the games they are supposed to win. (See the team’s 3-7 record against the bottom-four teams in the league last season.)
Tuesday night’s game was the ultimate trap game. Immediately, the Warriors were down Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. The Timberwolves had to regain composure after Green tried to choke the life out of them. In comes Brandin Podziemski, the poster child for anonymous Wolves killers around the league. I’ve seen this happen so many times. A player whom the average NBA fan has never heard of enters the game and absolutely rips the Timberwolves a new one. My mind immediately went to Davis Bertans’s 15-point fourth quarter in December of last season. I’m sure every Wolves fan has a game, a player, a veritable NBA nobody who dwells in the darkest recesses of their minds — a wicked puppet master, pulling on the strings of trauma in moments like this.
The Wolves have taken (and doled out) so many punches over the last calendar year, from Rudy Gobert punching Kyle Anderson to Jaden McDaniels punching a wall — even non-literal punches like the Atlanta Hawks game, where the Timberwolves looked to run away with the contest at halftime, but Dejounte Murray had other plans. He delivered a masterful series of blows in the second half, leaving Minnesota struggling to keep their balance. The 20-point lead at half evaporated before our eyes, and the Wolves held a 1-2 record.
But Tuesday was different. The Wolves countered every blow that Golden State landed. That’s the sign of a seasoned fighter who has been battle-tested. Since the Atlanta game, Minnesota has put together a 7-1 run. Their only loss was to the against the shockingly-desperate-at-this-point-in-the-season Phoenix Suns on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Timberwolves are tough. They are not backing down from any opponent, and they are getting it done with gritty, hard-nosed play on the defensive end. The Wolves aren’t the same ball-hawking, hyper-aggressive, but deeply flawed defensive attack that fans saw in the 2021-22 season. Sorry, Pat Bev, no podcasters allowed in this locker room. Minnesota is legitimately tough. Karl-Anthony Towns may not have responded to Draymond Green’s choke with a punch to his face, but he responded with his best game of the season. He responded by securing the win.
There is a Chinese proverb that says, “It is better to be a warrior in the garden, than a gardener at war.” Towns and the Wolves may never truly be seen as tough guys in the league, but maintaining composure through times like these is the toughest thing to do. The whole point of the NBA isn’t to prove that you can win a fight; it’s to prove you can win the game. The Wolves beat Golden State on Sunday and look to be headed for many more victories this year.