Timberwolves

The Wolves Recreated the Most Difficult Part Of Denver’s Blueprint To Replicate

Photo Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Monte Morris greeted many Ball Arena employees and ex-teammates as he navigated the contours of Denver’s basketball arena. Then he sat in the film room with his Minnesota Timberwolves teammates and broke down his former teammates’ tendencies. Morris is Minnesota’s mole in its important second-round series. Similarly, Tim Connelly reconnected with people he knew from his nine years working for the Denver Nuggets before watching the Timberwolves beat them in Games 1 and 2.

“If anything, you kind of know a little bit of the intricacies,” Micah Nori said regarding Minnesota and Denver’s familiarity before the series started. “But you kind of know what coach [Mike] Malone…likes at the end of the game – as the game’s going on, what he’s thinking. I’m sure they’re the same way.”

Many have focused on Minnesota and Denver’s familiarity and how Tim Connelly went big in a league where teams employ small-ball rosters. Chris Finch and Micah Nori worked for Nuggets coach Mike Malone, and Ryan Saunders and David Adelman are on Malone’s bench. Morris played five years in Denver, and four-time defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert is the anchor of Minnesota’s defense.

Size gave the Nuggets an advantage, but continuity turned them into champions. Connelly may have stolen the Death Star plans on his way out of Denver, but the Wolves still needed to attack the exhaust port. Minnesota used Gobert as a roamer against Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets in Game 1.

But on Monday, everyone was on FlightAware, wondering if Gobert would return to Denver for Game 2 after his fiancée gave birth to their first child. Finch announced that Gobert would miss the game a couple hours before tip. Vegas favored the Nuggets by 5.5 points, and some people thought Denver would win the game in the first quarter.

Instead, the Wolves won the first quarter 28-20 and took a 36-20 lead with 9:22 to go in the second. Malone called a timeout to stymie Minnesota’s momentum but couldn’t ward off its relentless defensive attack. Sans Gobert, the Timberwolves tossed Karl-Anthony Towns, Naz Reid, and Kyle Anderson at Jokic. Jaden McDaniels and Nickeil Alexander-Walker locked down Jamal Murray. The Wolves never relinquished the lead and won 106-80.

“Rudy’s driven the defensive culture here,” Finch said after Game 2. “It’s a testament to his impact, his presence, and what he’s infused into the team. [It shows] how important defense is and how great we can be when we play it. That aside, we’ve always expected to win no matter who is with us.”

Connelly built a deep, malleable roster, filling the bench full of players with skillsets similar to those of the starters. Morris takes care of the ball and plays defense, complementing Mike Conley; Alexander-Walker hounds players defensively like McDaniels. Reid is a big who stretches the floor like Towns. No bench player can replicate Edwards’ scoring or Gobert’s defense, but Anderson is a large playmaker who’s crafty defensively.

Minnesota’s depth has allowed it to weather adversity throughout the year. Towns missed 18 games with a knee injury. Still, the Timberwolves were first in the Western Conference for most of the season. Edwards only had 15 points in Game 2 against the Phoenix Suns, and the Wolves won 105-93. Gobert missed Monday’s game, and the Wolves blew out the defending champs on their home floor.

Connelly has built a winner and locked in most of Minnesota’s core long-term.

  • Edwards: max deal through 2029
  • Towns: max deal though 2028
  • McDaniels: five-year, $131 million extension through 2029
  • Gobert: five-year, $205 million extension through 2026
  • Reid: three-year, $41 million extension through 2026
  • Conley: two-year, $20.75 million extension through 2026

The Timberwolves have Morris and Anderson’s Bird Rights. Therefore, Alexander-Walker (two years, $9 million) is the only player in Minnesota’s rotation who isn’t under team control in 2026. “Everybody’s here to win,” Reid said in November. “Everybody has one goal. Everybody’s got their money situation out of the way. Now we’re here to play basketball and win the game. We’re not really worried too much about anything other than that.”

Minnesota withstood turbulence in Denver. They snuffed out the defending champs before a raucous crowd and drowned out the outside noise. Glen Taylor is in arbitration with Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore to determine who owns the team. Chris Finch is coaching through a knee injury. Current and former players were critical of Gobert for missing Game 2. At least for one weekend, it didn’t matter. Connelly built the Timberwolves to withstand adversity. They are legion and ready to take down the NBA’s Death Star.

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Photo Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

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