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Changes Are Felt In Wolves' First Game After Trade Deadline
Friday afternoon, Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas sat in front of intrigued Wolves fans at the City Center in downtown Minneapolis who were ready to witness the start of something new in Minnesota.
“There’s going to be tangible change, and this market’s going to feel it,” Rosas said to the fans who were willing to miss lunch for a bit of Wolves hope.
Rosas’ words came to life in just 36 hours.
The Wolves’ earned a 142-115 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday after having just one full day to acclimate themselves with their post-trade deadline roster. The Wolves’ week was headlined by the blockbuster trade that sent Andrew Wiggins to Golden State in order to bring All-Star point guard D’Angelo Russell to Minnesota. Russell, who sat out of Saturday’s game with a thigh contusion, may have received the most pregame attention from fans, but he wasn’t the main attraction of the night. The entire Wolves team was.
The Wolves made a franchise-high 26 3-pointers (on 44 attempts) and were one three away from tying the Houston Rockets’ league record of 27 made 3s in a game. Ten players contributed to that feat and all five starters had at least two made 3s.
On top of that, the Wolves had 39 assists on 52 made field goals. Before Saturday night, the Wolves were averaging 23.4 assists per game. They had 22 at halftime along with a whopping 81 points.
May I remind you, this is a team that had one practice together before their first game. Miscommunication was expected, but instead, the ball swung from side to side and rarely stopped moving as if these guys had been with each other all season. The offense was electric and so was Target Center.
Three Wolves players finished with over 20 points, and Jordan McLaughlin nearly stole the newcomers’ show by recording a team-high 24 points on 11-for-15 shooting along with 11 assists and not a single turnover. And honestly, those stats don’t do his game justice. McLaughlin stands at 5’11” but was taking it to every player in sight, including 7-footer Ivica Zubac, as he led the Wolves’ best offensive performance of my lifetime.
J-Mac has played with undeniable heart throughout the highs and lows of this season and watching it pay off for him was so fun.
Despite the roster overhaul, fans learned who Malik Beasley was within two minutes of the game. Beasley knocked down a 3 one minute, 48 seconds into the game and had three made 3s in the first six minutes of the game. But he wasn’t done there. Beasley hit a game-high and career-high seven 3s in his first game as a Timberwolf and made it clear he’s taking his mission of turning this franchise around seriously. He added 23 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and a steal. I’ve got a feeling he’ll soon be a fan favorite, assuming he isn’t already.
Juancho Hernangomez and James Johnson combined for 29 points in their first game as Wolves. That’s tremendous on its own, but you also have to consider their contributions on the defensive end. Hernangomez was assigned to Kawhi Leonard for much of the game. Welcome to Minnesota! Leonard finished the game with a game-high 29 points but shot under 50% from the field and finished with a minus-19 plus-minus rating.
Johnson played as advertised — relentless. He refused to get pinned by screens, jumped players if they tried to drive past him and somehow looked like one of the youngest players on the court — as far as energy goes — while still being a veteran teacher for his teammates. I didn’t see this, but Zone Coverage’s Dane Moore reported that Johnson was giving rookie Naz Reid — who finished with 14 points and nine rebounds as the second unit’s center — a defensive lesson when they were both on the bench. That type of initiative is sorely needed on this young squad. Plus, he did the trademark “Ice In His Veins” DLo celebration after hitting one of his two 3s on the night. You’ve gotta love it.
Honestly, no one had a bad game. They may not have filled the box score as much as their teammates, but Josh Okogie, Kelan Martin, Jarrett Culver, Jaylen Nowell and Allen Crabbe all contributed in some way. Crabbe had a couple of nice assists, Culver took a momentous charge and played solid defense, and Okogie did his typical Okogie thing of adding more energy to the arena, which seemed impossible at times on Saturday.
But the player I was most excited for was Karl-Anthony Towns. It’s been a rough stretch for KAT, and he hadn’t been playing with his typical spirit before Saturday night. But with new teammates and a re-engaged Target Center, All-Star KAT returned. He finished with 22 points, 13 rebounds and was just one assist shy of recording a triple-double. But I don’t think KAT will be too upset about not notching a 10th assist. The first 50 games of the season aren’t forgotten, but the Wolves get a fresh start, and so does KAT. You couldn’t help but match his smile while watching him take in the new opportunity Rosas has created for him.
On Friday, Beasley told fans he had plans of helping the Wolves become the best team in the Western Conference, but he was practical in saying it’ll take time to get there. Well, if Saturday was any indication of what the road to the top will be like, it’s going to be a fun ride.
New trade assets Jarred Vanderbilt and Jacob Evans combined for two minutes of action, and Omari Spellman, like Russell, did not play. They’ll all have a chance to earn more minutes on Monday when the Wolves face the Toronto Raptors at 6:30 p.m. CT at Scotiabank Arena.