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Culver Cashes In On Career Night When Wolves Need It Most
Fans and media members alike waited patiently for Ryan Saunders’ pregame injury list update before Monday night’s Wolves game against the Brooklyn Nets. And when it came, those rooting for the Wolves did not receive the news they had hoped for.
Less than two hours before game time, Saunders shared Karl-Anthony Towns (knee) would miss his seventh-straight game and that Andrew Wiggins would join him on the injury list (flu-like symptoms) for the second game in a row. The Wolves’ lacking offensive production plagued them in their Saturday night home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers and being without their two leading scorers once again served as a gut punch to the hope that they’d be able to turn things around offensively against the Nets.
To make matters worse, Saunders also announced the Wolves would be without Treveon Graham (flu-like symptoms) and Noah Vonleh (left gluteal contusion) who played a large part in giving the Wolves the fourth-best defensive rating in the league from Dec. 13-28.
The updated injury report was met with some doubts from those outside the franchise, but the remaining available Wolves players saw the unfortunate, long list of inactive players as an opportunity to rise to the occasion for their team. One such player was Jarrett Culver.
Culver’s first 31 NBA games have been a grab bag of sorts and have continually reminded us that he’s a 20-year-old rookie who’ll need some time and experience before he’s fully adjusted to the league, just as most rookies do. But on Monday Culver shed his “rookie” label and played like a commanding veteran who was unwilling to let his team lose at home, no matter how undermanned it was.
Culver was granted a career-high 38 minutes of playing time (16 more than his season average) in the Wolves’ 122-115 overtime win against the Nets and attempted to make all 38 count. He recorded a career-high 21 points along with five rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block, and beamed with confidence and purpose throughout the game.
“We were on a losing streak, and after our losing streak, we just decided as a team we just got to play harder,” Culver said after Monday night’s game. “We know people go down with injuries and sickness so at the end of the day whoever’s on the court just play as hard as you can.”
Culver wasted no time in making his presence known and popped a 3-pointer just 33 seconds into Monday night’s game to give the Wolves their first bucket of the night. He made Garrett Temple regret his defensive prioritization for the second time after splashing another 3 at the top of the key three and a half minutes later.
Culver’s perfect shooting night didn’t last long, and it took him 21 shot attempts to reach his 21-point night, but considering Monday night’s circumstances, I think fans should be excited about Culver’s offensive aggression. Without Towns and Wiggins, other players had to take on larger offensive loads and instead of passing the task off to someone else, the rookie took it upon himself to step up for his team. He showed little hesitancy with his trigger finger, and when shots weren’t falling, he used his defensive prowess to create offensive opportunities for himself and his teammates. That remained true in crunch time.
The Wolves faced an 89-80 deficit with nine minutes remaining in regulation, but Culver used a floater in the paint and a corner 3 to help bring the Wolves within two points one minute later. He racked up nine points in the fourth quarter, including two clutch free throws in the final two minutes of the quarter. He added a pullup jump shot in overtime to extend the Wolves’ lead and ceased any remaining Nets momentum by blocking a Temple 3-point attempt with 32.1 seconds remaining in the game.
Saunders described the overtime win as a “heart game,” and I think that’s the perfect descriptor of what we saw from Culver on Monday night. Culver didn’t flounder without the Wolves’ two most reliant scorers and refused to fold when his offensive efficiency took a dip. Instead, he found a way to win even under adverse circumstances.
Culver won’t play like a veteran every night, nor is he expected to. Rather, the Wolves just want Culver to play Culver’s game.
“Like we tell (Culver), ‘Keep playing your game. Whatever got you here, keep doing the same thing,’” Dieng said. “He’s young, he just got here. People expect a lot from him because he’s that good, and he just needs to focus on himself. You can’t listen to all of them; they’re all going to come up with something, and sometimes it can be distracting. Go slowly, and pay attention to what you want to do.”
If Culver can take Dieng’s advice and do what he does best while shaking off external critiques, his trademark tenacity will soon set him apart from the rest of the 2019 rookie class.