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McLaughlin, Wolves Embrace Challenge Raptors Present
Most Timberwolves beat reporters ran with highlights the Wolves’ hot 3-point shooting when recapping Saturday’s rejuvenating 142-115 win over the Clippers.
The Wolves were seemingly unstoppable as they fired away from beyond the arc and hit a franchise record of 26 3s in the game after releasing just 44 attempts. The reaction to seeing the new Wolves torching an above-average Clippers defense was just as electric as the sharpshooting itself.
But there were two shots that garnered the same reaction and shouldn’t be overlooked — Jordan McLaughlin’s back-to-back dunks.
McLaughlin’s first slam came about one minute, 30 seconds into the third quarter. Now, this is a completely different Wolves team from two weeks ago, but let’s just say third quarters have tended to be pretty low-energy for the Wolves of the past. McLaughlin played a large part in making sure that stayed in the past.
After receiving an outlet pass from Juancho Hernangomez, McLaughlin dribbled up the left side of the court, recognized two screens coming his way from Hernangomez and Towns on the right side but rejected the picks, crossed up Kawhi Leonard and attacked a wide-open driving lane. When the perimeter defenders were too slow to help, McLaughlin took it to the hole over a trailing, 7-foot Ivica Zubac and threw down the one-handed slam.
Just over a minute later, McLaughlin received a hand-off from Hernangomez at the top of the key, and once again made former Defensive Player of the Year Leonard look out of sorts. This time, his explosiveness ended in a reverse dunk. For those who watched the Oscars on Sunday night, remember how loud Dolby Theatre got after Jane Fonda announced “Parasite” had won Best Picture? That’s basically how Target Center reacted.
My favorite aspect of McLaughlin’s dunks is how unexpected they are. He stands at under 6-feet, making him the shortest player on the court and an easy target for underestimation on most nights. But we’ve quickly learned height isn’t a barrier in McLaughlin’s game.
At Monday’s shootaround, McLaughlin said his dunks are often spur of the moment rather than calculated decisions.
“Sometimes I’m more aggressive at times or else I use a floater or something,” McLaughlin said, “but there’s no telling when it’s going to happen. It just happens.”
When it does happen, it’s an indescribable feeling for the young point guard.
“I can’t really describe it,” McLaughlin said. “When I can make it happen, I try to make it happen.”
The Wolves will need McLaughlin to play as aggressively as he did Saturday night when they face the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena on Monday night. The Raptors currently rep the second-best defensive rating in the league (104.9), which has helped them boast a 14-game winning streak since Jan. 15.
Toronto’s opponents are shooting just 33.6% from beyond the arc this season (second-lowest percentage in the league) and scoring the second-fewest amount of points in the paint (41.9 per game).
The new Wolves know one blowout win over the Clippers doesn’t mean much and are embracing the Raptors will present Monday night.
“There are challenges in everything; it’s just part of the league,” Wolves head coach Ryan Saunders said. “It’s part of the job, and as competitors, you want challenges. You don’t want things to always be easy. Because when you make it through the challenge, you see guys grasp what you’re trying to install and what you’re trying to do as an organization. The struggle makes the reward feel a lot better.
“If we can take care of ourselves and what we can control today, the outcome will take care of itself.”
“We’re trying to take one game one step at a time,” McLaughlin added. “With our new team, we’re just going to keep getting better day by day and game by game, and we’re looking forward to this challenge.”
The latest Wolves injury report shows that D’Angelo Russell (quad) is questionable to play in Monday night’s game in Toronto.
When asked about whether Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns’ close relationship makes implementing the new point guard into the Wolves’ rotation — which is quite new itself — easier, Saunders was hopeful yet practical.
“My hope would be (their relationship) would speed up the process,” Saunders said. “But my realistic approach is that there’s always going to be growing pains or just a get-to-know you type period. I’m expecting the unexpected. We’ve got a lot of new faces, so every night isn’t going to be a great night, but we can do our best in our preparation to make every night a great night.”