Gary Dineen / Getty Images

Shorthanded Wolves Give Bucks All They've Got

by Katie Davidson
Digital Content Associate

Man oh man. What a game.

First, I have to make a confession: I was a little skeptical about how this game would shake out. The lengthy list of inactive Wolves players led me to believe that Wednesday night’s Wolves game against one of the best teams in the league would be a tough way to ring in the new year.

Now I owe the Wolves an apology.

The Bucks ultimately defeated the Wolves 106-104 at Fiserv Forum on Wednesday, but the game presented Wolves fans with plenty of reasons to look forward to what’s to come in 2020.

This game had everything.

Posterizing dunks:

Splashing 3s:

Beautifully placed passes:

And a whole lot of admirable defensive effort.

Let’s consider the feat of holding the Bucks to 106 points. Before Wednesday night, only four teams (Boston, Detroit, Indiana and Utah) had held the Bucks — the team with the third-best offensive rating in the league — to less than 107 points this season. The Wolves were swarming on Wednesday night and looked like a unified team with few defensive breakdowns against the reigning MVP's team. The Wolves recorded eight blocks and forced 17 Milwaukee turnovers (the Bucks average 15 per game).

Offensively, Shabazz Napier set the tone right out of the gates by scoring the first five points of the game in less than a minute and a half and finishing with 12 points at the end of the first quarter. Napier tallied up a team-high 22 points by the end of the night along with six rebounds and three assists. He was 4-for-7 from 3-point range, and most of those attempts were highly contested. Napier has certainly stepped up for this team while it’s been shorthanded without Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, and his energy has been contagious.

Now let’s talk about the rookie. Jarrett Culver’s nasty dunk over Robin Lopez will surely be the most memorable moment of his performance against the Bucks, but he did so much more than make Sports Center-worthy plays Wednesday night. Culver finished with 10 points on 5-for-14 shooting, but once again, he found other ways to impact the game when his shot wasn’t dropping. The rookie added eight rebounds and a team-high five assists to his stat sheet and was a reliable defensive weapon for the Wolves. I already said this on Tuesday, but Culver’s heart and tenacity to win games at all costs will ultimately be more valuable than anything that can be quantified in a box score.

We also have to shout out the players who came off the bench tonight for the Wolves. The Wolves bench outscored the Bucks’ 47-34 Wednesday night. That’s a noteworthy comparison on its own without mentioning the experience of both teams’ bench players. But when you consider Josh Okogie, Naz Reid, Keita Bates-Diop, Jordan Bell and Jaylen Nowell have nine years of NBA experience compared to Pat Connaughton, Ersan Ilyasova, George Hill, Kyle Korver and Robin Lopez's combined 58 years of experience in the league, that stat oozes with excellence. Every single Wolves player played with a “next man up” mentality tonight, which made for one of the best Wolves games all season.

I’d be remiss to not mention Gorgui Dieng’s contributions to Wednesday’s game. A lot of players will say how hard they’re willing to work for their team, but Dieng walks the talk and demands his teammates do the same. Dieng added 15 points, six rebounds and sound defense to Wednesday’s game, but more importantly, he’s been the leader who’s refused to settle for anything less than the Wolves’ 100 percent effort while Towns and Wiggins have been out. Dieng is a pro’s pro and continues to show us how valuable he is to this team on and off the court.

No NBA team enters a game in search of a moral victory, but the Wolves have a lot to be proud of after becoming one of seven teams to either defeat or lose to the Bucks by less than three points this season. One can only hope the Wolves’ relentless play displayed in Milwaukee becomes a trend in 2020.

The Wolves will return to Target Center on Thursday night when they host the Golden State Warriors. The game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. on Fox Sports North and 830 WCCO. Tickets can be found here.

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