Not even Chris Finch imagined the Timberwolves bench would play so well. The second unit rightfully carries the team to wins at this point in the season and Friday Night in Oklahoma City was no exception.
Minnesota’s 138-101 road win over the Thunder featured a familiar formula — starters on the spot, at best, to open the game, then the reserves come in and blow things up.
Minnesota and Oklahoma City tied Karl-Anthony Towns’ 25 minutes, while Wolves won Naz Reid’s minutes by 29 points. Reid, Malik Beasley, Taurean Prince and Jordan McLaughlin continue to play together at a high level, whether they share the floor with Jaden McDaniels, D’Angelo Russell, Jaylen Nowell or whoever.
Every night, Finch noted, a different reserve shows up to play a starring role. Friday was Reid’s turn. The backup center hit a perfect 8-for-8 from the field – including a wild one-and-1 finish – to tie Towns up with a team-high 20 points as he topped Oklahoma City’s big men .
“Everything was really quick and clean,” Finch said. “He drove hard, caught the ball in traffic, made good play, finished around the basket extremely well. Hit first, was able to rebound pretty well for us too, which is good.
Reid was not alone. Prince scored 18 and Beasley had 15 of 5 points for 10 shots from deep. The Minnesota bench outscored Oklahoma City Reserves 74-16.
The starters were good offensively too. Russell added 17 and six assists and McDaniels scored 16 points. As a team, Minnesota shot 54% from the field and 47% from 3-point range, where they drained 22 triples.
The culmination of the offensive explosion was a memorable second quarter.
Minnesota compiled 45 points, which came from multiple sources. Ten players scored in the quarter and nine had shots – ironically the only one who didn’t was Towns. Wolves went 16 for 22 from the field in the frame, including a blistering 8 for 10 from deep.
The explosion marked Minnesota’s runaway victory. After a quarter, Minnesota trailed the Thunder by two. At halftime, the Timberwolves were leading 77-60. The 77 points in the first half marked the second most points in a half in franchise history.
And, as usual, it started with solid play from the bench.
This unit is grooved. Part of that has to do with opponents. Minnesota has faced a few shorthanded teams in recent games – and Oklahoma City is no exception. When teams are short of players, it shows up most in reserve minutes, when guys who hardly ever play are forced into action as everyone slides up to replace injured players.
The Wolves bench exposed these deep bench players with consistency. He does it with consistent pace and ball movement, which leads to success for almost everyone on the court.
“It’s literally one thing, it’s just playing for each other,” Reid said. “Cut for each other, pass to each other, box for the next guy to get the rebound. It’s just playing for the next guy. We’re all selfless, and we all talk and communicate about what we should do or if something didn’t go well, next guy, if something was supposed to go one way, we’ll tell that person and the other won’t. Don’t take it the wrong way or anything. It’s just playing for each other.
Minnesota (35-29) tightened the defensive screws in the second half after leaving much to be desired on that side in the first 24 minutes. Indeed, as Minnesota started in the second quarter, Oklahoma City (20-43) was too for a while. There was an action streak late in the quarter in which the two teams combined to score on 15 consecutive possessions – a span that included 13 consecutive field goal attempts.
The Thunder don’t usually score at a high level, but they were hitting three and star goaltender Shai Gilgeous-Alexander went for 33 points, seven assists and five rebounds on 14 for 21 shooting. But much of that damage was done in the first half. Wolves held Oklahoma City to 38% shooting in the third frame – including 1 for 8 from deep – to really put the nail in the coffin and seal Minnesota’s third straight win as Wolves successfully launched a sweet streak five games against three of the league’s worst teams.
It’s hard to lose when your second unit keeps winning all of its minutes.
“We all feel like the best bench in the league,” Reid said. “It’s a mentality we have in every game.”
They are making a strong argument right now.
“I think we’re finally doing a great job of understanding our role, each player’s role, so when we come into the game we know what to do,” Beasley said. “I feel like we played really well and we’re ready to get ready for the playoffs.”