Julius Randle led New York with 39 points and nine rebounds in O.G. Anunoby’s debut, overcoming a combined 64 points from Minnesota stars Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Following an electric 108-106 win at home against the Los Angeles Lakers Saturday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves were in The City That Never Sleeps 15 hours after the ball dropped in Times Square, as the team was looking to ring in the new year with a win over the re-energized New York Knicks. Not only was this the first game of 2024 for both teams, but it also held added meaning as OG Anunoby and Precious Achiuwa were in line to make their debuts with the Knicks after the blockbuster trade that sent former New York guards RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley to the Toronto Raptors on December 30th.
In his favorite arena, Karl-Anthony Towns was prioritized offensively off the jump, which Head Coach Chis Finch said was necessary pregame as KAT has been in an offensive slump over the last three games — averaging 11.7 points on 37.9% from the floor and 25% from deep.
Three of the Timberwolves’ first four possessions started with the ball in Towns’ hands with his back to the basket. He opened the game 2-of-2 from the floor, which kept the sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd relatively quiet. However, Knicks faithful was only going to be kept down for so long — Julius Randle fueled an early 8-0 run to give New York a quick two-point lead with two triples and 10 of his team’s first 16 points.
The two Kentucky Wildcats went back and forth as the first quarter progressed. Towns had 9 points on 4-of-4 from the floor, and Randle had 15 on 5-of-8. Early on, bad things were happening when the ball wasn’t in the hands of KAT. However, Anthony Edwards was able to break through and make his impact felt toward the end of the first quarter as he let out a 12-point scoring outburst, giving the Wolves a seven-point lead and forcing Tom Thibodeau to eat up a timeout with a few minutes left in the frame.
The last time these two teams faced off in The Mecca, Randle marked a career-high 57 points. Obviously, Minnesota had no answer for the 6-foot-8 forward all night. The only reason the Wolves won that game was because Randle was absolutely gassed by the fourth quarter and was unable to play effectively down the stretch, and Taurean Prince’s incredible performance from three-point range.
This season, Randle is averaging the 12th most minutes per game (35.6), which is expected. He was subbed out with just over a minute left in the first, and everything went awry for the Knicks then on — they closed the first shooting 1-of-4 from the floor as Edwards continued his hot start, leading the Wolves to a 16-3 run. Minnesota led 32-23 heading into the second quarter, holding the Knicks to 8-of-24 from the floor and 4-of-10 from deep.
You could not have asked for a better start if you were Finchy.
The defensive-stopping combination of Jaden McDaniels and Nickeil-Alexander-Walker held Jalen Brunson to 0-of-5 from the floor with zero points in the first quarter. However, both guys were on the bench to start the second for Minnesota. As a response, Brunson laced in six straight points in various ways against Troy Brown Jr. — leading the Knicks to a 9-0 run three minutes into the second frame. Finch was forced to sub McDaniels back in, hoping to slow JB down. At this point in time, it felt as if Minnesota’s coaching staff matching Slim and Alexander-Walker’s minutes to Brunson’s would be needed the rest of the way.
There is only McDaniels can do, though. The Knicks were able to keep up their scoring run after he was subbed in, thanks to their ball movement and capitalizing off bad offensive possessions from the Wolves.
Midway through the second, Towns forced up a rugged mid-range look and complained about the no-call instead of getting back on defense. New York got out in transition, swung the ball around the horn, and found Josh Hart wide-open on the right wing for a triple — leading to a Minnesota timeout as the Knicks were on a 22-7 run in the second quarter alone.
The Wolves found themselves in a 12-point hole at halftime. New York completely dominated the final 12 minutes until the break on both ends.
In the second quarter… Minnesota connected on just four of its 14 total attempts, was outscored 38-17, turned the ball over six times, and allowed the Knicks to shoot 13-of-25 (52%) from the floor and dominate the offensive glass. Those turnovers and inability to successfully end possessions fueled New York’s run-and-gun offense. However, the Wolves’ half-court defense was horrible as well. The Knicks moved the ball around at a rapid pace, guys were cutting off the ball left and right, and the Wolves were over-correcting on closeouts — leading to many easy looks in the paint.
One of the main reasons that the Timberwolves are a Western Conference-best 24-7 this season is because whenever their offense goes dormant, they are able to keep games close with their defense. However, none of that happened in the second frame — easily one of the worst quarters of basketball from the team this season.
Minnesota needed one of their patented dominating third quarters, especially early. This game was beginning to feel more and more like the blowout loss against the Thunder in Oklahoma City last week. That feeling continued early in the third, as the Wolves opened the first five minutes going 3-of-7 from the floor with all of their makes coming from within the paint as New York took their largest lead of the night, 15.
The sky was falling on the Wolves, so Finch turned to Jordan McLaughlin with just over four minutes left in the frame. We’ve seen McLaughlin change the energy level on both ends in short stints for the Wolves this season.
Right on cue, the 5-foot-11 guard was able to get in a passing lane, get out in transition, and go coast-to-coast for a tough layup on his first possession. He was getting above New York’s screeners and did, in fact, put some sense of life and urgency into Minnesota’s defense.
J-Mac had seven points and two steals in just four third-quarter minutes. Still, the Wolves found themselves trailing by 16 heading into the fourth. McLaughlin injected some much-needed life into his team, but unless the Knicks went ice-cold and someone from the Wolves took, seeing the best team in the West come back is a far-fetched thought.
Because of course, Minnesota came out of the break with eight straight points. Just like that, the deficit was down to single digits (8) for the first time in the second half, and the Wolves had momentum with MSG quieting down — causing Thibs to burn two timeouts just over two minutes into the fourth.
It’s the world’s most famous arena; they weren’t going to roll over and take it.
Towns, held in check since the first quarter due mainly to foul trouble, scored nine of the Wolves’ first 17 fourth-quarter points. He drilled a triple, came down on the other end, and drew a charging foul against Randle, which was his fifth of the night. Any other coach may have subbed Julius out at the juncture. He has been New York’s most successful offensive option, and with over six minutes gone in the frame, preserving him until crunch time may be of value. However, Thibs decided to leave him in, which resulted in the Texas native scoring four straight points, pushing the Knicks back up to an eight-point lead with under five minutes left until the live buzzer.
The Timberwolves were their own enemy down the stretch. Missed shots, turnovers, allowing offensive rebounds, and poor decision-making were the story all game long, and the same rang true in the final moments. KAT hit a massive triple to pull the Wolves within five points with under a minute remaining, but Randle hit a couple of heavily contest mid-range/low-post looks for New York to salt things away.
Jordan McLaughlin’s Plug-and-Play Impact
Jordan McLaughlin has not seen consistent playing time with the Timberwolves this season. He hasn’t really been in the rotation for any one of Minnesota’s games. Most of that is due to the fact that Mike Conley has been playing incredible basketball. However, when Conley subs out, and things begin to go awry, McLaughlin is the man Chris Finch calls upon.
“He’s now played in three of the last handful of games, and every single time he comes in, he has a super positive impact, said Finch postgame. “At halftime, it certainly felt like a J-Mac game because we needed that juice. We still believe that position can be situational, but if somebody comes and takes it, somebody comes and takes it, and it looks like J-Mac is on his way to doing that right now.”
McLaughlin played in just 12 total minutes this afternoon. The former USC guard tallied 9 points, three assists, and two steals on 4-of-5 from the floor and 1-of-2 from deep while also recording a team-high +13. The next closest player to that number was Karl-Anthony Towns, who was just +5. Most of the damage down from Lil’ Mac was in the third quarter.
There’s no question that J-Mac is good enough to be a rotational player for the Wolves. However, Finch likes to keep a tight staff of around 8-to-9 guys, and number six is usually the odd man out. That doesn’t mean his role isn’t valuable, though. Without McLaughlin’s spark today, Minnesota would never have made its second-half push.
“It’s the same shit. [J-Mac] always ready when his number’s called,” said Edwards postgame. “No matter how many games he miss or how many times he don’t play, he’s always ready. It didn’t surprise me tonight.”
Kat Gets Back on Track in Favorite Arena
Karl-Anthony Towns loves playing in the Mecca. The New Jersey native always gets up for the games at his favorite arena, and he did again this afternoon as he registered 29 points on 10-of-18 from the floor in 32 minutes.
“I thought [KAT’s] decision-making was pretty quick,” said Finch postgame. “I think he’s been holding a lot, and this time, he either shot it or drove it and did a good job there. We went to him a little bit more in the post, and probably should have done even more so down the stretch. He also got some decent looks from three.”
Since returning to the lineup on December 26th, Towns has had issues slipping back into any type of offensive rhythm. Entering this afternoon, he was averaging just north of 11 points per game over the last three, as was mentioned above. He has also endured foul trouble in two of those games (finished with five personals against the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers) and did so again tonight.
The early foul trouble kept him in check throughout the bulk of the game, scoring just four points in the second and third quarters. However, he was able to find himself offensively in the first and fourth quarters tonight. Hopefully, the 6-foot-10 forward can carry any momentum that follows this afternoon’s game going forward, potentially creating a silver lining in what was an otherwise cut-wrenching loss.
- 14 MIN turnovers fueling 23 NYK points
- 17 MIN second-quarter points
- 16 NYK offensive rebounds, leading to 22 second-chance points
- Largest leads: MIN, 11 — NYK, 22
- Towns in 1st quarter: 9 points on 4-of-4 FG
- Towns in 2nd and 3rd quarters: 4 points on 1-of-3 FG in 10:18 minutes.
- Towns in 4th quarter: 16 points on 6-of-11 FG
- Edwards in 1st quarter: 15 points on 5-of-8 FG
- Edwards in 2nd quarter: 1 point on 0-of-3 FG
- Edwards in 3rd quarter: 15 points on 5-of-7 FG
- Edwards in 4th quarter: 4 points on 1-of-3 FG
- Randle: 39 points on 14-of-24 FG, 18 of which came in the second half
The Timberwolves will fly right back to the Twin Cities as they welcome Zion Williamson (hopefully) and the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday evening. The Pelicans will be playing on the tail end of a back-to-back, as they take on the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday in New Orleans.
Tip-off is scheduled for just after 7 PM CT, with streaming available on Bally Sports North, KFAN FM, the Wolves app, and iHeart Radio.