An old NBA saying is that before you win, you must first learn how to lose. And it seems like the Minnesota Timberwolves took their lumps this past season in the process of winning for the first time in a long time.
Over the past decade and a half, the Timberwolves have struggled to have success. Since Kevin Garnett left they have only made the playoffs twice and have not been able to build a core group of players that gives Minnesota fans hope for a better future.
Last season, the Minnesota Timberwolves surprised many by finishing with a 46-36 record and beating the LA Clippers in the Play-In Tournament.
Led by Karl Anthony-Towns and Anthony Edwards, the Wolves improved off of a 23-win season in 2021.
But after much improvement, their youth and inexperience stopped them from making a run in the playoffs. The Minnesota Timberwolves ran into a Memphis Grizzlies team in the first round that exposed their inexperience. But not without a fight that sent the games to six games.
The Minnesota Timberwolves surprised many with a run to the playoffs as this young roster seemed like it found a base to build with. Their inexperience was their source of strength but also their weakness.
During that series, Minnesota could not handle or control the ups and downs of the series and looked like a different team in each game.
In Game 1, the Wolves beat the Grizzlies by 13 points on the road after beating the Clippers four days prior. They played with reckless abandon and with house money and beat the inexperienced Grizzlies team, playing as a favorite for the first time.
But in Game 2, Minnesota could not handle the bounce-back they received from a motivated Grizzlies team and got beat by 28 points. Towns only shot the ball seven times and scored just 15 points. D’Angelo Russell, who did not play well in Game 1, stayed cold in Game 2 scoring only 11 points.
Going into Game 3, Minnesota started out hot, feeding off of the team’s home crowd and going up by 26 at one point in the game.
But Memphis came roaring back in the second half and won the fourth quarter 37-12. Towns finished the game with eight points and the Wolves found themselves down 2-1 in the series.
Their inexperience had taken over again.
Game 4 was a different story though. Towns scored 33 points and added 14 boards to secure a one-point win for Minnesota.
But in the next two games, the Grizzlies put together a pair of dominant fourth quarters to close out the series. In Game 5, Memphis outscored Minnesota 37-24, and in Game 6, 40-22, to close out the series. Ja Morant put the final nail in the coffin in the fourth quarter of Game 5, hitting the game-winner in addition to his highlight-reel and series-defining dunk.
When push came to shove the Timberwolves were not able to stay even-keeled throughout the series and finish games down the stretch. They took a lot of haymakers and were unable to recover at several key points.
The emotions of the playoffs got to them in many ways and they did not quite know how to respond as good playoff teams must.
The young core for the Timberwolves had a tough time adjusting to playoff basketball and were a mixed bag overall.
Towns, who struggled heavily in his only previous playoff appearance, also looked to improve his play in the postseason. But while he did play better than he did in 2018, he still had trouble asserting himself and dominating down low in the series.
Towns averaged 24.6 points per game on 52.9-percent shooting in the regular season. In the playoffs, his scoring averaged dropped to 21.8 points per game on 48.8-percent shooting.
This is where a star is supposed to step up. And Towns struggled to do so in his return to the postseason.
Russell struggled in his second playoff appearance, averaging 12.0 points per game on 33.3-percent shooting. The performance raised questions about whether he can be this team’s third option and accelerated trade thoughts for a Wolves team hoping to continue improving.
That is what the playoffs do. They expose a team’s every weakness.
And Minnesota had problems finishing games throughout the season — remember when Orlando erased a double-digit deficit entering the fourth quarter early in the season for a marquee early-season win? The Timberwolves were improved and a promising young team but still gave way to the follies of inexperience and youth.
But the positive for Towns and for the Timberwolves come from how he bounced back from an awful performance in Game 3. After scoring in single digits, losing by 25 points in the fourth quarter, and letting home-court slip away, he could have folded and given way to his building playoff narrative.
Except he did not. Towns came out with a vengeance after decompressing with some wine the night before and dropped a 30-point double-double in a close win to tie up the series.
Obviously, Memphis would go on to win the next couple of games, but seeing Towns turn his emotions into productive play felt like a long time coming.
Despite some of these shortcomings and concerns born from the playoffs, the Timberwolves still have an incredibly bright future.
Anthony Edwards had a breakout season and followed through in the playoffs — his 36 points in his playoff debut in Game 1 and 24 points in Game 4 helped Minnesota take two games off Memphis.
He might just soon become the face of the team if he is not already. On top of the dynamic performances against the Grizzles, Edwards also improved his number across the board in the regular season.
The future of this team relies on how good he can be and how reliable he becomes in pressure situations.
For a team like the Magic, the playoffs and play-in may seem like a far cry from where they are currently. But many thought the same for Minnesota, who had the number one overall pick in 2020 and seemed to be stuck in the same loop as Orlando is in.
The Timberwolves took a swing on a big play guard that quickly became an alpha player which fits perfectly with Towns’ demeanor.
If the Magic believe they already have that first player to build around like Towns was with the World, then they are in a position where they can see major improvement over the next couple of seasons.
But if there is anything they can learn from the Timberwolves’ performance in the playoffs this year, is that it is one thing to get to the playoffs and an entirely different thing to succeed in the playoffs.
Winning in the NBA is never linear, a lot of great teams came up short before moving deeper in the postseason. Orlando will need to keep that in mind and stay patient when building their team, despite such a positive horizon.