Minnesota Timberwolves come up short on Native American Heritage Night
For over 20 years now, November has been designated National Native American Heritage Month. In observance of that designation, the Minnesota Timberwolves recently held their annual Native American Heritage Night at the Target Center in Minneapolis. The observance took place on Nov. 21, during a fierce battle against the visiting Boston Celtics.
Prior to tipoff, players and coaches conveyed their excitement over the ensuing matchup.
“We’re looking forward to this game,” said Minnesota forward Andrew Wiggins. “I think we play good.”
Having lost two of their three previous games, though, the Timberwolves headed into the contest with an unimpressive 4-8 record. The team’s coaching staff said they needed to turn that around.
“There’s going to be some moments that are not as good as you would like,” said Head Coach Tom Thibodeau. “The big thing is to concentrate on the improvement.”
The night began with an on-court performance of the Flag Song, by the Prairie Island Indian Community, a little over half an hour before tipoff. Highly-impressive, the performance received respectable applause and positive reviews.
Then the game was underway.
To the delight of the home crowd, and due to a hot start by Minnesota’s starting center, the Wolves took an early lead over the Celtics.
Seven-footer Karl Anthony Towns won the tip for Minnesota, and wasted no time in putting points on the board. In fact, Towns scored the Timberwolves’ first six points – starting with a beautiful, behind-the-back, step-back jumper from mid range to put the Wolves up by two.
On Minnesota’s second possession, Towns spun into the lane for a short hook shot that gave his team a 4-0 lead. During the Wolves’ third possession, power forward Gorgui Dieng fed Towns under the basket for an easy deuce that then put Minnesota up 6-0.
Forward Andrew Wiggins followed with a made free throw, to cap off a seven-point run by the Timberwolves.
But Boston battled back. Thanks to Celtics center Al Horford and guard Marcus Smart each draining a pair of three-pointers, Boston took a seven-point lead of its own early in the second quarter.
The Celtics’ momentum would stop there, though, along with their 31-24 lead. Once Minnesota forward Nemanja Bjelica knocked down a three, cutting Boston’s lead to four, the Wolves took total control.
At the halfway mark, Minnesota already led by a score of 52-42.
However, the Celtics started to see what they were doing wrong. Assistant Coach Micah Shrewsberry pinpointed some of the areas on which his Boston defense would focus in the second half.
“They beat us to loose balls,” said Shrewsberry. “So we need to keep bodies on bigs, and box them out.”
Halftime proved to be the best part of the night. For that’s when the Prairie Island Indian Community took the court, once again, to perform traditional dance and drum. The performers were well-lit, and ultimately well-received.
After their peerless performance, the action resumed.
Minnesota dominated the third, increasing its lead to 15 points four times in the quarter, and entered the fourth with a 13-point lead. Then, the Timberwolves fell apart.
Trying to come back from a sore right knee, forward Shabazz Muhammad took a three for the Wolves just 13 seconds into the period and missed badly. On Minnesota’s next possession, center Cole Aldrich missed a shot of his own.
Boston grabbed the rebound, and quickly made the Timberwolves pay for those mistakes. The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown found fellow forward Jonas Jerebko in the corner for an open three, cutting their deficit down to 10 pts.
Minnesota then called for a timeout, to regather and regroup. Those efforts proved to be in vain, as guard Ricky Rubio took an unneeded three from well beyond the arc and gave the ball back to Boston right away.
The Celtics could not score on their possession. Sadly, neither could the Timberwolves.
Towns tried a three of his own, only to find a lot of rim and backboard, before missing another shot in front of the basket. Next up for Minnesota was guard Zach LaVine, who also missed from three. The Timberwolves took the rebound and passed it off to forward Brandon Rush. He would miss from just inside the arc.
Boston gathered up the rebound and gave it to Horford, who made some impressive moves to free up guard Terry Rozier. Horford then passed it to the open Rozier behind the arc, and watched as his teammate drained the three.
Minnesota called for another timeout, in an attempt to slow the Celtics’ momentum. But once the clock started back up, Wiggins and Rubio missed a pair of wild shots for the Timberwolves.
Boston guard Marcus Smart nabbed the board before Jerebko drove to the basket and put it in.
On the other end, Minnesota’s Gorgui Dieng got blocked under the hoop and turned the ball over to the Celtics. Boston quickly handed the ball to Horford for a big dunk that riled up the team’s bench.
Lavine then missed another three for Minnesota, and gave the Celtics a free scoring opportunity.
But Boston’s Terry Rozier did not miss his, tying the game at 81 with an on-point trey.
The Timberwolves’ Andrew Wiggins botched a short shot on the other end. Then, Gorgui Dieng made a sloppy pass that was easily stolen and taken down the court for a huge dunk by Rozier that put the Celtics up by 2 pts.
At the Minnesota end, Lavine started to give the crowd déjà vu as he missed yet another three.
Boston took the ball back and offered it to Horford, who drained a shot from the free-throw line. The basket put the Celtics up by four, after the team was down 15 points with under a minute left in the third.
The Timberwolves then called for a 20-second timeout, after going 0-13 in the fourth quarter.
That timeout must have helped the team. Towns forced his way to the basket for a three-point play, effectively ending Boston’s 19-0 run.
The Celtics responded with three points of their own, as Horford found Smart behind the arc for an open look. Horford hustled back and contested Minnesota’s next shot, which came up short. Jerebko grabbed the rebound for the Celtics. Horford forced a jump ball on the following board, when he tied up with the Wolves’ Gorgui Dieng.
Minnesota won the tip but turned it over seconds later due to bad ball protection.
Such was the story of the night. In the end, the Timberwolves lost 99-93. Gorgui Dieng explained one of the reasons for his team’s tragic loss.
“We didn’t do a good job of stopping the ball,” said Dieng. “They were moving the ball well, and getting easy shots.”
Many on the Minnesota team expressed their frustration after another poor performance.
“It’s frustrating,” said Zach LaVine. “We were playing good. We had like 29 points in the third quarter, and then laid a damn egg in the fourth.”
The seven-foot center shared similar sentiments about the Timberwolves season in an emotional post-game interview.
“We’re doing a great job for three quarters,” said Towns. “And we just always seem not to play four out of four quarters. We’re playing three out of four, two out of four. So we got to do what we got to do. We got to fix it. And that’s up to us.”
Head coach Tom Thibodeau provided a perfect explanation of the team’s breakdown.
“We ended the third with giving them a tough shot we shouldn’t have given them,” said Thibodeau. “So it started there. And then it snowballed.”
The Wolves now find themselves well below 500, but hope to turn that around soon – since team members truly believe that they are better than their record reflects.
“We know how to play,” said LaVine. “It’s just…We’re not executing.”
Hopefully, next year’s Native American Heritage night will turn out differently for the Timberwolves. As for the Prairie Island Indian Community, the performance was good. Fans look forward to their next showing at the Target Center.