One night in an 82-game NBA calendar should never be cast as conclusive, certainly not in October. Uniforms still smell fresh at this early stage.
Some games, though, just feel different in substance and meaning and value, even if they’re weighted equally in the standings. Some games feel like exclamation points.
The Wolves experienced one of those jolts Sunday night.
There is a lot to unpack from a 115-113 road victory against one of the Western Conference’s fortified super teams, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and reigning NBA MVP Russell Westbrook.
The headliner is obvious. Andrew Wiggins’ glass-kissing buzzer-beater was the show stopper, literally. The spontaneous eruption felt like the moment an unsuspecting person walks in the door, flips on the light and a room filled with close friends screams “Surprise!”
Someone else had to organize the party and handle all the arrangements to pull it off.
Jeff Teague looked comfortable in that role, which should make the Wolves and their fan base breathe a little more comfortably.
Teague played the type of game envisioned when the Wolves signed him to a three-year, $57 million contract this offseason to replace Ricky Rubio at point guard.
Teague finished with 19 points, nine assists and six rebounds. He ran the offense effectively and put pressure on Oklahoma City’s defense with his aggressive drives to the basket.
Everything just flowed better than their first two games when the offense often looked disjointed and clunky, like five guys taking five cabs.
“Jeff was terrific,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “That’s the Jeff that we’re all expecting. He has great speed, super aggressive. He was attacking. He got the game going at a high speed, and that’s where he’s at his best.”
Teague’s debut in a Wolves uniform spurred an opposite reaction. He was benched in the fourth quarter in favor of backup Tyus Jones in a loss to San Antonio. Again, one game shouldn’t be oversold, but when a veteran point guard tabbed to replace Rubio doesn’t get off the bench in the fourth quarter of a close game in his debut, well, that’s a bit unsettling.
Thibodeau cautioned reporters not to go overboard dissecting his decision to play Jones over Teague in crunch time. Game 3 provided more context.
This process was bound to take time. The Wolves reconfigured their roster by adding integral pieces. They commenced a full-scale makeover, not minor tweaks.
In a perfect world, the newcomers would click their first day together and never sweat the chemistry part. That’s not practical.
The point guard faces the toughest adjustment because he’s responsible for making the whole thing run smoothly. If Teague looks confused or hesitant, the other four players likely will be affected, too.
Teague needs time to learn where Karl-Anthony Towns likes to get the ball in the post. He has to learn Wiggins’ game and Jimmy Butler’s preferences and Thibodeau’s system.
Training camp isn’t nearly long enough to fill in those blank spaces.
“We’re trying to find our way,” forward Taj Gibson said. “But you saw a step.”
More steps will follow with each game. Some of those steps might be backward. Their chemistry on the court might not become instinctive until sometime this winter.
The organization’s decision to swap Rubio for Teague still does not sit well with some, and that’s not surprising. Rubio became one of the most polarizing pro athletes in this sports market in years. He has undeniable strengths and weaknesses, and people’s opinions of him likely hinged on how they ranked his unique skill set in importance.
Teague lacks Rubio’s defensive acumen but brings a different dimension and upgrade with his offensive capabilities. His impact should continue to expand once he clears this adjustment phase with his new teammates.
One item on Teague’s résumé already sounds like sweet music. He has not missed the playoffs in eight NBA seasons — seven with Atlanta and last season with Indiana.
If he continues to orchestrate the offense and attack the basket like he did Sunday, his streak will be safe.