One night after a listless loss to Atlanta, there was life Saturday. A day after dysfunction on both ends of the court the Timberwolves were determined on defense and generous on offense.
There was energy.
And there was a victory: 120-110 over New Orleans at Target Center.
"I thought we played the right way," coach Ryan Saunders said. "I'm really proud of that locker room. Proud of the guys. We were missing some guys. [Playing] back-to-back. Really good win tonight."
In a game in which both teams badly needed a victory, the Wolves (4-11) played like they wanted it more. Already without Karl-Anthony Towns and Juancho Hernangomez because of COVID-19 protocols, the Wolves also played without D'Angelo Russell, who got a planned day of rest on the second of back-to-back games.
Still, the Wolves played with pace, making the extra pass. They played defense, communicating. And they won for the second time in 13 games.
"We got the win," Ricky Rubio said. "Everything looks brighter. But it's not about winning or losing, it's about the way we play. We can lose games, but not the way we did last night [vs. Atlanta]. Tonight we showed up, played the right way. When you play the right way, basketball rewards you."
The depth was impressive. Three starters scored in double figures, and the other two had nine points. Another three players scored in double figures off the bench, which contributed 50 points. Jarred Vanderbilt had a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Center Naz Reid had 20 points, including two free throws with 24.2 seconds left that essentially iced the game. Anthony Edwards came off the bench for 18 and Jarrett Culver had 16.
The point guard combination of Rubio and Jordan McLaughlin was efficient, combining for 19 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists. The team's offense was crisp with the ball in Rubio's hands.
"We were hurting after the last few games," Saunders said. "We had lost [vs. Orlando] a game we thought we should have won. [Friday] we didn't feel good about that. But tonight, no matter who was out there, I was confident this group would play the right way. They care."
Saturday they played.
Down a point at the half, the Wolves (4-11) came out and, while holding the Pelicans (5-10) to 5-for-34 shooting, put together a 24-14 quarter that had them up 87-78 after three.
Then McLaughlin scored twice and set up Edwards for a basket for a 6-0 start to the fourth quarter that pushed the lead to 15. That lead would grow to 18 with 7:29 left. And while the Pelicans pushed at the end, getting to within six late, the Wolves made enough free throws down the stretch to hold on for the much-needed victory.
Rubio, who had nine points, seven assists and seven rebounds, led the way all night, driving and dishing, hitting open teammates, setting the tone. Saunders said the fire he saw in Rubio at the end of the game was exhilarating.
It also was contagious.
The Wolves turned 14 offensive rebounds into 22 points, had a 12-6 edge on fast-break points and forced 21 turnovers. With the lead down to six, Reid and Malik Beasley combined for four free throws down the stretch.
Brandon Ingram scored 30 for the Pelicans, Eric Bledsoe had 28 and Zion Williamson 19. But, facing a bigger opponent, the Wolves held their own in the paint and on the boards.
Now the key is bottling this style and taking it forward. "If that's how we're going to play," Edwards said, "we're going to win."
They did Saturday.
"It's a team win," Rubio said. "That's why it feels good."