With every step-back, Anthony Edwards sent a murmur through the Target Center crowd. A quiet hush would build, just waiting to explode on whatever Edwards decided to do next.
Would he drive? Pull up for three?
On a few occasions in the second quarter, Edwards decided to pull up. He would hit four of his six threes in the quarter, each of them sending the decibel level soaring higher, and at one point Edwards motioned to the Houston bench with some instructions as the Wolves were on their way to a 124-106 victory.
"I was telling the coach to call a damn timeout," said Edwards, who wore a large diamond encrusted "AE" around his neck after the game. "Call one. Need a timeout. I'm hot, for sure."
The Timberwolves' 2021-22 season began with the kind of organizational upheaval that has become a trademark of the franchise when President Gersson Rosas was fired last month.
But throughout training camp, the players and coach Chris Finch preached that the "spirit" and "vibes" around the team were nothing but positive. It looked that way Wednesday, with Edwards (29 points) leading the charge in that department.
"That camaraderie allows you to put your guys first," guard D'Angelo Russell said. "It makes you feel no one's bigger than one another. You want to see the next guy succeed and it's just a contagious feeling."
The crowd came alive in pregame introductions when Edwards was introduced second-to-last just in front of Karl-Anthony Towns, who didn't have a shabby night himself with a game-high 30 points and 10 rebounds. The Wolves were playing the lowly Rockets, projected to finish in the basement of the Western Conference, but if the Wolves have any designs on escaping that destination as well, they have to play like that against teams they are supposed to beat.
It all made for a better atmosphere than some recent seasons in Target Center, such as three years ago when fans booed Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau, or last season when COVID-19 prevented fans from attending.
"Man, all I can say is the crowd brings a different type of energy into the gym," Edwards said. "Last year it was freezing in the gym. This year it's hot. You hear everybody. Different atmosphere, man."
The crowd responded to the Wolves' renewed sense of purpose on defense as they forced Houston into 24 turnovers, which led to 31 fast-break points. With players such as Josh Okogie, Jaden McDaniels and Jarred Vanderbilt flying around, the Wolves played with the effort they pledged would be there on that end all preseason.
"It's really what we've been trying to sell our guys," Finch said. "If we want to be a team that takes a step forward, we have to have that type of defensive approach."
The offense was a little slower getting going, but that fed off the defense when the Wolves got easy buckets in transition. Then the threes started falling. Towns was efficient in shooting 11-for-15 from the field, while Edwards picked up where he left off at the second half of last season with a 10-for-21 performance, including 6-for-12 from deep. Russell finished with 22 after catching fire for 15 second-half points.
"First game of the year, obviously nerves are high," Towns said. "... But to go out there and have the discipline to play the defense we're supposed to be playing, it speaks volumes about our coaching staff installing it, making sure that we understand the importance of it."
Not every opponent will be like the Rockets, who committed 24 turnovers, but the Wolves have a generous early-season schedule and a lot of home games for those opponents. More performances like Wednesday will keep the good vibes rolling.
"The more guys you have that are selfless and happy for one another, success is right around the corner," Russell said.