Minnesota Timberwolves: Escaping the weight of history

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - APRIL 11: Jimmy Butler. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - APRIL 11: Jimmy Butler. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

The Minnesota Timberwolves finally cranked open the water hose and ended the seemingly endless playoff drought. Why should we view this as such a monumental moment?

One night after the Minnesota Timberwolves punched their ticket into the first postseason in 13 seasons, the stadium across the street played host to another important milestone. Joe Mauer, polarizing mid-west sports hero and franchise icon of the Minnesota Twins, recorded his 2,000th career hit.

What possible relevance does this have to the recent Wolves’ breakthrough? Well, Mauer acquired his first base hit on the date of April 5th, 2004, revealing that his entire lengthy and decorated career has spanned nearly exactly the period of the aforementioned infamous Timberwolves playoff draught.

More from Timberwolves News

Of all the mockery and ridicule the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise has deservedly accumulated over the course of their 13 seasons of futility, this statistic encompasses the magnitude of their past ineptitude in perhaps the clearest form imaginable to true Minnesota sports followers.

It is through this lens that fans of the team should gain perspective on just how important moments like Wednesday night are to deeply appreciate.

The weight of history

When it comes to historically lengthy streaks in sports, things have a way of pushing back against what would seem to be the logical series of events transpiring.

The Wolves have been on both sides of this coin.

Remember two seasons ago when the Golden State Warriors were attempting to take down the seemingly unbreakable season record of the 1995-95 Chicago Bulls’ 72-10 campaign? It was in this season that the Warriors brought an absurd record of 69-8 into a late season home contest against a young and rightfully overlooked Timberwolves squad that was 25-52 and led by three players under the age of 21.

In that game, the Warriors blew a double-digit lead, allowed the game to go into overtime, and then let the game slip through their fingers as they lost to a bunch of naïve and frisky young-guns who, at that point, really had no clue what they were doing.

Rational thinking cannot explain this. Reasonable analytic examination utterly fails to describe why this occurred. No matter your level of basketball knowledge, the outcome of this contest is something that defies what any coherent person would realistically predict.

But, despite all of that, it happened, with the only viable explanation being the weight of the historical mark they were chasing resisting what should’ve been a simple outcome.

Fast-forward to the Wolves current season, where on February 23rd Minnesota sat in the three seed in the Western Conference and it seemed more pressing to analyze whether the Wolves could compete with the top-two teams in the West in a seven-game series than worry about missing the playoffs.

Then, just as in the case of the Warriors loss to the Wolves, the weight of history began to set in, yet again.

It was at this point where approximately a thousand things needed to go wrong in order for the Wolves to even worry about missing the playoffs. Their odds of making the postseason were well over 95% according to multiple reliable basketball outlets. But, as is almost always the case over the Wolves playoff drought, things began to go awry quickly.

Jimmy Butler, the team leader and unquestioned spark in this recent climb to relevance, tore his meniscus. The Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers decided to completely forget what losing was and ripped off lengthy winning streaks to thrust them up the standings. The Pelicans somehow got better after losing All-NBA center DeMarcus Cousins and essentially replacing him with Emeka Okafor (yes…THAT Emeka Okafor).

To add to all of this, the NBA season unfolded at around this point with an unprecedented number of teams realizing they were within striking distance of the worst record in the NBA (and thus, best odds at the top pick in the draft) and began blatantly tanking. Who were these tanking teams playing? Of course, it was many of the teams that were streaking past the Wolves in the standings. All of this while the Wolves faced the most difficult part of their schedule without their best player (after inexcusably losing to these awful teams far too often earlier in the year and not building much cushion).

As the final week of the season came, the results became even bleaker for the Wolves. From April 6th, until the last day of the season, in the 14 games that the Timberwolves needed teams to lose in order to help their potential draft position, the teams Minnesota was rooting against went…wait for it…14-0.

However, out of the aforementioned 1000 things that needed to go wrong, the Wolves finally caught a break in controlling their destiny and potentially stopping the leak at 999. Their final game of the season came against the opponent they needed to lose. A rare one game play-in to see which team would make the playoffs against the division rival Denver Nuggets.

The final game showdown

It was in this game that everything was on the line. The rumblings about Tom Thibodeau’s inability to coax any semblance of defensive competence out of his team for two seasons has turned into full-blown bellowing for the head coach’s job to be stripped. Andrew Wiggins had seen the fan’s perception of him devolve from franchise cornerstone to severe disappointment with an albatross of a contract waiting in the wings. Karl-Anthony Towns had yet to prove that he could turn gaudy statistical output into anything substantial from a winning perspective. And to cap it all off, veteran warriors Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson were playing at a health rate that was noticeably less than 100%.

The weight of the situation seemed suffocating. Rightfully pessimistic fans began to debate if missing the playoffs altogether would be a better option than winning the game (if the Wolves lost, they would have held two first-round picks in June’s draft). It is a script that all Minnesota sports fans had read far too many times – their team showed an unbreakable amount of promise that appeared could not be stripped, until it was, over and over again.

But this time, it wasn’t. The Timberwolves scratched and clawed. They built up decent leads, and then saw them erased. They went toe-to-toe with every one of Nikola Jokic’s third quarter hay-makers and got back up to keep fighting. And then when everything seemed to be falling apart, their veteran soldier Taj Gibson did what he was brought in to do and made a season-saving play to steal the ball on a final possession.

The Wolves used this momentum to surge into overtime, with the game being sealed in the most unpredictable form of all – Andrew Wiggins clutch free throws.

Taking a moment

The win over the Nuggets was such a colossal moment in the context of Minnesota Timberwolves franchise history that we must not overlook its importance in the face of an extremely difficult first round matchup.

It seemed inevitable that the weight of history would swallow up the Wolves in this particular circumstance, as the ghosts of 13 utterly humiliating seasons would draw up yet another chapter of this prolonged nightmare.

Next: Karl-Anthony Towns' historic season

Until, finally, the escape happened.

So, Wolves fans, take a moment and exhale. The holding of breath waiting for the unavoidable letdown to occur is finally avoided and playoff basketball has firmly been grasped. Before griping and analyzing how tough of a match-up the Houston Rockets are (and man, it’s a tough one), take some time to enjoy what it feels like to come out on top for a change.

Because sometimes what seems like a baby step towards credibility is actually a gigantic leap to escape of the weight of history.