After winning their first game under interim head coach Ryan Saunders, the Minnesota Timberwolves looked like a joyful bunch.
In a move that was inevitable but with odd timing after a 20-plus point win, Tom Thibodeau was fired as coach and team president of the Minnesota Timberwolves Sunday night. Assistant Ryan Saunders, son of the late Flip Saunders, was elevated to interim head coach for the remainder of the season.
Saunders’ first game as interim head coach was Tuesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Timberwolves went home with a 119-117 win as Andrew Wiggins scored 40 points and otherwise filled the stat sheet in a way he typically doesn’t (10 rebounds and four assists).
With his constant barking during games, and refusal to even sit down when action was going, the Timberwolves were a reflection of Thibodeau’s often joyless intensity over his two and-a-half seasons. Even Jimmy Butler, one of the proverbial “Thibs guys”, turned on him one season into their reunion in an effort to force a trade that came too late.
Immediately after Tuesday night’s game ended, and into the post game locker room, the Timberwolves unleashed some bottled-up joy.
Saunders acknowledged honoring his father’s favorite play with Minnesota’s first offensive set of the game, which yielded the first two points of Wiggins’ 40-point night on a 20-foot jumper.
The 32-year old Saunders has been given a 42-game audition to be Minnesota’s head coach beyond the end of the season. The high of his first win as a head coach will be impossible to replicate. But if he creates an environment where players can play looser, without a coach essentially stalking them from the bench and without fear of making a mistake, more good results stand to follow.
One game into Saunders’ tenure, with a long way to go before any real conclusions can be drawn, the Timberwolves just look happy to be out from under Thibodeau.