Last night was very emotional for every Minnesota Timberwolves fan. The win in Oklahoma against the Thunder wasn’t an ordinary one.
When you say Saunders in Minnesota, everyone will have the deepest respect towards it.
It was Flip who set the foundations of this franchise and made Timberwolves great and respectable in the NBA realm. His 427 wins are by far the most in the history of this organization. The very first playoff berth was clinched during his tenure at Target Center, It dated all the way back in 1996-97 season.
The sole division title was won in 2004, when the Timberwolves reached the Western Conference Finals but failed to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers.
During his second stint where, Saunders participated in selecting the core of the current team, picking Karl-Anthony Towns as the first pick in the 2015 draft, and acquiring Andrew Wiggins from Cleveland in a blockbusting trade which landed Kevin Love in Ohio.
His death was one of the toughest days in Minnesota’s history.
For a brief moment, Flip Saunders’ spirit appeared again last night at Chesapeake Energy Arena, only this time through his son, Ryan.
After the game, the 32-year old spoke with the media, and one of the questions was about his father and was he thinking about him during the game.
“Yeah, there were plenty of moments,” Ryan said. “I actually have a feeling that when I go home, my mather is going to say ‘you crouched down just like him, and you have some of those same little ticks'”
He began his first NBA game with a favorite play of his father, 5-52-twist.
“I told my mother, I have an idea… I had to just, just in an ode to him. I’d feel good about myself, if I ran his favorite play, the first play of the game.”
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) January 9, 2019
Saunders Junior encountered many problems during his NBA debut. He couldn’t count on Derrick Rose and Robert Covington because of injuries. Jeff Teague was ejected during the third quarter; Towns had foul troubles.
But he overcame all that, with the help of inspired Andrew Wiggins who dropped 40 on OKC’s defense and added 10 rebounds.
“I’m proud of him. He deserves it. He’s been here a long time, and this is rightfully his… He’s excited, we’re all excited for him, and to get this win for him, I know it means a lot to him, and his family.” No.1 pick from the 2014 draft told the reporters in the locker room.
Russell Westbrook had two opportunities to become a game-winner, but fortunately for the guests, the 2017 MVP, didn’t make it.
After the game, when Saunders entered the locker room, the whole Timberwolves team mobbed and spilled water on him, celebrating the first ever victory under this young guy, who became the youngest ever coach who triumphed on his debut.
What a night for Ryan Saunders. Starts his career as a head coach running his dad Flip’s favorite play on opening tip. Ends up with a W and a well deserved celebration by his players. Oh, he’s 32… #AllEyesNorth turn page in style #NBApic.twitter.com/RtLkHtH9tr
— Davide Chinellato (@dchinellato) January 9, 2019
If we disregard player-coaches, Saunders is probably the youngest coach in the NBA history. But that isn’t of any importance to him, as his Timberwolves have to prepare for back-to-back games against the Mavericks and Pelicans this Friday and Saturday. It would be a hell of a task for this young guy, but it seems that he has brought new energy among the sleepy Wolves, who were stagnating under Thibodeau.
Whether is that because of the aura of his father or his approach, Minnesota looked a bit different last night. With all the above-mentioned injuries and problems, they beat one of the potential title contenders on the road, in one of the most hostile arenas in the whole NBA.
— FOX Sports North (@fsnorth) January 9, 2019
That has to mean something.
The Timberwolves organization still didn’t announce their plans about the head coach position, nor did they contacted any of the available trainers on the market.
So, there is a slightest possibility to see another Saunders in Minnesota, taking over where his father stopped.
Nikola Velickovic is a sports journalist who loves to write, read, and bet on all sports. Nikola contributes both news updates and functions as a betting tips writer at WagerBop.