TORONTO – The Raptors’ visiting locker room at Scotiabank Arena doubles as the Maple Leafs’ visitors hockey dressing room. As such, there are two stalls larger than the rest for goaltenders to keep their equipment. That means for basketball purposes, two players will get stalls bigger than everyone else even though they really don’t need them.
On the Timberwolves’ last trip to Toronto, Jimmy Butler was sprawled across one of those stalls. Before Monday’s 137-126 loss to the Raptors, Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell occupied those extra-large stalls.
“When I was a rookie, they put me over there,” Towns said, pointing to a regular stall across the room.
He recalled that Kevin Garnett and Andre Miller had the big stalls that season.
But this is Russell and Towns’ team now.
Monday was the official beginning of the new era of Wolves basketball, as Russell made his debut after sitting out Saturday’s victory over the Clippers because of a right quad contusion.
Monday’s performance wasn’t quite the repeat of Saturday’s catharsis. The Wolves hung around most of the night and were down by two early in the fourth quarter before Toronto poured it on.
But there wasn’t much disappointment in an upbeat locker room after a game veteran James Johnson said was like “Day 3 of training camp.”
Russell, who had 22 points and five assists while shooting 7-for-12, liked what he saw out of his new teammates.
“I’m so excited about this group,” Russell said. “We all have a chip on our shoulder and ... we got great guys. We got great guys to lead from. Great guys who can follow, and we’re just excited about attacking.”
The Raptors, who were without big men Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, did most of the attacking in winning time Monday. They had all five starters score at least 16 points, with Pascal Siakam scoring 34, Kyle Lowry adding 27 (and 11 assists) and OG Anunoby adding 25. Toronto shot 57% and won its 15th straight game.
Russell didn’t attempt a shot in the fourth quarter and had six of Minnesota’s 23 turnovers — a natural byproduct of a whole new team playing together in just its second game. Towns had 23 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists and was thrilled to be on the floor with Russell for the first time.
“If fans were watching the game closely, they could see how much we’re talking to each other, and we’re just hyping each other up and everything,” Towns said. “That’s my brother. I told him, I don’t know if he’ll ever have a teammate that loves him as much as I do, has his back more than I do. I’d die for that man and I know he would do the same for me.”
The Wolves had 75 points in the first half, 51 in the second as Toronto doubled Towns and blitzed Russell in the fourth, daring the Wolves’ other weapons to beat them. In the meantime, the Wolves set their season high in turnovers. It’s not hard to see that number likely will improve as this team adjusts to playing with each other.
“It’s a whole new group,” Russell said. “So the chemistry is going to develop within time. Time is on our side right now. We’re not in a playoff race or anything like that. We’re just worried about us. The more games, more practice, the more film sessions we can get under our belt, the better we’ll be.”
Towns and Russell were two of the last Wolves out of the locker room following Russell’s session with the media. There have been times this season when the locker room has been as quiet as a church, especially during losing streaks of 11 and 13 games.
That wasn’t the case Monday.
There was plenty of chatter, teammates still getting to know one another, coach Ryan Saunders sitting down with a few players and doling out advice, something he normally doesn’t do after games.
It’s going to take time for the newness to wear off. While it does, the Timberwolves are trying to have fun with few expectations.
“I’m extremely encouraged with what happened tonight,” Saunders said.