NEW ORLEANS – As Anthony Edwards and Rudy Gobert were discussing Saturday's 121-120 win over the Pelicans, they both agreed this wasn't a game the Wolves are likely to have won last season.
Edwards then added this kicker: "But this ain't last year."
That it certainly isn't. The Wolves are 9-3 and technically in first place in the Western Conference standings, thanks to their earlier win over Denver. They're in this position because of the way they have been able to pull out gut-check moments like Saturday. They had a similar win on this road trip Tuesday in Golden State where they didn't play their best basketball but found a way to win.
Saturday was like that, as well.
"It was just the poise that we showed the whole time down 10," Gobert said. "I was feeling that we were playing better and better, and I was telling the guys on the bench, the game is going to take care of itself. Don't overreact to them hitting contested shots. Keep working, keep talking and offensively keep trusting each other. I don't know how, but we found a way."
The Wolves only led three times, and they were down 14 in the fourth quarter. Their defense, which had been so strong the first 10 games, again wasn't operating at the peak of its powers for the second consecutive game. But the Wolves clamped down during important moments of the fourth quarter. It helped that New Orleans, which shot 54% for the night, cooled off from three-point range in the fourth quarter (1-for-5).
Then two players who sometimes let the emotions of the game get to them, Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, came through when the Wolves needed it most despite foul trouble.
"I don't think we did a lot of things right tonight, but we definitely showed our mental fortitude and the toughness our team has to find a way to win even when things aren't going right," Towns said. "We've been No. 1 in defense most of the year. Last game and this game I don't think we've shown how great we are defensively, but we've also shown the NBA community that we have a toughness that maybe has been lacking and just finding ways to win."
Edwards said he could feel a difference in himself in a few areas related to the team's composure. For one, he said he feels less pressure on himself to rescue the Wolves when things aren't going their way.
"Usually like myself, I would be rushing," Edwards said. "Like, 'OK, well I got to hit this shot.' We was just like, 'OK, let's take it play by play.' Get a stop, then we'll figure it out down here."
He credited Mike Conley with helping the Wolves get into their offense during those moments. Both Edwards and Towns had strong fourth quarters (22 combined points) before Edwards fouled out with 10 seconds to play.
Edwards also said Saturday was also a good lesson for him when it comes to dealing with foul trouble.
"It was hard. I don't even know how to deal with that," Edwards said. "I'm happy for myself for coming out in the fourth and finding it and impacting the game. I'm actually proud of myself, because usually when I get in foul trouble, I check out of the game."
But nobody checked out Saturday, especially not Edwards and Towns, and that was one key difference between last season and this one.