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INDIANAPOLIS – Three years ago Wednesday, the Timberwolves replaced head coach Ryan Saunders with Chris Finch after a road loss on a Sunday night to the Knicks.

In the early hours of Monday morning, when the chaos of what had just happened had quelled, Finch said he texted Karl-Anthony Towns, the franchise tentpole with whom he would have to form a good relationship if his first stint as NBA head coach would be a successful one.

Finch sent the text with a tinge of uncertainty. He knew Towns and Saunders were close. Finch wasn't sure how Towns might welcome him, or if Towns might hold it against Finch for replacing someone with whom he had such a strong bond.

Towns could have ignored the text, maybe said he was asleep since it was so late. But he didn't.

"I said how excited I was to come work with him," Finch said. "Then he called me right away."

Their relationship began with that call, and Finch was grateful for it then, and he remains that way nearly three years later.

Fast forward to Saturday, when Finch is recalling that time while serving as the head coach of the Western Conference All-Stars in Gainbridge Fieldhouse. As he spoke with his back against a wall in a crowded hallway near the court, some of his temporary charges like Stephen Curry, Paul George and Anthony Davis, whom he coached as an assistant in New Orleans, come walking past.

"That was not lost on me at the moment, and it's never been lost on me," Finch said of Towns' initial overtures. "It's been everything for the relationship. It points to really what a great person he is in terms of — he's referred to himself as a servant leader. That's what servant leadership is about. It's what can you do to make those people around you, their experiences, better or easier? He paved the way for me in that regard."

That early bond between Finch and Towns helped set the Wolves on solid footing in those early days, even as Finch's tenure began with five straight losses before that season's All-Star break. Towns said he and Saunders had a chat at the time, and that they both agreed Towns should do everything he could to welcome Finch to the organization despite Saunders' firing.

"The energy he gave was genuine," Towns said. "… I've always wanted to be super welcoming when he came in. The situation, everyone knew how close I was with Ryan. I didn't want him to feel that we would have a major disconnect between me and him."

That quick connection between Finch and Towns helped set the team up for what was to come, even though it was a bumpy road in Finch's first few weeks. He was hired in midseason after joining the Wolves from the Raptors. That is already a challenge in itself. But it was also the first post-COVID season when fans weren't in arenas and contact was limited between teammates and coaches. Finch wanted to connect with his players, but the COVID restrictions of the league were such that actually being in their presence was a challenge.

"You were really not encouraged to spend any extra time around the team because of COVID," Finch said.

Then the Wolves lost the first five games of Finch's tenure, including a 32-point home loss just before the All-Star break. After that game, Towns was despondent as he lamented the team regressing before his eyes. Finch tried to light a fire under his team by challenging it to compete.

"You felt slowly like it was getting worse and worse, which is not a good sign when you're brought in to change the fortune of the team," Finch said. "You don't expect to do it right away, but there are some fundamentals that have to change. Competitiveness had to be one of them. I just challenged the team."

The Wolves came back from the break a different squad, and they finished the season 16-20 after starting 7-29. That helped the Wolves springboard into the next season, which resulted in the franchise's second playoff berth since 2004. Finch credited the relationships he was able to form with Edwards and Towns as the catalysts for that.

On Saturday, the three of them were sharing laughs with each other on the All-Star practice court before Finch got to coach them on Sunday.

Finch joked that being on that court Saturday was like an episode of "This is Your Life," as he was watching not just Anthony Edwards and Towns, but players he worked with as an assistant at different stops, like Davis and Denver's Nikola Jokic.

He said he felt like a kid again as he watched players file in one by one to the locker room for practice. In particular, Finch was excited to chat with Curry.

"I never actually formally met him," Finch said. "Chatted with him on the sideline here and there once in a while, but just to be able to meet him and shake his hand and tell him what an honor it is to coach him. Then Kevin Durant walks in, then another guy and another guy walks in."

It was a moment nearly three years in the making, and one that began with that phone call from Towns to Finch that hectic evening.

"That was the beginning of breaking the ice, if you will," Finch said. "And Anthony was a rookie of course, but he was open to coaching and a lot of it. You don't often get that. You come into an environment and you got to knock down a lot of balls and prove yourself. I came in with the idea to prove myself, but I didn't feel like I had to do it all at one time."