By: Jake Paynting
Last night the Minnesota Timberwolves scratched and clawed their way past the Denver Nuggets in the much anticipated win-or-go-home regular season finale, giving the Wolves their first post-season taste test since their 2004-05 playoff run.
That long wait - formerly the longest active streak in the league - has provided many different versions prior to the squad we see now. From the days of big Al Jefferson to the return of a 37-year-old Kevin Garnett to lead the young guns. There has been plenty of potential, but little basketball joy in the Twin Cities.
But now, the drought and the 14 year rebuild has finally come to end.
No longer do we have to dwell on the moments where former President Of Basketball Operations David Kahn passed on two-time MVP Stephen Curry ... twice, or when he selected Wesley Johnson and Derrick Williams with the fourth and second pick respectively.
Those days are over.
The days where Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio toiled away in the brutal Western Conference only to end up a mediocre outfit time and time again are done with. The angry feeling at the basketball gods for taking Nikola Pekovic's Achilles directly after signing a 5-year, $60 million contract can finally be washed away.
After years of watching and waiting, the Timberwolves are finally invited to the playoff party again.
The feeling experienced by long suffering fans when Wiggins knocked down two free throws to seal the 112-106 clinching victory is more than a decade overdue, and it feels so good.
Andrew Wiggins summed it up perfectly in his usual concise post-game interview.
"That was way overdue man ... the fans deserve it, Minnesota deserves it," he said. "We needed it. It had been too long,".
The Houston Rockets won't be an easy adversary when the big dance rolls around, but it doesn't matter. Watching at least four games of playoff basketball is an experience fans couldn't have imagined when head coach Kurt Rambis led Minnesota to a combined 32 wins in his two campaigns, with Michael Beasley, Luke Ridnour and Darko Milicic were gracing the Target Center floor.
This current team is on the rise, and this first sample of playoff basketball could vault the franchise into a post-season quality team for just as long as they have suffered in the cellars of the NBA standings. This first step has been the hurdle for far too long, and it was the most important one to get over.
For the next fortnight - hopefully longer - soak up the feeling of watching the Timberwolves play a game that isn't in the regular season. It's what the great Kevin Garnett always wanted, and what the even greater Flip Saunders built this organization for.
Wash away those bad memories ... things are finally on the upswing.
Winning basketball is back in Minnesota.