Sports

Minnesota Timberwolves fans go on a wild Game 7 ride to advance in playoffs

People raise their hands and celebrate
Fans celebrate as the Timberwolves take the lead in the fourth quarter of Game 7 during a watch party at Surly Brewing’s taproom in Minneapolis on Sunday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Update 9:10 a.m.

Hundreds dressed in blue were transfixed by an outdoor screen Sunday evening as the Minnesota Timberwolves played the Denver Nuggets.

More than 300 fans sat at picnic tables and in lawn chairs at Surly Brewing’s beer garden to watch the first NBA Game 7 playoff match for Minnesota in 20 years.

In the middle of that crowd was Jonny Sonquist. He was wearing a Kevin Garnett jersey, wrapped in a Naz Reid towel.

“I do think this is our best chance at winning a championship in the history of the Timberwolves. It's a very low bar. We haven't had many good chances. But I think this is absolutely our best chance ever.”

Sonquist was 20 years old for the last playoff game, when Minnesota played Sacramento.

“Watching it at that age, it felt like this was my whole future. And this is my whole life. The Timberwolves are going to be the rock that holds me through the winter and keeps me excited till spring,” Sonquist said. “I hope I'm not 60 when the next big run happens, but we better win it all. If that's the case.”

A man wipes his face with a blue towel
Jonny Sonquist wipes his brow at the end of the second quarter during a watch party at Surly Brewing’s taproom in Minneapolis on Sunday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Billy Mzenga has been waiting, too. He was in seventh grade the last time Minnesota had this chance.

“When I was growing up, I was a Timberwolves fan first, Vikings fan second,” Mzenga said. “And I really started to become more of a Vikings fan than a Timberwolves fan because I hated being depressed all the time. But now we're back.”

An hour and a half before last night's tipoff, there was a line about 50 deep outside of Tom's Watch Bar in downtown Minneapolis.

The bar hosted the official Timberwolves watch party. Cody Freese of Fairmont and his friends sat around a large table. They got to Tom's around 4:15 p.m.

The dozen or so were unmistakable Wolves fans wearing player jerseys, Wolves bucket hats and custom t-shirts.

People hold up their hands while watching a basketball game
Timberwolves fans cheer during a Game 7 watch party at Surly Brewing’s taproom in Minneapolis.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

“Being a lifelong Minnesota sports fan, you got to feel a little bit nervous,” Freese said. “But hey, it's do or die. You got Anthony Edwards — Ant man — on your side and Naz Reid. At the end of the day. It's gonna be a heck of a game.”

Shiv Jhanjee of Edina also was at the bar early, sitting with two friends in the first row facing three giant televisions.

“My dad moved from India when he was in high school. So his introduction to American culture was the Timberwolves and the Vikings,” Jhanjee said.

The first half played out mostly in ways that put Wolves fans on edge. Edwards went one for seven in the first, fighting off double teams. Meanwhile, Nicola Jokic had 14 points and 15 rebounds. Wolves fans were quiet as the half wound down, but Rahel Kidane cheered as the Nuggets scored and grabbed rebounds. The new Minneapolis resident wore her Denver shirt proudly.

“Last year winning the championship was huge for my city. And it's sad that I'm away right now. But I love a good game and I got to support home.”

Her luck ran out in the third quarter. Minnesota went on a 21 to 3 scoring run, getting within striking distance of the Nuggets.

The two teams battled through the fourth quarter, but the Wolves began breaking away, building a lead and keeping the Nuggets at arms length, winning 98-90.

Karl-Anthony Towns, who had 23 points and 12 rebounds, said it was a sweet win after a lot of tough playoff losses in the past.

“The fans have been waiting for this moment. And this team has brought them this moment. So you know it's up to us now to capitalize on this opportunity and be the best team we could be, and like I said play Timberwolves basketball.”

Before the game, Akeem Akway, owner of Akway’s Sports Barbershop and Town's barber for nine years, recalled the recent advice he gave his customer.

“I just told him, you know, go make history.”

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