Corliss Williamson’s Finest NBA Playoffs Coaching Moment Came vs World’s Very Best

Corliss Williamson, Nikola Jokic, NBA playoffs, Timberwolves, Arkansas basketball

And then there were four. The NBA season has come down to the wire as the matchups are set for the conference finals. In the west, the Minnesota Timberwolves will face off against the Dallas Mavericks of round 3 of the NBA Playoffs. In the east, the Boston Celtics will square off with the Indiana Pacers.

Despite the elimination of beloved Pro Hogs Jaylin Williams and Isaiah Joe on the Oklahoma City Thunder and Bobby Portis and Patrick Beverley on the Milwaukee Bucks, there are still plenty of Arkansas connections on the teams still left standing.

In fact, it was the assistant coaching expertise of a former Razorback that helped propel the Timberwolves to overcome a double-digit deficit and knock off the Denver Nuggets in Game 7 on Sunday night.

The Timberwolves set an NBA record for largest halftime deficit overcome in a Game 7 of an NBA Playoffs series while also impressively beating the defending world champions three times as the visiting team.

Big Nasty Helps Scheme Out the Joker

Corliss Williamson, the cornerstone of two of Nolan Richardson’s best Arkansas basketball teams in the 1990s and NCAA Final Four MVP, is now an assistant coach for Minnesota. “Big Nasty” has used his low-post experience to help out the Wolves’ big men thrive this season:

Nuggets superstar Nikola Jokic, the first center to win MVP three times in four seasons since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did so in the 1970s, has become an essentially unsolvable puzzle for opposing coaches to try to deal with.

Yet the trio of Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert and Naz Reid teamed up as “three-headed center monster” that did just about as good of a job as you could hope in slowing him down, according to The Ringer’s Rob Mahoney. While he finished with a good-looking total of 34 points, the usually-efficient Jokic was held to just 13-28 from the floor. Mahoney wrote that during the closing stretch the Joker, the reigning MVP, was “trying, desperately, to get his shot up inside, only for it to be devoured by a pack of Wolves.”

Defending Jokic was a multi-layered effort of Towns meeting him on the perimeter with Gobert lurking in the paint with help defense. When Towns got into foul trouble, it was Reid, the Sixth Man of the Year, who came in to help hound the Serb.

Williamson was himself was named Sixth Man of the Year in 2002, and in the playoffs that year got cooking so hot he straight up barked at his competition, as you can see here:

In his current role mostly out the spotlight he’s certainly been a helpful shoulder to lean on for Reid, who has built a role as a junkyard dog in the NBA over the last few years. Arkansas basketball fans will recognize his name from his time at LSU, where he dropped 19 points and 10 rebounds on the Hogs in the 2018-19 season.

While he was a consensus five-star prospect out of high school, he didn’t have the build of a prototypical pro big man. Despite this, he’s made a name for himself on the Wolves this season under the tutelage of Williamson.

“Effort, effort, effort,” Reid said after the decisive victory. “Coming in as the sixth man, I’m just trying to make effort plays, plays to win the game, whether it’s rebounds, steals, blocking shots, scoring, whatever the case may be. My offense really hasn’t been going in the postseason but just trying to get other ways to stay in the game.”

Also featured in that clip is Fayetteville native Mike Conley Jr., who has been a key contributor in the Minnesota backcourt alongside star shooting guard Anthony Edwards. Conley Jr. reached double-figures in five of seven games against the Nuggets.

“I think they’re built to beat us,” Jokic said afterward of the Timberwolves. “Just look at their roster.”

Ironically, the man who built the Minnesota roster is the one who drafted Jokic in the first place. Tim Connelly, the president of basketball operations for the Timberwolves, previously had a long stint in the Nuggets’ front office.

Other Arkansas Basketball Alumni in NBA

On Wednesday night, the Timberwolves will face off in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, who just knocked off the top-seeded Thunder. Also featuring in that series will be former Razorback Daniel Gafford, who will go toe to toe with Williamson’s pack of big men in the paint in what should be a hotly-contested series.

Gafford has logged consistent minutes for the Mavs after moving to Dallas from the Washington Wizards this season, creating a role as a lob threat for Doncic on pick and rolls that Arkansas fans know well. The center has averaged 11 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks this season. He’s tied indirectly to Williamson through Bobby Portis, considering Portis as helped mentor Gafford after himself being mentored in the 2000s by Wiliamson when the latter lived in Little Rock.

On the other side of the playoff bracket, rookie forward and former Razorback Jordan Walsh will feature for the Boston Celtics. After fluctuating between the G-League and the Association throughout the regular season, Walsh has appeared in two playoff games for the Celtics, tallying two points and one rebound.

Arkansas also has a connection to the Indiana Pacers, with former Hog Jannero Pargo serving as their assistant coach for player development. The sharpshooting Pargo played two seasons for the Razorbacks in the early 2000s, averaging 14.4 points per game and shooting 42.5 percent from behind the arc. Early in his career, Pargo played for the Lakers alongside Little Rock native Derek Fisher and the late Kobe Bryant.


Preview of NBA Playoffs Game 1 between the Timberwolves and Mavericks


More coverage on Corliss Williamson and other Pro Hogs from Best of Arkansas Sports.

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