Who Should Close Out Games For the Timberwolves?

Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Timberwolves have a dynamic backcourt in Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell. Ant can dazzle with his ability to get to the rim with speed and power. Russell is crafty in the pick-and-roll and is unafraid to launch a 3-pointer from anywhere. The two of them are the primary ball-handlers for a Minnesota team that plays a new run-and-gun brand of basketball.

Ryan Saunders always emphasized the importance of pace, and the Wolves averaged a faster pace under his leadership. But the Wolves seem to have started to find a sense of balance and structure under Chris Finch. Join that structure with their ninth-ranked pace of play and their 42 3-point attempts per game, and the Wolves have put together a team that looks like it can compete for a playoff spot. At the very least, they have become a league-pass favorite for a national audience.

Both Russell and Edwards possess a palpable it factor. We’ve seen them step up and make huge shots so many times already this season. Their ability to take clutch shots have many Timberwolves fans wondering who is taking the last shot? Granted, every night is different. We saw Karl-Anthony Towns hit that huge shot against the Memphis Grizzlies to send the game into overtime. But when it’s time to go big or go home, who are you giving the ball to? Anthony Edwards or D’Angelo Russell?

Finch has spoken about Ant’s innate “sense of timing.” After Monday’s big win against the Indiana Pacers, he talked about Ant having a strong third quarter after struggling to score in the first half.

“He has these moments,” said Finch. “I’ve said this before, he has an unbelievable sense of timing to make big plays when you need it most.”

The Wolves were down by nine to begin the second half. Edwards and Towns combined for 27 points, and the Wolves finished the third with a two-point lead. Ant’s got the confidence to take the last shot and the ability to sink it.

Finch calls Edwards the “home run hitter.” It’s a fitting title for a player who never seems bothered by missed shots. I don’t know much about baseball, but I know that players who take big swings strike out a lot. Sometimes it feels like Ant has never seen a shot he doesn’t like, and he’ll keep on swinging until he hits it out the park.

On the other hand, DLo was born with a rare condition that causes his veins to be filled with ice water, not blood. It’s self-diagnosed. He’s fantastic in the clutch, and he wants everyone to know about it. Russell is ranked fifth in clutch scoring this season.

Well, that is if you choose to include Garrison Mathews, who, by some Thunderstruck-ian stroke of magic, has managed to be the Houston Rockets’ top clutch scorer in the three clutch games that he played. The Rockets have won five games. Anyway, DLo knows he’s clutch, and Finch knows it too.

“He wants the ball at the end,” said Finch. “He’s got great confidence he’ll make shots. It doesn’t matter the coverage, he’s seen it all. He’s got an answer for it.”

The Timberwolves are 5-5 in clutch games that D’Angelo Russell has played. The .500 mark would be their best clutch-time winning percentage since the 2017-18 season. When DLo is hitting in clutch time, it’s a masterclass in shot-making.

But when he’s not, he’s raising the average blood pressure of Minnesotans to early-stage hypertension levels.

Here’s the critical difference between Ant and DLo, though: Russell is a veteran. During the postgame presser Monday night, Russell was asked if he thought this team was a playoff team. He kept it vague and wouldn’t give us a “quote to bring back in the future.” Instead, he opted to recognize that in the NBA, it’s “one game at a time.” As he left, he yelled to the room, “Seven years! I’ve been in this league for seven years!”

I wrote about DLo’s leadership a couple of weeks back. But in short, it’s his newfound maturity that helps him in these clutch moments. It’s not just that he has the confidence to take the last shot or the ability to take tough shots. As Finch said Monday night, his presence on the court has a “calming effect.” Russell knows exactly where he needs to go on the floor when the game is on the line to get his shot. If he’s not taking it, he’s got the skill to find the guy who has the shot. At the end of the game, the ball has got to be in DLo’s hands.

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Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn (USA TODAY Sports)

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