Have the Wolves Cleaned Things Up In Crunch Time?

Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

D’Angelo Russell provided the Minnesota Timberwolves with a safety net when it came to scoring and operating the offense in key moments. Seemingly whenever the Wolves needed some tough shot-making, Russell was their man. However, Minnesota can no longer rely on the ice in DLo’s veins. They now have to look elsewhere in crunch time, which is something that hasn’t come easy to the new group.

Even with Russell on the roster, the Wolves have had issues holding onto leads over the years. Most notably in the playoffs last season where they let two separate 20-point leads dissipate in Game 3 against the Memphis Grizzlies.

That’s not to say DLo was the reason Minnesota sold games in key moments. Rather it’s an indication that you can’t have just one guy leading your team consistently in crunch time. Hero ball is a concept that’s been a learning curve for young guys like Anthony Edwards, who is still figuring out when and when not to hunt for his own shot. However, with new floor general Mike Conley, we have been seeing the whole team take massive strides in all avenues of the game. Most importantly, in the clutch.

Conley’s transition to Minnesota hasn’t gone perfectly smoothly. After all, the Timberwolves are only the third team he’s played for in his 15-year career. The Wolves dropped four of their first five games with Minnesota Mike running the offense, including inexcusable losses to the Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards. However, on Saturday night, we saw one of the best-executed games on both sides of the ball for Minnesota.

“We played great, certainly offensively, all game long,” Chris Finch said after Minnesota’s 138-134 win over the Sacramento Kings. “There was really only one moment where I thought we bogged down. We’ve got to do a better job of protecting these leads that we build. And that’s about focus, that’s about understanding what’s going on in the game. … But other than that, I thought we played great all night long and made all the right plays when they tightened it up.”

The Wolves headed into Sacramento on the tail end of a back-to-back, having beat the Los Angeles Lakers less than 24 hours prior. Golden 1 Center was rocking from the jump; it felt like a playoff game in all respects. One where the Wolves would have crumbled earlier in the season.

Minnesota’s shots were falling early as they took a ten-point lead into halftime, and the Timberwolves were fed off the rowdy crowd the entire game. However, you got the feeling that there was still a lot of game left. The Wolves were up as much as 15 in the third quarter, but Sacramento’s shots started to fall again, and they got the game back within three heading into the final frame.

Minnesota’s fatigue started to manifest, and they hit a lull to start the fourth. However, some big shot-making from Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Mike Conley pushed the Timberwolves over the hump – sending Kings fans home in a stupor with the top of Golden 1 Center dark.

The Wolves shot 48-for-80 from the floor (60%) and 20-for-39 (51%) from deep against the Kings, with all five of the starters finishing with 13 or more points. Minnesota’s shots just flat-out went down, and against the No. 1-rated offense in the NBA, you’ll need some luck to be on your side. However, the Timberwolves were able to generate quality looks all game long, which is something I can most certainly live with, regardless of the final outcome of the game.

Luck may have played a small portion of a potentially paradigm-shifting game in Sac Town. However, they were able to ultimately win the game and come out on top thanks to their ability to play with and for each other – something that really came to light for the first time since the trade deadline. Despite the highly difficult upcoming schedule, if the Wolves can continue this high-chemistry play, there should be no reason they can’t finish with a top-six seed in the Western Conference.

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