One of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ largest concerns of the Chris Finch era lingered in their loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 7-8 play-in game. Minnesota was largely in control through the first three-quarters of play despite being down Rudy Gobert, Jaden McDaniels, and Naz Reid. Much of this came from finding cohesion in a free-flowing offense that disappeared late in the game. They could not find a way to make shots when it mattered, though. They shot 5 of 23 with 9 turnovers in the fourth quarter and overtime, which led to their downfall.
The first half started out as good as you could ask for, with every player doing their job outside of Anthony Edwards and Jordan McLaughlin. Taurean Prince and Nickeil Alexander-Walker stepped up, doing their job on both ends of the floor and spacing the offense. Karl-Anthony Towns asserted his star power, totaling 17 points on perfect shooting from all spots on the floor. Towns only picked up two fouls in the first half which allowed him to play more aggressively and free on the ball. Nathan Knight saw backup 5 minutes, but that was very short-lived because the Lakers went on a quick run, and we never saw him again.
It was incredibly evident that KAT was going to need to be on his game because Ant was struggling. Still, things were promising through the first half.
The one glaring issue here? Minnesota’s team shooting splits (58.8/52.9/91.7). They were bound to fall back to the mean in the second half. Therefore, even though the Wolves were up 11 at the break, they would have to find ways to adjust.
The Wolves were able to hold onto their 10-point lead for most of the third quarter until KAT picked up his fourth foul. That seemed to change everything. The momentum of the game shifted in LA’s favor, and KAT’s play started to decline. To that point, the Wolves were heavily relying on KAT for his shot-making and ability to draw attention. Finch made a good adjustment, leaning on Kyle Anderson at the 5 during the minutes that KAT sat.
Still, lingering issues continued on offense.
It only got uglier from there for the Wolves. Many possessions had no clear direction and no rim attacks being attempted. There were many circumstances of late shot clock chaos where the last player holding the ball had to chuck something toward the rim.
Ant was already struggling early in the game, but he completely flipped over Rui Hachimura going for a shot contest that landed him awkwardly on his shoulder/neck area. That didn’t help his play. He relied on a jumper that was not falling. That quickly manifested in Minnesota’s eventual offensive downfall.
Here are Minnesota’s final possessions of the fourth after Mike Conley’s made three to go up 95-88 with 6:01 remaining.
Anthony Davis gave the Timberwolves a gift when he ran into Mike Conley, forcing three free throws and overtime. However, we saw much of the same from the Wolves in the extra period.
The Wolves were down key players against a Lakers team that has been stout defensively since the trade deadline. However, it’s still important to understand who’s culpable in the loss. How much blame can be put on the coaching staff? And how much can be put on the players in this game?
Consistent lack of attention to holding leads in four straight playoff losses is inexcusable. It becomes tricky who the blame can be put on.
Although, the Wolves may have been down Gobert, McDaniels, and Reid, the guard room was deep in comparison to other spots. Still, McLaughlin had no need to be on the floor in this setting. The Lakers were completely sagging off him and allowing him to do as he pleased, and he wasn’t able to generate much offense. Despite these downfalls, they still showed a lot of promise to get to early leads and hold them for up to three quarters, so there is no downside there.
In the modern NBA, any team can surmount a deficit with a quick run. For a while, the Lakers for a while were chipping away whenever Towns was in foul trouble, and that was their key to getting back in the game. Once he had four or five fouls, KAT began to become less aggressive off the catch and on any rim attacks. It was going to be difficult to overcome without his star power and with Ant’s struggles.
The Wolves will have a chance to save the season. But there still are a lot of remaining questions with this team going into the offseason regarding the coaching, Rudy-KAT pairing, and who they need to fill the roster with surrounding their core players. The Memphis losses were rough, but that was still great execution down the stretch to corral misses and play through their stars. The Lakers continued to gift the Wolves turnovers and the late foul to give them continuous life. However, the game should not have even been close, given that the Wolves went six minutes without putting the ball into the hoop.