The Mavericks Exposed An Old Wolves Flaw

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Had the Minnesota Timberwolves not overcome a 20-point deficit in Game 7 against the Denver Nuggets, the NBA world would still be talking about the 55’ three Jamal Murray hit in front of Kevin Harlan in Game 4. It became a turning point in the series after the Wolves had won the first two games in Denver.

Murray’s three also highlighted an issue the Timberwolves have had all season. They have struggled with late-game offense and occasionally slipped in crucial moments, including at the end of games.

The Nuggets took Game 3 at home and built a 50-35 lead with 5:56 in the second half. But the Wolves chipped away at Denver’s 15-point advantage, reducing it to seven with under a minute left to go in the half. However, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope got loose for a three to make it 59-49 with 20 seconds left.

Anthony Edwards drove into traffic on the next possession, and Nikola Jokic stole the ball from him. Jokic hit Michael Porter Jr. on a cross-court pass for a dunk. Then Nickeil Alexander-Walker threw an errant inbound pass. Murray scooped it up at three-quarters court, shot from behind the logo, and connected to make it 64-49. The Nuggets won and returned to Minnesota with the series tied 2-2.

Minnesota outlasted the Nuggets in a heavyweight matchup. Every game was a blowout aside from Games 1 and 7. Even then, Denver got up 20 with 10:50 left in the third quarter of Game 7, and the Timberwolves went on a 60-32 run to win 98-90. The Nuggets series tested Minnesota’s ability to bounce back from blowouts and a 20-point deficit in Game 7.

The Dallas Mavericks will test their mettle.

Edwards hit a three to put the Timberwolves up 102-98 with 3:37 to go in the fourth. However, Luka Doncic responded with a three-point shot 19 seconds later to bring the game within one. P.J. Washington’s three with just under two minutes to play put the Mavs up 104-102. Minnesota didn’t score again until Naz Reid’s tip shot with ten seconds left. Dallas won 108-105.

“No composure,” said Chris Finch after the game. “It was the same at the end of the first half. We haven’t really closed quarters very well, closed halves very well over the last handful of games. It cost us a game in the Denver series. It certainly had an impact on this game tonight, too. We’ve got to be better in clutch moments.”

Edwards connected on two free throws to put the Wolves up 59-52 with 56 seconds left to go in the first half on Wednesday. But the Mavs went on a 7-3 run to end the half. Kyrie Irving scored five straight points, including an and-one on Jaden McDaniels’ shooting foul with 0.1 seconds left to play. Irving assisted on P.J. Washington’s floater that kicked off Dallas’ run.

“He looked really comfortable out there,” said Rudy Gobert. “We know he’s a very skilled player, but we got to find ways to make his life a little tougher.”

Doncic and Kyrie are unfair. Doncic (6’7”, 230 lbs.) plays bigger than his size. He moves like a running back and has the physicality of an edge defender. He pokes and prods to find the weak spot in the defense, then blows through it with the force of a battering ram. Irving has The Flash’s speed and Picasso’s touch. He has an unparalleled handle and the best finishing package in the association.

The Timberwolves have the league’s best defense. However, they don’t have the perfect defender for Doncic and Irving. Edwards worked to slow Irving. But nobody can match Irving’s speed and quickness, and it’s difficult to disrupt him near the basket. McDaniels (6’9”, 185 lbs.) can frustrate Doncic with his length. However, Doncic is significantly larger than him. Kyle Anderson (6’9”, 230 lbs.) has more heft but is an unreliable scorer.

“[Doncic is] a very unique player,” said Gobert. “One of the best players in the world for a reason. We know he’s going to make some tough plays. Just got to make him work for everything he gets, and it’s a team effort. I thought Jaden did a pretty good job on him, got a few calls that I thought were good defense.”

Doncic led the Mavs with 33 points, and Irving had 30. The Wolves will try to slow Dallas’s two best players. However, they likely will have to limit the players around them and ask Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns to keep pace with them. McDaniels carried Minnesota’s offense in Game 1, scoring 24 points on 9 of 15 from the field, including six threes. Edwards finished with 19 points (6 of 16), and Towns had 16 points on 6 of 20 shooting.

“Y’all can see it. We was a step behind everybody, especially myself,” said Edwards when a reporter asked about coming off a seven-game series against Denver. “Kyrie got a transition layup from when I think we scored, and he just outran me. I was just exhausted.”

The Timberwolves should benefit from resting at home and not having to play road games at high altitude. However, don’t expect this series to turn into a slugfest like it was against Denver. After Game 1, the Wolves and Nuggets took turns blowing each other out. The Mavericks series will likely feature closer games, and Minnesota must hold its own against two of the most talented finishers in the game.

Denver tested the Wolves’ might. Dallas will test their mettle.

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